With the voices of Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Richard Kind. Written Meg LeFauve & Josh Cooley and Pete Docter. Directed by Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen. Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action. 94 minutes.
Welcome back, Pixar. We’ve missed you. Since the triumph of “Toy Story 3” in 2010 there was the awful “Cars 2,” the muddled but entertaining “Brave,” and the disappointing “Monsters University.” The solid screenwriting that were the backbone for the always impressive animation seemed to have evaporated.
INSIDE OUT starts out slow, but give it time to build its complex world. By the end–as with the best of their films–which include “The Incredibles,” “Finding Nemo,” “WALL*E,”and “Ratatouille”–you’ll have laughed and thrilled and perhaps even shed a few tears. You’ll even forgive them for the bizarre short “Lava” which precedes the movie.
The premise is that we’re inside the head of Riley (voice of Kaitlyn Dias) who has a happy family with Mom (Diane Lane) and Dad (Kyle McLachlan) until they relocate from Minnesota to San Francisco. Inside her head are the personifications of Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). They control how Riley reacts to things.
The setup takes a while, but once Joy and Sadness find themselves far from the Control Center and have to make their way back, the story takes off. And when Bing Bong (Richard Kind)–Riley’s old “imaginary friend” shows up–then it soars. The inventiveness is rich, from what sort of memories get stored to the glimpses we get inside the heads of other people.
The voice cast is solid, with Poehler and Smith playing off nicely as Joy tries to limit Sadness’s involvement but ultimately seeing that the ability to feel sad or even cry is a necessary part of being a person. The other characters are played more for laughs, with Black a standout typecast as Anger. There’s also some good jokes about Riley being on the verge of discovering boys (and vice versa).
As with the best Pixar films, given a script and a talented cast, the animators can let their imaginations run free. As we explore different parts of Riley’s brain–such as abstract thought and imagination–one never knows what we’ll see next. One of the most amusing sequences is seeing how dreams are made.
This premise has been done before–in the old FOX series “Herman’s Head” and in a sequence in Woody Allen’s “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex”–but not from the perspective of a child, which makes it both simpler and more poignant. It comes together for a well-deserved happy ending for both Riley and for Joy and company, with a delightful coda as we start getting views from some unexpected perspectives. “Inside Out” represents a joyful return for Pixar. And Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust will have fun as well.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.