What were you thinking?
This familiar perplexed parental refrain, punctuated with “inside voice” expletives if the offense is really bad, is the core concept behind the refreshingly imaginative new animated film Inside Out.
The story dives deep into the mind of 11-year-old Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias). Inside her headquarters live five emotions led by rah-rah cheerleader Joy (Amy Poehler), whose optimistic outlook is the crux of Riley’s formative years, from infant to present time.
Riley’s emotional team is rounded out by Fear (Bill Hader), who keeps her out of danger; Anger (Lewis Black), who ensures life’s imperfections turn out fair for her; Disgust (Mindy Kaling), whose high-minded opinions keep her from being a social outcast; and Sadness (Phyllis Smith), who has a difficult time understanding her role in Riley’s life and just wants to cry it out.
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Let’s just say, the casting alone is hilariously on-point, especially Smith’s Sadness. Like an exceptional Eeyore, Sadness is the perfect complement to Joy and a nice rendition of prepubescent angst.
The control center of emotions goes into crisis mode when Riley’s family must make a difficult transition — a relocation.
Coincidentally, or not, headquarters loses Joy and Sadness. Without their natural-born leaders, Anger, Disgust and Fear form a tantrum triumvirate to navigate Riley through the first days of a new city, new school and new life.
The Disney-Pixar creators do a wonderful job of visualizing the inner turmoil of a child and the frantic concern of parents.
At the family dinner table, Riley’s mom (Diane Lane) innocently asks: “So, how was the first day of school?” To which Riley responds: “It was fine, I guess. I don’t know.”
The simple family exchange between Mom, Dad (Kyle MacLachlan) and Riley turns into a fascinating, comedic look at what goes on in people’s heads. The scene builds to an unexpected outcome for the audience: myriad mixed emotions.
Directors Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc.; Up) and Ronnie del Carmen (Dug’s Special Mission) have created a masterful study of family dynamics. Like the Oscar-winning Up, Inside Out takes great care in weaving complex ideas into a children’s tale.
Some scenes, such as the journey into Long Term Memory, Imagination Land and Abstract Thought, might go over the heads of the younger set, but I challenge any parent who watches this film to not be moved by its heartfelt message.
And as always, Pixar delivers the stunning animation that is made more vivid in 3-D.
Get to the theater early so you don’t miss the lovely animated short Lava, a sweet, intoxicating musical love story.
If you have to choose just one family film to see this summer, your inside voices should be saying: See Inside Out.
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Directors: Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen
Cast: Voices of Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan
Rated: PG (mild thematic elements, action)
Running time: 102 min.