‘Inside Out’ – An emotional Pixar adventure on Disney+

Pixar's animated feature 'Inside Out,' directed by Pete Docter

In Inside Out (2015), the 15th feature from Pixar, feelings are not just the focus of the story. They are the main characters.

The primary emotions of preteen girl Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) get a workout when she’s uprooted from friends and activities in Minnesota, where she’s a devoted member of a hockey team, and moves to San Francisco, where she doesn’t know a soul and none of her things have arrived to ease the transition or give her the comforting sense of familiarity. She tries to put on a good face but those pesky anxieties and emotions just won’t settle down, as we get to see firsthand in the control room of Earthship Riley.

Joy, a pixie of a character voiced as a whirlwind of enthusiasm by Amy Pohler (imagine Parks and Recreation‘s Leslie Knope with even more optimism), tries to focus on the positive and the possibilities but it’s a difficult adjustment. The blue frump of Sadness (Phyllis Smith of The Office in a delivery pitched like a non-stop sigh) keeps tripping up her increasingly desperate attempts to put a happy face on everything. The internal tug-of-war of emotional turmoil lands the two, along with Riley’s core memories, deep in Riley’s subconscious, and they need to retrieve those essential memory touchstones before they’re lost to the graveyard of the forgotten past.

So it’s a journey film—the framework of many a Pixar classic—with two seemingly incompatible characters who learn to appreciate one another along the way. But it’s also a sharply insightful exploration of the complicated feelings of kids as a cartoon brainscan or an extended dream that turns the mind into an epic theme park run from a command and control center by five dominant emotions. Disgust, a green, judgmental mean girl voiced by Mindy Kaling, Fear, a skittish praying mantis of a figure (Bill Hader), and Anger, a literal hothead of a burning ember in a middle-management suit (perfectly pitched on the edge of outrage by Lewis Black), fill out the control room crew and end up panicking when left in charge. The confusion and unchecked impulses lead to some seriously bad decisions.

Director and co-writer Pete Docter has been a part of the Pixar’s brain trust and talent chest since the beginning. He co-wrote Toy Story and Wall-E and directed the Oscar-winning Up, a film that shows just how well he knows his way around emotions. For Inside Out Docter is as much concerned father as master filmmaker. The concept was inspired by the changes in his own adolescent daughter and worked with psychiatrists to understand the inner workings of the emotional world of the growing child and create visual metaphors for the abstract process and theoretical ideas. What he and his collaborators finally came up with is clever and funny and sweet and sad, an ingeniously physical interpretation of the ephemeral that acknowledges the competing impulses driving the growing child (not to mention older kids, adults, and in the coda even dogs and cats).

There’s nothing Pollyanish about this portrait, even with the hyper upbeat Joy trying to micromanage every situation to a happy ending and banish Sadness to the margins. As she learns, suppressing your emotions doesn’t work. You have to move through them and even embrace them. Inside Out reminds us (but especially kids) that emotions are very real experiences and they have all have a place in our lives. It’s clever and it’s funny and it’s sweet, and it tells kids that, as Rosie Grier sang decades ago in Free to Be You and Me, it’s all right to cry. In fact, sometimes it’s necessary.

It won the Academy Award for outstanding animated feature.

Rated PG

Streams on Disney+

Also available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Blu-ray 3D and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Fandango, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service. 
Inside Out [DVD]
Inside Out [Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack + Digital Copy]
Inside Out 3D [3D Blu-ray/Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack + Digital Copy]

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The DVD includes the short film Lava, which preceded Inside Out in theaters, and the Blu-ray adds the new animated short Riley’s First Date? plus additional supplements.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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