For a children’s animated film, it is perhaps unusual to set it in the inner workings of the mind. The concept at first seems far-fetched, pretentious and not relatable to a young audience. It is no surprise that according to Pixar, there were bitten nails at the test screening over concerns it would be too complex. But with Pixar you know you’re in good hands, and Inside Out is almost a return to their best.
Chronicling eleven year old Riley’s relocating to San Francisco from Minnesota, Inside Out is about how her emotions change when confronted with vast changes in her life. She has left her friends behind, her home and, most importantly, her childhood. Her emotions, played out in her mind are Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger and they all struggle to deal with her new experiences.
With most Pixar films, some kind of journey has to occur. In Toy Story, the toys are lost and must find their way home. In Monsters Inc, the monsters must find their way back to base. Both felt organic and exciting. But with Inside Out, the adventure seems a little forced. When Joy and Sadness are sucked out of HQ into Riley’s long-term memory, they must find their way back so Fear, Disgust and Anger aren’t her only emotions. The problem with this adventure is the audience knows they’re never in any real danger. After all, how can a young girl live her life without those emotions? They are necessary to her life. Getting back to HQ is never really in question, and so Pixar has perhaps chosen to concentrate on the wrong areas.
For example, there isn’t much shown of Riley’s actual life. She is undergoing a journey herself in San Francisco while the audience is treated to relentless and repetitive attempts for Joy and Sadness to return to HQ. It sometimes feels like the writers wanted to be a little too clever, with their journey through the subconscious, train of thought, memory dump and dream studios. Though these sequences are fun and undeniably smart, it is an example of Inside Out being shackled to its own difficult concepts.
Fate plays a major role here throughout the movie and it doesn’t quite fit with its core concepts. Was it fate that led Sadness to touch Riley’s core hockey memory? Was that memory meant to be forever tainted with sadness? And why are Joy and Sadness the ones to be sucked out of HQ after she moves? How would Riley have coped had they both been there? Once again, Pixar sometimes grasps at drama.
Nevertheless, Inside Out is probably the most emotionally complex animation attempted. Though the concept sometimes falls over itself, this is admirable, entertaining, fun and moving, just like all great Pixar films. It cedes that sadness and insecurities are part of growing up, and not many animations are brave enough to give such an uncomfortable message to their young audiences.