Ever since the trailer of this latest Pixar film was shown early this year, we knew this will not be a typical kiddie romp. After "Wall-E" and "Up", Pixar has again dares to tackle a relatively mature topic that is not exactly for young viewers. This is always quite a gamble, but if there was a company that could pull it off, it will be Pixar.
Riley is an 11-year old girl from Minnesota who has been brought by her parents to live in a small cramped house in San Francisco. While she was adjusting to life in a new city, we will see a "Headquarters" within Riley's mind, where her five "emotions" of Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger determine how she will react to specific events.
The ever-chipper and positive Joy does her dominating best to keep Riley's mood up, even when Sadness seems to be making her presence felt. A major emotional crisis arises when some vital core memories accidentally gets sucked into Riley's long term memory together with Joy and Sadness themselves, pushing Riley into a constant state of angry confusion. Can Joy figure out how to bring happiness back into Riley's life?
Co-writers/directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo del Carmen had triumphed in making very abstract concepts come to life and turning them into amusing characters in a generally entertaining animated film. "Inside Out" is an imaginative take on the human state of mind and how it works.
The Pixar people had turned our limbic system into a colorful headquarters with the five emotions vying to get the upper hand. More than that, we also get an entirely creative visualization of our memories as glass balls, stored in complex maze-like libraries with tall shelves. They introduce mechanisms on why we forget things, on our dreams at night, on our imaginary friends as children. In true Pixar fashion, all these are very rendered with delightful imagery.
Amy Poehler brings her infectious effervescence as Joy. Other comedians like Phyllis Smith (as Sadness), Mindy Kaling (as Disgust) and Bill Hader (as Fear) bring their A-game in their voice work. Veteran actors Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan lend their voices as Riley's parents. Adults will enjoy getting a peek inside emotional control center of the parents, also with their own five-color emotion characters.
While everything may look fun, it is safe to surmise that most of these Psych 101 concepts underlying the cute characters would just fly over the heads of most children in the audience. Emotion and memory, with all its Islands of Personality, Trains of Thought, Abstract Reasoning, Deja Vu, Subconscious, Memory Dumps -- these are not exactly easy ideas to grasp all at once. Even adults may not immediately comprehend the full meaning of the multi-layered script after a single viewing because of the frenetic pace of the jargon exchange among the characters. If not for the bright color and lively music, some parts may feel too long or even boring for some audiences.
This film isn't exactly all fun and games though. There are some confusing messages for kids which I am not completely in favor of, from the shallow (why broccoli is supposed to be disgusting) to the deep (why kids throw tantrums or steal or run away from home). I understand this is a totally original envelope Pixar is pushing here and I am all for that. However, as this film is still for impressionable young audiences, more care should be taken in delivering sensitive messages about behavior and morality. Parental guidance is definitely a must here. 7/10.