After batting 1.000 with their first 10 films, Pixar’s next four – Toy Story 3, Cars 2, Brave, Monsters University – were not as well received. This isn’t to say those films were bad, they were Pixar films being compared to great Pixar films. Some would say they were doomed for bad reviews before production even began. It’s like watching Michael Jordan score 40 pts – it was once considered an incredible feat but stopped being impressive once fans saw him score 55. For a while, people thought Pixar had lost its mojo.
The one constant in Pixar films is their ability to create new worlds to explore. Their 15th feature film, Inside Out, is no different.
Inside Out explores the emotions inside 11 year old Riley’s head – Joy (voiced by Amy Peohler), Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith), Fear (voiced by Bill Hader), Anger (voiced by Lewis Black), and Disgust (voiced by Mindy Kailing). The four emotions live in Headquarters and guide Riley through her day, creating memories in the process. The memories are stacked up inside Headquarters like different color bowling balls on a rolling rack. At the end of the day, memories are sent to Riley’s long term memory bank. If Riley has a memory that marks a significant point in her life, it’s called a core memory. Those memory balls have a much shinier glow than the regular memories. Each core memory powers a different aspect of Riley’s Islands of Personality – Honesty, Goofball, Family, Hockey, and Friendship.
After an incident at Headquarters, the core memories, Sadness, and Joy are sent to Riley’s long term memory bank. Joy and Sadness have to find their way through the maze of memories and get the core memories back to headquarters. Meanwhile, Fear, Anger, and Disgust are at Headquarters attempting to navigate Riley’s day without emotions like joy and sadness.
Much like his previous work on Up and Toy Story, Director/Writer Pete Docter creates a world most people would never think to examine. With Inside Out, he uses the outside world to extract bigger life issues like growing up, moving across the country, and being the new kid in school.
Docter’s inside world is where you see his true genius on display with different aspects of Riley’s brain like The Train of Thought, Imagination Land, Dream Production, and Abstract Thought. Even something as simple as how Riley’s core and long term memories work makes sense in the world Docter’s created. The entire world of Riley’s brain is well thought out and beautifully created.
It wouldn’t be Pixar if the film didn’t tug on your heart strings. There are sad moments that stand out in Pixar’s catalouge like the opening sequence of Up, Lots-O-Huggings backstory in Toy Story 3, or Sully and Boo’s goodbye in Monsters , Inc. Inside Out’s emotional stomach punch comes in the form of form of Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong (voiced by Richard Kind). Bing Bong’s entire character arc moved me to tears. Maybe it was my nieces and nephews growing at lightspeed. Maybe Bing Bong reminded me that we all grow up at some point and lose our childlike imagination. Either way, Pixar got me again.
Inside Out is Pixar’s return to the top. It’s everything you want from an animated film – humor, touching moments, teachable moments, and just enough material to keep adults engaged. For a film that clocks in at 94 minutes, Inside Out crams a lot into an hour and a half. If there were any doubt, Pixar definitely has its mojo back. Inside Out will suffer the same fate of being held up against the films before it, but it passes the test and will be a film families will watch for years to come.