Who knew a movie about anthropomorphized emotions could pack such gravitas and pathos?
Nothing less than a masterpiece of animated storytelling, Inside Out’s directors topped their own work on the already-acclaimed, not to mention heart-wrenching Up, where they managed to make everyone in the theater shed a tear within the first 8 minutes of the movie. Damn you, guys.
On the surface, the premise of the movie is simple: Riley Andersen is an eternally happy kid, at least until she turns 11 and her dad gets a job across the country, forcing the family to relocate to San Francisco.
Throughout the scary experience of moving house and trying to adjust to a new school, the Emotions are on the job, eager to help guide her through the difficult transition. When Joy and Sadness are inadvertently swept into the far reaches of Riley’s mind—taking some of her core memories with them—Fear, Anger and Disgust are left reluctantly in charge.
“Think about that,” says executive producer John Lasseter. “An 11-year-old is left without Joy and Sadness—only Anger, Fear, and Disgust. Does that sound like any 11-year-olds you know?”
Then we go into the mind of Riley and find out how her thoughts and emotions work together, which is where the real conflict and narrative start. After you finish the film you’ll realize that the symbolism of the story, where Joy and Sadness leave one’s head (rendering Riley unable to feel either) and get lost inside the maze of the brain is a setup that interlaces with other events in the movie, like a version of the Divine Comedy–complete with a Virgil guiding the two through the twists and turns and depths.
All praise aside, this movie goes through some very dark moments that will make you wonder if Pixar hasn’t raised the stakes too high this time.
Is this still a children’s movie? The visuals would certainly like for you to think so, and boy are they beautiful what with the signature Pixar look (Joy’s glow is warm and comforting). Is this a piece of moving cartoon art that, like The Simpsons, may perhaps be better-suited to adults? One can certainly make that argument what with the themes of coming-of-age and the realization that, for the first time, bitterness and melancholy can afflict you with such weight. Should it be viewed by your tween but not anyone younger than 8 years old? Yes and no. There is certainly a lot that younger kids may miss and significant moments that will remain unappreciated, ones that ten year olds and up will get right away–and in all fairness adults will love because they can relate to it intrinsically and with much nostalgia.
The bottom line is that discretion needs to be put into play when bringing your kids along. Parental guidance may just be necessary when encountering concepts like Abstract Reasoning and REM Sleep.
What is never in doubt is that any adult or young adult that loves animated movies MUST see this because it is nothing less than three years by the production crew and the stellar voice cast of comedians forging what might just be the most enjoyable, realized, and touching handbook to ourselves ever conceived for film as an adventure of very emo proportions.
Here’s a short guide to Pixar’s visualization of the characters and the map to Riley’s mind.
Ever wonder why certain songs or random moments stick to your head and are remembered at seemingly even more random times? Blame the Mind Workers; these little guys are the blue collar operatives in your brain who mind the dendrites, neurons, and all the little events in your day that are tabulated by the computer that is your head.
They can include or exclude trivial moments like a particularly sticky piece of LLS, a gum commercial jingle heard years ago that can’t seem to stop playing.
There’s also a special division of the Mind Workers called The Forgetters. They are in charge of—well—forgetting. Mind Workers in Long-Term Memory sort through Riley’s memories and eliminate those they deem unimportant—like most of the U.S. Presidents she memorized in grade school or much of what she learned on the piano (except Heart and Soul and Chopsticks).
Core Memories are of a bigger orb size than trivial memories that should never get swept into the Pit of Forgetting, they include precious events with your family and stuff like Riley’s first moment skating on ice. They’re essential pieces of personality which is why Joy and Sadness struggle so mightily to get them back to the Mind’s HQ.
The realm of the Mind’s abstract thought is a dangerous one for Emotions and Imaginary Friends alike. Once something is broken down into its essential abstract concept it’s very hard to get them back into shape. First they devolve into their cubic shapes, then they lose their context and become two-dimensional, and the next step is line art.
The Personality Islands meanwhile appear or disappear as one discards parts of their identity and grow through the years. Riley’s islands are made of Hockey, Family, Friendship, Trophy Island, and Honesty.
Bing Bong was Riley’s imaginary friend when she was three years old. Unfortunately, he’s been out of work since Riley turned four, and he’s desperate not to be left behind as Riley grows up.
Richard Kind was tapped as the voice of Bing Bong. “Before their minds are fully developed, a lot of kids make up friends who they can talk to when they’re lonely or scared,” says Kind. “And these feel real—they’re truly friends. Is there any rationale to them? Absolutely not, but an imaginary friend can be calming and is always there when you need him.”
Bing Bong has been wandering around Riley’s mind for a while when Joy and Sadness meet him. “He’s a bit of a hobo these days,” says Kind. “So he’s more than happy to show them around.”
Like all good imaginary friends, this one is certainly creative. “Bing Bong is made out of cotton candy,” says director Pete Docter. “He has a nougat-y center, which we never really see, and shape-wise he’s part cat, part elephant and—according to him—part dolphin, which is a little sketchy. He’s basically an amalgam of all the things we loved as kids.”
Aside from the animal amalgam that is Bing Bong, there are other imaginary friends that Joy and Sadness encounter inside Riley’s mind. Like the imaginary boyfriend she thought up, and is probably the prototypical kind of handsome young guy any 11-year-old would love to love.
FEAR’s main job is to protect Riley and keep her safe. He is constantly on the lookout for potential disasters, and spends time evaluating the possible dangers, pitfalls and risk involved in Riley’s everyday activities. There are very few activities and events that Fear does not find to be dangerous and possibly fatal.
“To me, he’ll always be a weird purple guy in a bow tie,” says Bill Hader, who lends his voice to Fear. “I imagine him as a very put-upon middle-management kind of guy who’s desperate to be eight steps ahead of everything. He has to over-assess every situation in order to protect Riley.
With a sunny hue, Joy is lighthearted, optimistic and determined to find the fun in every situation. She sees challenges in Riley’s life as opportunities, and the less-happy moments as hiccups on the way back to something great. As long as Riley is happy, so is Joy.
Amy Poehler was called on to help bring Joy to life. “She’s like the motor of the film: arms open, eyes open, face toward what’s next,” says Poehler of her character. “She’s just so beautiful and takes a journey—literally and emotionally. She experiences a real change, which was an exciting and cool challenge as an actor.”
ANGER feels very passionately about making sure things are fair for Riley. He has a fiery spirit and tends to explode (literally) when things don’t go as planned. He is quick to overreact and has little patience for life’s imperfections.
Lewis Black, who’s a fan of all things Pixar, calls the opportunity to voice Anger a career-defining role. “I knew from the very beginning that this was going to be special,” he says. “I’ll be remembered as this little red guy who yells and his head goes on fire.”
Disgust is highly opinionated, extremely honest and prevents Riley from getting poisoned—both physically and socially. She keeps a careful eye on the people, places and things that Riley comes into contact with—whether it’s broccoli or last year’s fashion trend.
Mindy Kaling says she was instantly game to play the part. “I think it’s true of most actors: If you get a call from Pixar, you’re already excited. The movies that Pixar makes are just incredibly well made, so I was really excited. What surprises me about the movie is how funny it is, given that at its core, it’s a very poignant movie.”
Kaling quickly understood her character’s motivation. “Disgust just wants to protect Riley,” she says. “She wants to keep her from being in any situation that’s unsafe or uncool.”
None of the other Emotions really understand what Sadness’s role is. Her blue hue and upside-down-teardrop shape are quite befitting. And while Sadness would love to be more optimistic and helpful in keeping Riley happy, she finds it so hard to be positive. Sometimes it seems like the best thing to do is just lie on the floor and have a good cry.
Phyllis Smith was called on to provide the voice of Sadness. “I’ve never done an animated film before, so at first I just tried to be sad,” says Smith. “But by the end of the first session, I found her voice. It just came naturally. She’s not very energetic. Joy literally has to drag her around.”
Catch Pixar’s INSIDE OUT, opening in Philippine movie theaters on August 19. Leave a comment and let us know how you feel about the film!
All photos courtesy of Disney-Pixar.