Review: 'Inside Out'

Pixar's latest, 'Inside Out,' mostly works, is sometimes thwarted by Disney saccharine
THE DECIDERS: The anthropomorphic emotions of 13-year-old Riley struggle with each other for control in the new Pixar film, 'Inside Out.'

Pixar, the studio that tries harder than any of them, tries something completely different in Inside Out—a cartoon inner-space voyage through the subconscious, starring a cast of psychological abstractions.

Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Diaz) is not yet thirteen when she is uprooted by her parents from her idyllic Minneapolis home to a dingy Victorian in an authentically delineated San Francisco. We are invited to see the crisis disrupting her life from the inside, as Riley's troubles are processed by five color-coded figures. They include the luminescent, blue-haired pixie, Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), who puts her seal on every event. Sadness (Phyllis Smith of The Office) is a shapeless, bespectacled sloucher in a chunky white turtleneck sweater. The other members of the team include Disgust (Mindy Kaling), green and scowling with disdain. And lurking like minions are Anger (Lewis Black) and Fear (Bill Hader).

Joy's job is to collect and protect memories before they're sent to the core. The newly-minted memories are the size, shape and color of glow-in-the-dark bowling balls. They roll down the ramps of mammoth gumball machinery to be safely archived below decks, before sadness gets a chance to cloud them.

After a particularly embarrassing day for Riley, Joy and Sadness get marooned outside of the headquarters. They have to cross the interior country back to their control tower. Helping them is Riley's half-forgotten imaginary friend called Bing Bong (voiced by Richard Kind) a little bit of elephant, a little bit of kitty, a lot of Ed Wynn. He leads them through to the Dream Studios, built to entertain the sleeping Riley.

The Studio sequences are the best—it's the part where this metaphor of a wild, squabbling inner life loosens up and gets some breathing room. Beyond the studio is the King Kong-sized gates of the subconscious.

For all the mulling over of emotional conflict, Inside Out is as restless as any summer action film, with both a rocket journey and a train wreck. The amusement park-like "islands" of Riley's inner-life crumble under the girls' stress. The towers shake to pieces as if they'd been built on a psychological San Andreas fault. They include a "Goofyland"—that's where Riley's personality goes when she pretends to be a monkey to cheer her dad. These islands are surrounded by a Grand Canyon-sized chasm of forgetfulness, a crater lined with millions of fading globes and the ashes of disintegrated memories. (Sweeping up, a custodian of this memory dump discovers an orb containing piano lessons. Preparing to toss it, he says "Let's lose everything but "Chopsticks" and "Heart and Soul.")

Pixar is trying for something funny, yet profound. They mostly succeed. And they once again get you right in the feels—this time with a scene of familiar reconciliation in which Riley comes to understand that there is something called bittersweetness that dwells between the extremes of joy and sadness. Writer and co-director Pete Docter creates charming glimpses of pure childhood joy and imagination.

But Inside Out can't go far enough inside. Pixar may be Pixar, but Disney has its clout too: Joy, the cheerer-upper who can allow no contradiction, represents the part of the Disney realm where the smile is mandatory, and euphoria is a default. (The movie finishes with a dedication at the end to the animators' children, asking them to never grow up.)

The script, shaped for the guest stars, tends to cherish shtick. Anger is a pissed- off dad caricature—a fulminating hothead. Inside Out counters the charge that only male characters matter in Pixar's films. It's honorable that it has so many more female than male characters here. But wouldn't an angry girl have internal anger in the form of a girl?

What Inside Out won't show you is the joy that comes from anger, from being able to say 'no' and to mean it. Isn't that a part of childhood—that righteous rage so well-placed that you can feel pleasure remembering it, even decades later? Inside Out shows you how much fun it was being daddy's little monkey. It won't show you the power of those moments when you were a kid and you really let the gorilla out.

Inside Out

PG; 94 Min.

Find Movie Theaters & Showtimes

Zip Code or City:   Radius: Theaters: