Pete Docter has been out of the Pixar director’s chair for too long. Since his film Up in the summer of 2009, Pixar’s best release — only original work — was Brave, which isn’t totally up to par with what’s expected of the creative company. Of the four films between Up and this summer’s smash-hit Inside Out, three were franchise expansions. Monsters University, in the family tree of Docter’s original 2001 piece Monsters Inc., didn’t involve Docter in any way. Now we know he was working on something much more important.
Inside Out, in the same way as Up, tugs at the heartstrings and taps into newly-reached emotional cord that hasn’t come from Pixar since Toy Story 3 — though, that emotion was wrapped up in the nostalgia and novelty of the franchise, rather than the story. Impressively in Inside Out, the story of how the emotions — Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger — of a pre-teen girl named help her, Riley, through a difficult move from her beloved Minnesota to San Francisco, it’s with ease it reaches its emotional potential.
Docter is the director from the school of thinking differently who’s coming back at the right time at Pixar, which is trying its hand at dinosaurs next. But unlike anything in the past, Inside Out is in a different category all to its own. Smart. Inventive. Thorough. There’s greatness in the way this imaginative puzzle is pieced together.
With Joy as our tour guide — Amy Poehler, the best guide we could ask for — we’re efficiently introduced to the tools inside Riley’s head. There’s a control panel, a core memory bank and islands that shape her personality. Outside of headquarters, there’s a vast land of the subconscious including an imagination land and an abyss where ideas and memories go to be forgotten. It’s such a sophisticated dissection of how our minds work, especially for the age group of the film’s primary audience, but its unveiled tangibly. Poehler’s able to execute its narration perfectly with her sharp, definite voice.
Poehler and her co-stars have drawn from roles of their past to create a lively variety of voices that match their characters so well. In Joy’s most excitable moments, we hear a little bit of Leslie Knope. For Sadness and Disgust, respectively, Phyllis Smith and Mindy Kaling draw from Phyllis and Kelly of The Office. Lewis Black always plays a good angry person. It’s Bill Hader’s Fear, the only example when the actor’s voice doesn’t come through the animation as well as his co-stars.
The context of the film makes for a big project for Docter, so audiences aren’t walking out of theaters poking holes in the plot nor disbelieving in it. Inside Out has not only done it right, it’s done it well. I’d be hard pressed to find someone who couldn’t relate to anything happening in it, and to connect with an audience like that makes it triumphant success.
“Inside Out”: ★★★★