Pixar again heads the class…
Fittingly for a movie set inside someone’s head, Pixar’s 15th feature is a fireworks display of fizzing ideas and bursts of imagination. By some distance the animation giant’s finest since Toy Story 3 kicked the stuffing from us all in 2010, it shows just why director Pete Docter (Monsters Inc., Up) and the rest of Pixar’s key creatives call themselves the ‘Brain Trust’.
The heroine/host of Inside Out is 11-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), whose happy Minnesotan childhood bites dust when her parents (Kyle McLachlan, Diane Lane) decide to up sticks to San Francisco. Until now, the five Emotions that marshal Riley’s thoughts and feelings (they reside inside Headquarters, operating a control panel and looking out through the windows of her eyes) have been captained by Joy (Amy Poehler), a round-faced saucer-eyed cherub dressed in sunny yellow.
Three of the other four Emotions – needle-thin, purple Fear (Bill Hader), short, square, crimson Anger (Lewis Black) and recoiling, green Disgust (Mindy Kaling) – have been on the periphery of things, while hunched, pouty, blue Sadness (Phyllis Smith) has lurked so deep in the background as to be almost out of sight, out of mind. But now, with Riley hating her new house, unable to make friends and losing her mojo on the hockey ice, Sadness is suddenly working front and centre.
Riley’s misery in Minnesota is only the outside story. The inner journey sees Joy and Sadness get accidentally locked out of Headquarters, lost in a candy-coloured mindscape of vast dimensions. In order to return and wrestle the controls from Fear, Anger and Disgust, they must navigate a vast zone packed with seemingly infinite memories, each one a glowing sphere, and such distinctive regions as Imagination Land, Dream Production, Subconscious and Abstract Thought. Joy, of course, tries to lead the way, but it is only by accepting Sadness that a solution might be found.
Even by the standards of the Pixar bods, who make it their business to mix brain with heart in order to entertain adults as much as kids, this is, well, heady stuff, sure to boggle fragile little minds. And there’s more, too, with Personality Islands, a literal Train Of Thought and a prized vault of Core Memories that have shaped and shaded Riley’s spirit.
This last, especially, is a tricky concept for nippers to grasp, even before it’s revealed that Riley’s increasingly downbeat mood can filter perception to show old events in a different light – Core Memories, forever golden, are suddenly tinged blue for they now represent that which has been lost. As the voices in Keanu Reeves’ head might say in unison, Whoa.
But even as the bigger-brained concepts pass the little ones by, they’ll be dazzled by the bright animation of the retro-styled interior landscapes, and by the darker, more realistically rendered ‘real world’. Inside Out, like all Pixar movies (yes, even Cars 2), is a technical marvel, and the perilous journey undertaken by Joy and Sadness is sure to command attention, with its collapsing panoramas representing Riley’s crumbling innocence.
It’s scary stuff, on several levels, which makes the presence of Riley’s former imaginary friend, Bing Bong – part cat, part dolphin, part elephant – a welcome inclusion, his affable bumbling dovetailing with Poehler’s indomitable, sing-song radiance (she makes Dory sound depressed) to add grins to grimaces.
Also arriving thick and fast are the gags, be it glimpses into the workings of other people’s minds, the dumping of needless memories to make room for new ones (there go the names of all the US Presidents) or a delicious explanation as to the origin of earworms. It’s sterling stuff, with one throwaway gag pertaining to YA vampires providing the biggest laugh you’ll likely hear in a cinema this year. Oh, to peek inside the Brain Trust’s heads – those trains of thought rocketing hither and thither must look like time-lapse footage of Waterloo Station.
Given Pixar’s recent favouring of sequels, Inside Out deserves applause for bringing such a dazzling original concept to our screens, even if it does harbour a passing resemblance to classic Beano strip The Numskulls. That said, this, more than any other Pixar movie, demands a sequel, trilogy or more, much as Francois Truffaut revisited his The 400 Blows hero, Antoine Doinel, throughout life. Can you imagine what will be going on in Riley’s head when she becomes a teenager, or goes to university and discovers mind-altering substances, or hits middle age? You know that Pixar can; it’s a no-brainer.