Inside Out Cast: Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Lewis Black, Bill Maher Director: Pete Doctor Rating: 3.5/5
"Do you ever look at someone and wonder what is going on inside their head?" asks the blue-haired pixie full of up-and-up named Joy, as this candy-coloured dream made of gumball begins. Then, she shows it to you inside out and blows your mind away.
Inside Out is about a pre-teen girl who is moving home from suburban America with its backyards and frozen lakes to a townhouse in San Francisco. Excited-terrified about new school, new friends and a new way of life, Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) and her parents are not moving home alone, they are carrying a headquarter-full of emotions with them.
In Riley's case, the emotions are snobby Disgust (Mindy Kaling), always on short fuse Anger (Lewis Black), a blue mope Sadness (Phyllis Smith) and squiggly, shifty Fear (Bill Hader). But the one emotion who rules the headquarters - imagine a Star Trek-like, console-filled HO - is the aforementioned Joy.
Amy Poehler's exuberant Joy is the dominant emotion in 11-year-old Riley's mind till things start going wrong.
However, as Riley's suburban Minnesota home turns into broccoli-and-rat-filled (Riley's pet hates) San Francisco, Joy loses control and the sulky Sadness starts turning things blue. The exuberant Joy won't have any of it, chaos ensues, and Sadness and Joy are ejected out of the control tower and into the brain. Now, it is left to the lesser emotions to run Riley's life.
And that is where this Pixar adventure turns truly imaginative and a treat for parents accompanying the kids. Pete Doctor and the co-director Ronnie Del Carmen leave no metaphor unexplored as Joy and Sadness take a psychological tour - they peek at the scary subconscious, see how a Hollywood-style dream factory works and even take a train of thoughts.
There is stuff in there that many 11-year-olds won't get (hell, even parents will have to Google non-objective fragmentation) but the film works at so many levels that you can let some of it go. It is essentially a human story which will make you reminiscence about your childhood, memories you still have and memories you let go, and things your life revolved around until it didn't.
A blue blob of gloom, Sadness (Phyllis Smith), has an important lesson to impart in the film.
A particularly heart-tugging line of script involves Riley's imaginary friend Bing Bong (Richard Kind). Part cat, part elephant with the brain of dolphin (of which he is very proud), he refuses to be relegated to the past. In the film, past means an abyss of nothingness, a point of no return. This is where old piano lesson and phone numbers that are not needed go, and sometimes childhood prized possessions that are not wanted any more.
And all this happens in the colourful, pixelated goodness for which Pixar is rightly renowned. If San Francisco is rendered in dull and frightening colours, the dream world has all the colours of an amusement park while abstract thought looks like Picasso's cubist work.
Mindy Kaling's snobbish Disgust is one of the emotions left incharge as Sadness and Joy both vanish.
There's a lesson in there too for our generation, obsessed as we are with happiness and escaping the harsh reality. As Joy and Sadness' buddy chemistry grows, the film forces us to face us with one essential fact - sometimes we need to embrace blue. Probably a lesson you don't expect from a Pixar film or in a multiplex but a little bit of soul searching never hurt anybody.
And then, Sadness would never have asked this close to the climax, "Riley is about to turn 13, what can go wrong?" What, indeed.