Warning: if you thought the opening scenes of Up were heart-wrenching, then get ready to cry yourself into dehydration during Inside Out – you may even consider catching it in 3D so that you can use the glasses to hide your embarrassingly watery eyes. Pete Docter’s newest animated feature is the raw definition of bittersweet storytelling, a poignant coming-of-age tale that only Pixar could have so masterfully executed.
When Riley and her family move away from their Mid-West home, the happy 11-year old has to deal with the challenges of settling into a new life in San Francisco. We follow her internal struggle within the Headquarters of her mind and the five emotions that govern it – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. Wonderfully rendered and enthralling from the first minute, the pinball-inspired mechanisms of Riley’s mind are tremendously realised. From the “personality towns” that determine her character through to the labyrinthine corridors of long-term memory, the scale of what Docter has created is awe-inspiring, an enormous world that’s rich with smart throwaway references and high-concept ideas.
The sound design deserves as much praise as the striking animation, clinking orbs of memories and whirring control systems adding that extra layer of immersive beauty. Michael Giacchino provides his fifth Pixar soundtrack, a soft and ethereal collection of music that couldn’t be any more perfect. With mesmerising compositions elevating certain scenes from greatness into sheer brilliance, this is a soundtrack that could easily earn award recognition for Giacchino (who won an Academy Award for Best Original Score in 2010 for Up).Saturated with comic talent, the voice cast give consistently excellent performances across the board. Amy Poehler is perfectly cast in the lead, channelling her Leslie Knope persona (of NBC’s Parks & Recreation fame) as the infectiously happy Joy. Phyllis Smith (known to many as The Office’s Phyllis) as Sadness makes a suitably downtrodden counterpoint to the Poehler’s unstoppable bounce, while Lewis Black stands out as the literal hot-head, Anger. Special credit must go to Richard Kind as Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong, an elephant/cat/dolphin hybrid made out of cotton candy.
It could be said that the actual adventure story at the heart of Inside Out is thinner than more focused Pixar counterparts, and that it is overly crammed with concepts beyond child understanding. While this is true to an extent, Docter’s film retains interest in the dual plot line throughout and provides more than enough for young children to enjoy on face value. Inside Out is a film so deeply layered that it lends itself to repeated viewings more than any previous Pixar work, with themes that will reveal themselves to children as they mature into the ideas presented. This is arguably one of the most refined and ambitious pieces of children’s storytelling to date, with messages at its heart that are touching and profound like never before, advice for life that spans all ages. It is a triumphant achievement and deserving of instant placement in the “god-tier” alongside Pixar’s classics.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Inside Out is on wide release in UK & US Cinemas now.