EIFF 2015 – Inside Out
Inside Out is the latest effort from animation giants Pixar who decide to take a break from sequels and deliver a completely original outing.
The idea on display here is that emotions are characters who live inside our heads and influence our behaviour. Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is the character chosen to explore this idea and the audience follows her emotional journey pretty much from the moment of her birth to 12 years old. Dias does a great job with this character. She always comes across as relatable, flawed and human with a real sense of normality to her. Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan give great performances as her parents as well.
Riley is a secondary character in all of this as the main focus is on her anthropomorphised emotions led by Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). The film manages to turn the inside of Riley’s head into a fully realised universe and provides so many creative ways to show how memories work, a personality is formed and how Riley’s actions are influenced by her emotions. Exploring how her emotions have to react to profound changes in Riley’s life such as moving to a new city, starting a new school and having to deal with all of the hardships associated with these experiences.
I could almost write an entire article on the level of creativity on display here as it’s absolutely staggering. My personal favourite is the explanation for getting a song stuck in your head. I also loved how things like imagination and fears were personified. It was all so cleverly put together and really makes a lot of sense when scrutinised. The idea of the human mind being a bureaucratic admin exercise in getting the whole thing to work to create a well rounded person is incredibly clever and the execution is nearly flawless.
The ensemble of emotions work really well together but the majority of focus goes to Joy. Amy Poehler is a great choice for this character as she is able to effortlessly project a constant sense of optimism even in the face of some pretty heavy adversity. There are moments where she starts to waver but always comes back to being optimistic through a genuine desire to make sure that Riley stays happy.
Her character arc involves learning that there is more to being a well rounded person than simply being happy all of the time. Through her experiences she learns that other emotions are important to help Riley understand the difference so her lesson involves not being so controlling.
In true Pixar tradition Joy needs to go on an adventure to learn what she needs to learn and the scenes exploring the depths of Riley’s mind are incredibly well put together. They are exciting, creative and incredibly tense when they need to be.
As mentioned above the other emotions are portrayed really well. According to this film the main driving forces of our personalities are Joy, Sadness, Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). Realistically I think it’s probably a lot more complicated than that but it was executed so well that I was willing to accept this simplification of the emotional states. I really loved how these characters interacted with constant bickering and vying for attention. Everything the emotions did was with the intention of making sure that Riley would be OK. They are all very misguided at various points but the learning experience is one of the central themes of this film.
At its heart this is a story about growing up which works on a surface level as we see Riley age in an extended prologue. As she gets older and learns more her mind grows into something more complex and the emotions have more responsibilities to keep her running smoothly. This will work for both adults and children as kids will be going through the process of growing up so will be able to relate to a lot of her childhood experiences. Adults will remember growing up and how these formative experiences have helped shape them as well. Not to mention the fact that parents will be able to identify with the happiness and hardship of raising a child with the random emotional outbursts being all too familiar.
Riley’s emotions have a lot of growing up to do as well as evidenced by their singular attitudes at the beginning. They all have Riley’s emotional well being as their top priority but initially think that one of them needs to be dominant in order to achieve that. They have to learn to work together and the results are reflected in how well Riley’s personality develops. I found it interesting that the emotions are all really layered characters who seem to project more than one emotion themselves. I wonder if they have anthropomorphised emotions inside them too? Probably best not to consider the implications of that idea.
There’s a real sense of scale to the world established as there are moments where the narrative leaves Riley’s head to visit others. One of the best scenes in the film involves a three way battle between Riley, her mum and her dad who naturally have anthropomorphised emotions of their own. Each of them are trying to predict the actions of the other two and the emotions struggle to react. It’s hilarious and is a great way to show how emotions affect everyone in different ways.
I couldn’t help but think that there’s a lot of potential to this idea. What does this film look like if it followed a character who was mentally ill? How would Alzheimers look in this world? Other things like panic attacks or the diseased mind of a serial killer would be interesting to explore as well. I realise those are some really dark and mature subjects but this world was built so well that I would love to see that explored. I doubt I’ll ever get the chance but it did get me thinking.
Some parts of the film were pretty dark and I think that some kids will have trouble dealing with the places this film goes to. It’s nothing too heavy but think the emotional intensity of Toy Story 3 and you’ll start to get the idea of what I mean. I found myself completely emotionally invested in everything this film had to offer. Some moments towards the end are genuinely moving. This is definitely one for adults and kids alike.