Inside Out is the latest slice of brilliance from Pixar, and stars Amy Poehler, Mindy Kahling, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Kyle MacLachlan, Diane Lane, Lewis Black, and Kaitlyn Dias.
We see the birth and early childhood of Riley (Dias) through the eyes of Joy (Poehler), one of the five emotions that drive her. The others, Fear (Hader); Anger (Black, because who the hell else would you cast?); Disgust (Kahling); and Sadness (Smith) all have their own roles to fulfill, but Joy doesn't really understand what Sadness does. In any event, Joy is very much the leader - her goal is keep Riley happy (interestingly, the other emotions seem to have the same goal; Fear doesn't want her scared, he just responds when she should be), and sees Sadness in particular as a roadblock to that goal.
Riley and her family move cross-country, and things are stressful and sucky. On the first day of school, Riley generates a new "core memory" (formative moments that power the islands of her personality), but this one is sad, rather than happy. Joy flips out and tries to prevent it from joining the others, and winds up disconnecting the other five and getting her, the core memories, and Sadness all sucked down into long term memory, leaving Fear, Disgust, and Anger as the only emotions Riley can feel.
The bulk of the movie concerns Joy and Sadness trying to get back into headquarters, and Joy finally realizing Sadness' role - she needs to be there so Riley can express her grief, work through it, and signal for help from her loving parents (MacLachlan and Lane). Along the way, they get help from Riley's old imaginary friend, Bing-Bong (Kind), who, in one of the movie's most touching moments, sacrifices himself to being forgotten so that Joy can keep going.
At the end of the movie, Riley pulls herself together, cries, and bonds with her parents, creating a new core memory that's both happy and sad. Riley is growing up, and her feelings and memories become more nuanced.
This movie is really amazing, and it's layered like whoa. What does it say, for instance, that Riley's mother is being driven by Sadness? Is that always the case, or just now during a very stressful period in her life? Same question about dad (driven by Anger and Fear)? And considered that we watch Riley's control panel evolve from a single button when she's a newborn to a much bigger spread as she grows up - more than one emotion can drive at once.
What I really like is that it's obvious that, however painful it is watching Goofball Island tumble into the abyss, personality islands are meant to crumble and be replaced. Riley isn't going to have a Boy Band Island forever (probably), but right now it's important to her...and "right now" is all she knows, because she's a kid. The movie captures the experience of being young and making stupid, impulsive decisions not because Riley is actually stupid or impulsive (we get the feeling she's neither, but actually pretty well put together) but because she's stressed, overwhelmed, and (though they don't realize it) her parents are putting her under immense pressure to "stay happy."
Riley reminds me a lot of my daughter (also 11), actually, and this movie is a good one for parents, I think. It's important to remember that we're all of us a work in progress, each of us the sum of our emotions and memories, and time erases parts of those, reshapes others, and blends it all up into...us.
My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium-high
Next up: Land of the Dead