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Inside Out

My favorite thing about Pixar’s excellent new film, “Inside Out?”  All the way home, my six-year-old was using the basic concept to talk about things that have been going on lately with her own emotions.   A few days later, she was building her own personality islands with Legos, and telling me about the core memories that powered each island. Because we watched this movie together, I know my daughter better.  I understand better what is happening inside her head. That’s not just great, it’s verging on miraculous.

The center of “Inside Out” is Riley, an 11 year old girl who is in the middle of a major transition. Along with her parents, she is moving from the iced-over lakes of Minnesota to the crowded hilltops of San Francisco. (It appears to be a shaky business venture for her dad, but the details are neither disclosed nor important.)  Inside Riley’s head are an entirely separate cast of characters, who help her process everything that happens to her.  There is bright and bouncy Joy, in her tinkerbell dress, and turtle-necked, bespectacled Sadness.  Also Anger (Lewis Black – is this guy ever allowed to be happy?)  who looks like an inflamed tooth, and Fear, and my favorite, Disgust (Mindy Kaling.)

The plot is pretty basic (and more or less the same as Toy Story.) Joy(Amy Poehler, bringing her combination of cheeriness and oblivion straight from “Parks and Recreation”) and her least favorite companion, Sadness (Phyllis Smith), get separated from headquarters, and must make their way back before something terrible happens. Those left at home do their best to keep things in order, but are terribly, comically inept. Along the way, Joy discovers that Sadness isn’t so bad after all, and in fact may be necessary for Riley to understand what’s happening to her.

But the worldbuilding is fantastic.  I can’t wait to see “Inside Out,” because I know there are a plethora of things I missed or didn’t fully understand the first time around. Joy and Sadness spend time in Riley’s imagination, where they meet an almost forgotten imaginary friend, Bing Bong (voiced by one of my favorite voice actors ever, Richard Kind.  Remember how great he was in “A Bug’s Life?”) they stumble into Abstract Thought, and make a hasty exit.  And of course, there are the Personality Islands, the memory orbs, and the dark, scary Subconscious.  This is great stuff.

The writers at Pixar have clearly done some reading. There are a number of psychological insights tucked into “Inside Out,” beyond the most clear and obvious, which is that Sadness isn’t a nuisance, but a necessary part of the emotional team.  I’ve even heard that choosing these five emotions is based a theory from Charles Darwin about our emotional responses, but I don’t know if that’s exactly true. Nonetheless, I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find another movie this year, for kids or adults, that is more psychologically insightful, creative, perceptive, and in, the end, wise.  I’m looking forward to the conversations I’ll continue to have with my six-year-old thanks to this movie.

 

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

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