Thursday, 18 June 2015


Walt Disney Studios Films/Pixar

Pixar are back! Not that they really ever went away, but with no release in 2014, and Monsters University (2013) and Brave (2012) not living up to their promise -- and the announcement of some unnecessary sequels to fan favourites: Finding Nemo, Toy Story, The Incredibles -- it seemed the animation studio which had rarely put a foot wrong (Cars (2006) and Cars 2 (2011) excepted) had run out of ideas.

Not that the premise of Inside Out -- the competing emotions inside one's mind -- is wholly original (1980s sit-com Herman's Head, anyone?) but as applied to an 11-year-old girl, directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen (and the writing team), have created something else: a rich, brightly-coloured adventure full of imagination, wonder and, yes, emotions.

Riley is your typical pre-teen: two loving parents, close friends, a skilled ice hockey player and a generally bright and bubbly kid. And like every other kid -- and parent, and dog, as witnessed in Inside Out -- Riley has five main emotions driving her thoughts and actions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust.

Joy (Amy Poehler) has been with Riley since the second she was born, and as the "eldest" she has assumed control of the command centre that is Riley's mind. It's here that Joy and the other emotions -- Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) -- steer their charge through each day, creating new core memories; the ones she'll keep forever.

But when Riley's father lands a new job in San Francisco, Riley is uprooted from her comfortable mid-Western life, and everything that was once safe and familiar -- to her and her emotions -- is gone. Riley's life is thrown out of whack and so, too, is her emotional command centre.

Joy and Sadness are jettisoned from their post and forced to make their way back before it's too late (Riley -- or rather Anger -- having hit on the idea of running away back to the Midwest where all of Riley's core memories were created). Somewhat ably assisted by one-time imaginary friend, Bing Bong (Richard Kind), Joy and Sadness must work together to restore order to the chaos.

If it weren't already brave enough for a children's film to tackle emotional well-being, Inside Out acknowledges that joy and sadness are two sides of the one coin; that one emotion can make the other more sweet or take the edge off.

Joy wants Riley to he happy all of the time but being happy 24-7 is not healthy, and forced happiness isn't happiness at all. (And to be honest, Poehler's Joy is a tad insufferable.) Besides, Sadness is vital: it allows Riley's parents to know when she's vulnerable and in need of comfort and reassurance. Just as Fear keeps us safe and Anger allows us to vent, Sadness provides both a release and a 'waving hand' when adrift in an emotional current.

If that makes Inside Out sound too deep for your average tike, it's not. There's plenty of colour and movement -- it goes without saying that the animation is world class -- and humour for both child and adult alike.

But in daring to go deep, to acknowledge the emotional complexity at childhood's end, Pixar have reaffirmed themselves as not just the premier animation studio but as the foremost producers of intelligent family fare. Welcome back.

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