Inside Out review

There’s no need to mince words – Inside Out ranks up there as not just one of the best movies you’ll see this year, but it’s also one of Pixar’s finest works. A film about feelings with feelings leaving you with feelings might seem like an odd sell, but the sheer amount of depth, thoughtfulness and joy in the midst of sadness (and vice versa) makes this one of the greatest studies of the human condition – and a must-see movie for the whole family.

Of course, it’s been two months since the US release, so us here in Singapore might be feeling sadness, disgust or anger at being left behind at what’s already been universally lauded. But whether or not you’ve managed to avoid reviews or trailers so far, Inside Out remains a pleasant surprise. Still, we go spoiler free under the cut (unless feelings are spoilers?).

Inside Out tells the story of Riley, a young Minnesota girl whose father gets a new job in San Francisco. On the verge of puberty, Riley experiences all sorts of emotions – represented by five figures in her head: Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (an amazing Phyllis Smith). While all of them try to guide Riley through life, Riley’s key emotion is Joy (mine would probably be Anger) – but things start to change as she tries to adjust to life in the most hipster city on the planet.

(Image: Pixar)
Left to right: Sadness, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Joy. (Image: Pixar)

And with that, the movie brings us on a most amazing journey through a young 11-year-old’s mind. Here the Pixar storytelling is on top form – there’s a lot for both children and adults to enjoy, on very different levels. Travelling through the different parts of the mind reveals different visual treats that keep the kids entertained.

But for the adults, this trip is such a clever way to study how the mind works, whether its memories or emotions or types of psychology. From the exploration of abstract thought to the little sneeze-and-you’ll-miss-it jokes on how humans deal with opinions and earworms … it’s just on the nose funny in its delightfully clever way.

Joy and Sadness with a happy memory. (Image: Pixar)
Joy and Sadness with a happy memory. (Image: Pixar)

But for all the clever ways of depicting aspects of the mind, Inside Out’s true strength is in the study of humanity. There’s a strong thread in the movie that just speaks about the human condition, whether it’s the age of growing up, or the importance of embracing sadness. Yet, it’s never preachy or tries to get us to understand teenagers more – it just shows, it just is.

The movie’s ability to show Riley reacts in life thanks to these various emotions taking charge (or going missing) is pure wonder – it breaks down complex things like emotions, even those of a child on the cusp of the terrible teens, moving from joyful pre-teen to moody, emo teen. Most of us have been through it (some of us, at 30, are still in it), and it rings true. Riley’s experience in San Fran might be specific to her, but her inability to handle changing emotions in a changing world hits the nail on the head. Guy, girl, wherever you are – there’s a lot that one can identify with.

(Image: Pixar)
(Image: Pixar)

Some of this is due to how the movie shows the way we store memories: There’s one sphere for each memory, each with its own accompanying emotion. But through some flaw (or design), Sadness is able to change a memory related with Joy to one with misery – a happy moment on the ice in Minnesota changed to a distant longing from San Fran. There’s a lot of nuance and depth in how directors Peter Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen handles this, grappling with how we wrestle with grief and despair.

Personally, it’s been a tough one month for my family. Watching the joy of Riley’s family raising her touched a raw nerve in me … and coming from the point where a picture of an ultrasound can move from joy to sadness before ending somewhere in the midst of both – deep down it was hard to grapple with these emotions. There was a sense of catharsis in watching Riley’s own struggle: The knowledge that you’re never truly alone, that your experience, while unique, is shared, and that whether happy, or sad, or angry or disgusted or fearful, growing up shows that you’re more than just these basic emotions.

If joy and sadness go missing, what happens when anger, disgust and fear take charge? (Image: Pixar)
If joy and sadness go missing, what happens when anger, disgust and fear take charge? (Image: Pixar)

In some ways, Inside Out packs the emotional punch of Up, except better spread out over 102 minutes. This means there’s a more coherent story to care about, instead of being emotionally wasted after the introduction and then just laughing at a talking dog. At the same time, having so much to identify with – this universal process of growing up while trying to grasp what is going on with your emotions – yet laughing and crying throughout the movie, Inside Out is perhaps one of Pixar’s greatest masterpieces yet. A must watch.

Inside Out opens Aug 27 in Singapore.

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