Viewers of a certain vintage may retain fond memories of The Numskulls – a weekly story in The Beano which featured the inside of a young boy’s head and the cartoon creatures that operated his moods, emotions and functions. The similarities are probably coincidental, but with Inside Out, it’s as though the team at Pixar took that same basic premise and elevated it to levels of sophistication that The Beano could only dream of.
Most of the action takes place inside the emotional world of a young girl called Riley, who has recently been uprooted from her home in Minnesota to live in an unfamiliar new house in San Francisco. The dominant force in her world up to this point has been Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler) but as Riley’s comfortable existence is rocked by unforeseen problems, the other resident emotions – Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear start to exert their influences too. Writer/directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen have created a complex internal world where everything depends on the different emotions working together as a team. Joy is convinced that in order for Riley to be truly happy, her influence must dominate proceedings. When Sadness (Phyllis Smith) attempts to be involved, the equilibrium is upset and Riley’s world appears to be in danger of coming apart at the scenes. Joy and Sadness now have to team up in order to put her back on an even keel.
Pixar have always been brilliant at creating films that are as appealing to adults as they are to children and after a recent run of disappointments (Cars 2 anyone?) it’s great to see them back at the top of their game. Indeed, Inside Out is so sophisticated you can’t help suspecting that the adults get by far the better deal here; where else would you find a kid’s animation that gleefully references Roman Polanski’s Chinatown? Don’t get me wrong, the film is surely big enough and shiny enough to keep the younger members of the audience happy, but they’ll be missing so many sly in-jokes and observations that can really only be fully appreciated once maturity has kicked in.
Suffice to say that this is delightfully inventive stuff that never loses pace or its unerring sense of direction, and there’s a conclusion here that will wring real tears from all but the stone-hearted. When Pixar was purchased by the Disney organisation, there was much dark speculation that it would find itself neutered by the House of Mouse, so it’s heartening to report that Inside Out steers well clear of the usual ‘quest for happiness’ ending and opts instead for something a tad more realistic. Don’t miss this one – and whatever you do, don’t feel that you need to have a child in tow in order to enjoy it. This film would give Sigmund Freud a run for his money.
Don’t be in too much of a hurry to vacate your seats either. In the usual Pixar tradition, there’s an end credit reel that provides some of the film’s funniest moments.