Inside Out review
Ambitious concept for an older audience
It’s never easy to top a Disney/ Pixar joint venture at the box office, and yet their newest full-length animated motion picture, Inside Out, opened at second place in its first weekend behind the money-making machine that is Jurassic World. But why? When the data gets analyzed and polls tallied, the bottom line will still read that dinosaur mayhem is easier to follow than a cartoon aimed at family audiences about the emotions of a growing preteen, Riley. Pixar storyteller Pete Docter (Up, Monsters Inc.) creates a vivid, imaginative world inside the brain of an eleven-year-old girl and populates it with colorful, likable characters: her emotions, a childhood imaginary friend, dream actors, forgetters, etc. Personifying emotions for a children’s movie is an intrepid concept, but ultimately a concept that only adults will appreciate by film’s end. Inside Out can barely keep up with establishing Riley’s head at the rate of establishing the environment outside of her head. Unfortunately, children under Riley’s age group watching the newest Pixar movie would be better suited for Minions next month.
The voice cast is Inside Out’s strength, with each vocal talent carefully selected for a given emotion. Docter follows two principal emotions, Joy and Sadness, for the majority of the film. Amy Poehler (“Parks and Recreation,” They Came Together) provides her voice for the upbeat, positive emotion, Joy, creating the same kind of luminous, exciting buzz as she did on “Parks and Rec” as Leslie Knope. Phyllis Smith (“The Office,” Bad Teacher) keeps the sad, depressing rhythms she brought to the role of Phyllis on “The Office.” Talented voice and comedic actor Bill Hader (formerly of “SNL,” Trainwreck) provides the jittery, nervous voice of Fear. Stand-up comic Lewis Black (Accepted, Man of the Year) proves his irate, irritated on-stage bursts were perfect preparation to voice Anger. Rounding out the five emotions is Disgust, voiced by Mindy Kaling (“The Mindy Project,” “The Office”). Like Smith, Kaling takes rhythms from her character on “The Office” to create her repulsed, offended character. Character actor Richard Kind (“Spin City,” “Gotham”) adds his whimsical, kind (no pun intended)voice to Riley’s former imaginary friend, Bing Bong, who helps Joy and Sadness along the way.
To say that younger audiences won’t fully appreciate the concept doesn’t necessarily mean director Docter was lazy in establishing the framework. Simply put, his idea works but isn’t necessarily aimed at children as much as it would be for adults looking for something a little lighter than prehistoric action or super heroes saving the world. The film opens on Riley’s birth and the inception of her brain activity—a concept perhaps too broad for children unversed in biology. Docter uses a clever process to introduce us to Riley’s emotions. Joy emerges primarily in Riley’s head and becomes the de facto protagonist simply because she’s the first to arrive on scene and because one can only assume that “joy” would be the most-desired emotion, ultimately. Inside Out certainly doesn’t encourage viewers to grow as depressed as Sadness, but doesn’t want us to forget that side of our humanity. With Joy and Sadness constantly at odds, it isn’t long before this manic depressive duo set out for an adventure across Riley’s thoughts and memories.
With Inside Out, Disney and Pixar present another creative story that translates better to an audience older than the targeted demographic. Like Up and Wall-E, Inside Out certainly isn’t afraid to alienate younger viewers at the cost of a clever concept. Opening second to a movie in its second week certainly doesn’t look well for Pixar, as Disney surprised box office expectations by itself in November when Big Hero 6 championed the much-anticipated Christopher Nolan sci-fi epic Interstellar. Perhaps the excellent voice cast and word-of-mouth will draw more viewers next weekend when the genre-specific Ted 2 debuts.