A review of “Inside Out,” a moving, entertaining animated tour of an 11-year-old’s mind, voiced by Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader and others. Rating: 4 stars out of 4.
Don’t tell your kids, but the latest Pixar film, “Inside Out,” is really for adults. It’s not that children won’t love it, with its balloon-bright colors, silly voices and zippy action sequences, but to fully appreciate its message, you may need to be a former kid. Like “Up” — also directed by the brilliant Pete Docter — “Inside Out” movingly but casually plays with our emotions, like a baby walking her fingers across a parent’s face; it leaves you changed, entertained, nostalgic, dazzled.
At heart, this is an action film, but one set inside a particularly fraught location: the brain of an 11-year-old girl named Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias), who’s going through some life changes. With her parents (Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan), she’s moved from the Midwest to San Francisco, where she struggles to find a toehold — and where, as preadolescence begins to take hold, her personality becomes less happy-go-lucky and more moody.
Sounds like an earnest “Afterschool Special,” but “Inside Out” is anything but: Most of it takes place, literally, inside Riley’s mind (“Headquarters”), where five emotions — Joy (Amy Poehler, effervescent), Sadness (Phyllis Smith, waterlogged), Fear (Bill Hader, skittery), Disgust (Mindy Kaling, sneering) and Anger (Lewis Black, steaming) — hilariously struggle for dominance. The story becomes a zoomy roller-coaster ride through Riley’s consciousness, as memories get misplaced, trains of thought get derailed, a Dream Studio (one that would rival any Hollywood company) is visited, organization is attempted (“These facts and opinions look so similar!”) and maintenance workers busily keep things tidy by disposing of things not worth keeping. Four years of piano lessons? “Save ‘Chopsticks’ and ‘Heart & Soul,’ forget the rest,” briskly advises a coverall’d staffer.
Movie Review ★★★★
‘Inside Out,’ with the voices of Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan. Directed by Pete Docter, from a screenplay by Docter, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley. 106 minutes (includes Pixar short film “Lava”). Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action. Several theaters.
The voices, as with all Pixar films, are marvelously chosen: Poehler’s Joy, even as she feels her prominence fading, is a sparkly gung-ho cheerleader of happiness; Smith (of “The Office”) gives Sadness a funny downtrodden quality, appropriate for someone who, when pondering the group’s course of action, woefully offers, “We could cry until we can’t breathe.” (Everything this character said cracked me up.) And the visuals are a rainbow-hued wonder, from Disgust’s glittery green eyelashes to the fantastical Islands of Personality (for Riley, these include Hockey Island and Goofball Island) that look like distant, alluring theme parks. (Mandatory 3D/2D note: I saw this movie in 2D, and can’t imagine how 3D would have changed it much; I suspect it’s gorgeous regardless of dimensions.)
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“Inside Out,” ultimately, is about Riley learning to find happiness again (and gives a hint about the future in a funny, quick kicker). Along the way, it brings more joy than any movie I’ve seen this year, along with a happy tear or two. Take a girl, of any age, to see this movie; it is, like its bubbly central character, a joy.