Some are hailing Inside Out as a game-changing artistic peak from Disney and Pixar Animation. To which we say dial it the hell down a tad, will you? The latest from director Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc and Up), who co-directed with longtime Pixar story artist Ronaldo Del Carmen, is about what goes on inside our heads when emotions are busy battling it out. It’s a charming, chaotic, bold, and sometimes exhilarating movie lots of the time. It it’s also frustratingly front-loaded with exposition, jerkily paced, and so pushed and zany at times that you’d like it to take a breather. Screenwriters Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley and Docter himself present soccer-loving 11-year-old kid named Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) who gets put through the wringer when her parents (Kyle MacLachlan, Diane Lane) uproot her from Minnesota to San Francisco for dad’s new job. Riley (and to a lesser extent, her mother) finds herself alienated by the city’s fog-shrouded hills, their funky, ramshackle new home, hipster joints, and even by vegetables on pizza. The poor kid breaks into tears in front of her classmates on her first day of school, grows moody and short-tempered, and even craps out on her hockey trials.
The big idea of Inside Out is that we’re taken deep inside Riley’s mind and emotions where we meet upbeat, sunny-hued Joy (Amy Poehler, doing a delightful, less-strident version of Parks and Recreation‘s Leslie Knope), moody blue Sadness (Phyllis Smith, melancholy to the hit), glowing green Disgust (Mindy Kaling), red, flame-spewing Anger (Lewis Black) and perpetually nervous, lavender Fear (Bill Hader). While Riley’s brain has been filled with happy childhood memories, symbolized by peppy yellow glass balls, she now finds herself so emotionally spun that everything’s getting erased and turning sour. Joy battles Sadness and Fear for control and, as we take a magical mystery tour of Riley’s mind that feels like a manic, wildly imaginative, sometimes surreal theme park ride waiting to happen.
It’s this last half of the movie — when Riley learns that Fear and Sadness are all part of growing up, especially when they work alongside Joy — that really connects. Richard Kind voices Riley’s Imaginary Friend and he’s as good milking laughs as he is tears. Inside Out is fun, smart, and ingenious, no question. When it comes to trailblazing invention and powerful emotion, though, it’s no Toy Story installment or Up.