‘Inside Out’ (2015) review: The power of memories

‘Inside Out’ beautifully personifies the conflict of growing up

“Inside Out” is a simple story, really. From start to finish, the film simply tells about an 11-year-old girl who finds herself in a new city, a new school, a new home. Millions of children (and the adults they grew into) can relate to the feelings that manifested during such a common yet upsetting time in their lives.

What “Inside Out” does, however, is to beautifully manifest those feelings into true personas that give a new meaning to personification.

In this Pixar animated film, Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) has to start anew in San Francisco after her parents (voiced by Kyle MacLachlan and Diane Lane) moved the family from Minneapolis. Her day-to-day life doesn’t change much, even if the details are strikingly different: She goes to school (and deals with other students she doesn’t know), she misses her old friends (though thank goodness for the power of the Internet) and she tries out for the hockey team (all the while missing her old teammates).

Where the magic happens, though, is inside Riley’s overactive mind. In there, feelings given form serve to propel the story forward. There’s five main feelings that make up Riley: Joy (Amy Poehler), a yellow-green fairy-type that’s the captain of this motley crew; Disgust (Mindy Kaling), a typical Mean Girl creation in shades of green; Anger (Lewis Black), the blood-red center of all things nasty; Fear (Bill Hader), which wears a bow-tie while being afraid of everything; and Sadness (Phyllis Smith), a blue blob that just makes you feel depressed by being in the same room.

These feelings, with Joy at the center, typically watch as Riley goes throughout her day. At times they fight for control of a console that serves as a bridge to Riley’s thoughts and sights, but they generally are more passive, only acting when Riley starts to feel anything other than joy. As the day goes on, memories (in the form of bowling balls) are deposited inside the mind. Shaded according to their mood, the experiences are then sorted by their values: Some are stored, some are discarded and, every once in a while, one becomes a Core Memory. The current Core Memories have branched out to create five islands that define who Riley is: Family, Honesty, Friendship, Hockey and Goofball. In effect, this is Riley’s personality, a bubbly young girl who generally sees the glass as half-full.

But if you thought that was it, you’d be missing out on the rest of Riley’s colorful mind, where there’s the imaginary friend Bing Bong (Richard Kind), a creation from Riley’s younger days; a dream factory where rainbow unicorns and hunky future boyfriends take residence (which, coincidentally, shuts down when Riley wakes up); and a thought train that runs on its own schedule.

Directed by Pete Docter from a script by himself, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley, “Inside Out” isn’t really meant for children. Yes, the bright colors and quick pace will delight the young ones, but the script is far more subtle than you first think, so much more substantial. It takes a young girl, one who only understood things in black-and-white terms (her life experiences are color-coded, for crying out loud), and sets her on a path that illuminates the fact that, sometimes, life isn’t quite so clear-cut.

In the end, like the best Pixar films, “Inside Out” is a multilayer endeavor, one that isn’t afraid of weighty themes even when aimed at a family audience. The film’s core concept isn’t difficult: Riley, at the all-too-confusing age of 11, has to learn to come to terms that her life is changing, that the move across country, despite her feelings, will happen. Once that starts to settle in, the surprise star of the film, the oh-so-pathetic Sadness, starts to take hold. Hilarious dry-witted, her role is a powerful testament that life is how we see it, that even the best memories are oftentimes bittersweet.

Five colorful stars out of five, and a critic’s pick

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