Hmm. I don’t know what it is about animated movies that everyone absolutely looooves, but I never like them very much. Frozen was awful, 90% of Up was insipid garbage, same goes for Wall-E, etc. Inside Out is an exception, because it actually is original and well-crafted.

Eleven-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) has to move from Minnesota to San Francisco, and she’s not happy about it. This boggles the mind, but I guess I threw a fit when my parents said we might have to move to Vermont, so…not fair at all; San Francisco is at worst a lateral move from Minnesota, and Vermont is worse than any kind of civilization.

At any rate, we get to see Riley’s internal life from the point of view of the five major emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Anger (Lewis Black). This could have been merely twee, but never quite gets there. Instead, the film delightfully draws the mechanics of how emotions influence memories, how memories are stored (or forgotten), and how these emotions and memories create a personality. Riley’s brain (or perhaps mind) is a vibrant labyrinth of information, rather like the databanks in a dubious science fiction film, but the touches of atmosphere are genius–dreams are performed in a theatre and require props and a director, menial workers sometimes send old jingles to “headquarters” as a prank, and the train of thought is a literal train. That’s an easy joke once you see it, but I suspect it’s not actually that obvious.

The conflict arises when Joy and Sadness accidentally get locked out of headquarters and, because she can’t feel joy any more, Riley’s life begins to fall apart. It’s slightly pessimistic that the mind holds only one positive emotion against four negative, but it’s perhaps not inaccurate. The film uses a deft touch, also, in explicating how all five are essential, and not necessarily harmful. Anger’s excitement at the hardware upgrade (now he knows LOTS of swearwords) is hilarious.

It’s an NBC comedy convention in the voice actors, but those were heady, great days for NBC comedy, when Kaling, Smith, Poehler, and Hader were all around (a soupçon of Bobby Moynihan never hurts, either). You can just hear Amy Poehler’s boundless optimism–she is a perfect choice for Joy. But if she’s in first place, the others aren’t a distant second by any means. Disgust made me long for the amazing disdain in early seasons of “The Mindy Project,” and Fear reminded me how sad I am that Bill Hader seems to prefer drama now (I’m sure he’s great, but I don’t watch a lot of sad indie films, and he is so. good. at comedy).

The only lack is that I don’t actually care that much about Riley herself. She’s nice, with her hockey and stuff, but that’s about it. She mostly seems self-pitying–and that’s the point, that you can’t always control how you feel, but meh. I guess it’s an interesting philosophical question about whether you can care about someone’s emotions without caring about them… but whatever.

Stray observations:

  • Phyllis Lappin/Vance! Who knew her voice was that distinctive?!
  • Is it weird that I didn’t necessarily want this to be a musical, but definitely wanted Joy to have a musical number?

Directors: Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen
Rating: PG
Length: 95 minutes
Score: 4/5