Inside Out ***

Pixar's latest says sadness is okay sometimes, and it's right

Is it worth $10? Yes

We all let emotions get the better of us at times. When I was 11, the same age as the heroine in Pixar Animation’s “Inside Out,” my brother licked the last dinner roll that was supposed to be for me, so I chased him around the house with a bread knife (this did not go over well with my parents – I’m pretty sure I was grounded for a year). Clearly anger got the better of me, but the experience of deep emotion is nonetheless a salient moment in the life of any youngster, as it marks an evolution of personality that becomes more fully formed in adulthood.

These elements are worth pointing out because they’re at the heart of “Inside Out,” a tender if not always captivating look at the chaos that is our emotions. Like Andy in “Toy Story,” the central figure in “Inside Out” is a child. She is Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), and she has two loving parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan). Co-writer and director Pete Docter shows Riley’s emotions in the form of Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Fear (Bill Hader). Together they control her actions and dictate mood and personality. When Riley moves from Minnesota to San Francisco and must start anew the emotions are tested, and find trouble when Joy and Sadness are accidentally thrust out of the mind’s control center. With Fear, Disgust and Anger governing unhappy Riley, real danger and poor decisions ensue.

If this sounds too kid-friendly it is, more so than typical Pixar fare. Save for one “bear” joke that’s an indirect reflection on San Francisco’s gay community, there’s not much humor here for adults, which is unusual for Pixar. There is, however, an inspired sequence in which we get a peak at the emotions of Riley’s parents, which are stereotypical but hilarious.

The rest of the film is equally inspired, just not as engaging. As Joy and Sadness trek back to the control center they encounter long term memories, Imagination Land, abstraction, dreams and the subconscious. All of it is wildly imaginative, but it’s also tiresome, as we know the movie can’t end until Joy and Sadness return. To pinpoint the issue, the sequences are played for cutesy rather than laughs, and cutesy jokes wear thin quickly. For example, Joy and Sadness work with Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong (Richard Kind), who is equal parts dolphin, elephant and cat. It’s all children’s TV silliness with no gravitas, which believe it or not has been an integral part of every Pixar movie except this one.

There are smaller, subtle jokes that are effective (note the newspaper Anger reads, which has headlines reflecting Riley’s emotions at that moment), but what ultimately wins you over is the message and sentiment: Sometimes it’s okay to be sad, and as time passes it’s okay to look back at memories with both sadness and joy. Hitting high emotional notes is (arguably) what Pixar does best, whether its subject is toys, going to college or floating across the world on a simulated hot air balloon, and the studio has succeeded yet again here.  

“Inside Out” is Pixar’s 15th film, and I can think of at least seven or eight that are better (“Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” “The Incredibles,” etc.). Still, it’s wonderfully creative and sweet, and its ingenious premise goes a long way toward solidifying its appeal. It’s a good movie, not a great one.

Did you know?
A Pixar short entitled “Lava” precedes “Inside Out.” In the short a singing volcano yearns for love in the open sea. It’s tender, but also one-note and too long. 

Inside Out opens 6/19.Don't get sold out and purchase your tickets today!

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