‘Inside Out’ – an amazing look inside the heads of Pixar’s magicians

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

“Inside Out” is outstanding. Astonishing. Sensational.

It’s every word P.T. Barnum ever splashed across his museum. Only, this movie is the real thing — something so smart, so funny, so special that you almost regret it’s animated.

Except, you don’t.

Inside Out

‘Inside Out’ movie’s characters

Because, in visual terms, “Inside Out” is out of this world.

No, my only regret about it being an animated feature is, you probably assume it’s a kids’ picture. It is, but it’s so much more.  I mean, when was the last time you saw a children’s movie that made jokes about deconstruction and critical thought?

The film hooks you before the opening credits (not really surprising since it’s from the same folks who created the ineffably moving prologue to “Up”). As Amy Poehler (voicing the blue-haired pixie, Joy) asks, “Did you ever look at somebody and wonder what’s going on inside their head?”

Inside Out

‘Inside Out’ movie poster

Well, that’s what “Inside Out” is about: what goes on inside 11-year-old Riley’s head. Joy is just one of a team of emotions who takes turns at the control board. The others are Sadness (Phyllis Smith from “The Office”), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black).

Blessed with loving parents, Riley’s early years are mostly in Joy’s hands.  Yeah, there’s some Disgust (when offered broccoli) and Anger (when denied dessert) and even Fear (when confronted with a vacuum cleaner).

But then her folks decide to relocate from Minnesota to San Francisco.  Joy does her best, but things get crowded, at the control board. Worse, seemingly every memory Sadness touches turns, well, sad.

Somehow, Joy and Sadness get zonked into the inner recesses of Riley’s psyche. Getting back to where they belong becomes a journey that’s every bit as perilous — and metaphorically loaded — as “The Divine Comedy.”

Inside Out

A scene from ‘Inside Out’

Co-directors Peter Docter and Renaldo Del Carmen have created a true Coney Island of the mind. There are — yes —  islands that embody the pillars of her personality: Family, Friendship, Honesty, Hockey and, most endearingly, Goofball. There’s a theme park called Imagination Land (it includes a Stuffed Animal Museum). And a hazardous area called Abstract Thought. And the even more threatening Subconscious “where they take all the troublemakers.”

The entire film is bursting with visual inventiveness, emotional acuity and just plain laugh-out-loud humor. Even if your 8-year-old doesn’t grasp the concept of abstraction, he or she will likely giggle at the Picasso-esque effect it has on Joy, Sadness and their guide, Riley’s long-discarded imaginary friend, Bing Bong (Richard Kind).

The voice work is peerless. The inventiveness, visual and otherwise, is endless. Perhaps best of all, “Inside Out” gets you wondering about what’s going on inside your own head. And makes you very, very thankful for what’s going on inside the heads of those Pixar magicians.

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

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