Movie Review: Inside Out (2015)
In the end, it’s about the dangers of micromanagement.
Eleven-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) moves with her family from Minnesota to San Francisco, where the house is a fixer-upper, the furniture hasn’t arrived yet, and the pizza has broccoli on it. Where are her friends? How does she fit in? She feels sad. She needs to feel sad. But Joy (voice: Amy Poehler) is her controlling emotion, and doesn’t let Sadness (Phyllis Smith of “The Office”) do her job, which, in this instance, is turning certain core memories—represented by transluscent balls—blue with the blues. In the ensuing tussle over the balls, Joy and Sadness disappear up a pneumatic tube and wind up in long-term memory, from which they begin the epic journey back, through the subconscious, the imagination, and abstract thought—even attempting, like Depression-era hobos, to hop onto the train of thought—while the remaining emoticons, Anger, Disgust and Fear (Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling and Bill Hader), take turns gumming up the works and the pillars of Riley’s existence (friends, hockey, honesty) crumble and fall away. Without Joy and Sadness, Riley’s blocked, and retreats into sarcasm and temper tantrums. Eventually she decides to run away. It’s only when Joy and Sadness return to the control room, and Joy lets Sadness do her job, that Riley breaks down into tears, the family reconciles, and life, in all of its complexity, can move forward again.
Essentially it’s the Rosey Grier lesson from “Free to Be You and Me”: It’s alright to cry ... It just might make you feel better!
It’s also a movie that could be shown in a Management 101 class: Beware of micromanaging; let everyone do their job.
Or maybe the lesson is the tongue-in-cheek one posited by my friend Jeff afterwards: Never leave Minnesota.
The journey back
I expected great things going in, since the buzz and the reviews were amazing.
But I wasn’t feeling it. Not at first. The various core memories make Riley who she is, affix her unique personality, but what we see on the screen is hardly unique. Instead it feels universal, purposely designed, so we can all see ourselves or our daughters in Riley.
Then Joy and Sadness get lost and begin the epic journey back. How many of our favorite movies, particularly kids movies, are about epic journeys back? Start with the granddaddy, “The Wizard of Oz,” where the tornado acts as pneumatic tube, lifting our main character from home to someplace far away. A lot of the Pixar movies share this motif: “Toy Story 2,” “Finding Nemo,” “Toy Story 3.” We’re spun out, and we want to return whole, and generally we return damaged but better for the damage.
That’s the narrative structure, the anxious thing that drives the movie, but what really matters, kids (and grups), is the journey. It’s not about Dorothy returning to Kansas; it’s about meeting the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion, and the battle with the Wicked Witch. Here, it’s about meeting Bing Bong (the inimitable Richard Kind), Riley’s long-ago imaginary friend, a pink, portly creature with a bowtie, an elephant trunk and the tail of a cat, found milling about the long-term memories and plotting his return into Riley’s life. Of course, the opposite is happening. Riley is now 11, and the rocket-fueled wagon with which Bing Bong wants to propel Riley to the moon, is being unceremoniously discarded into the Memory Dump, the vast expanse of Riley’s mind, where most things just disappear. Bing Bong, most likely, is next. That’s why he sits down and cries. That’s why Sadness consoles him. And that’s when Joy has her epiphany—and we ours. We realize the movie’s resolution.
More or less. But I didn’t anticipate the sacrifice. Through a series of misadventures, both Bing Bong and Joy wind up in the Memory Dump, where he begins to disappear, and where she may be stuck forever—condemning Riley to a joyless life. But then Bing Bong finds his rocket-powered wagon, and the two attempt to ride it out of the Dump: once, twice, and on the third try, realizing he was weighing them down, realizing that Riley needs Joy more than she needs him, he sacrifices himself: He leaps off at the last second. Joy escapes, he begins to disappear, and with his final words, “Take her to the moon for me,” spoken in Richard Kind’s kind voice, I felt something in my chest shift. I literally stifled a sob. I can’t remember the last time I literally stifled a sob.
Damn Pixar. Damn Richard Kind and his kind voice. (Cf. “Obvious Child.”)
Anyway, that’s the moment I knew everyone was right and Pixar had done it again after a five-year drought. Or “drought.”
So is it odd that all of the emoticons want Riley to feel joy? Shouldn’t Anger want her to feel angry, and Disgust disgust? Don’t they want to imprint themselves on her?
More, isn’t the movie a kids movie for adults rather than for kids? Are kids bored with it? My nephew Jordy wasn’t, but he’s 14 going on 30.
Regardless, it should provoke interesting discussions. Patricia and I saw “Inside Out” with our friends Jeff and Sullivan, and their kids Reilly, 11, and Beckett, 6, and afterwards these are some of the things we talked about:
- Which of the five is your controlling emotion? (For me, sadly, fear. No offense, Fear.)
- What are your core memories?
- What are your childhood earworms? (First thought: “Me and My RC.” Second thought: “I love my Mounds/Lots of juicy coconut ...”)
I like that there was reconciliation, that everyone admitted missing Minnesota even as they stayed in San Francisco. That’s the adult message from the film’s writer-director, Pete Docter (“Monsters, Inc.” “Up”), who grew up in Minnesota and should know.