‘Inside Out’ is a masterpiece of imagination

Amy Poehler is the voice of Joy in Pixar's "Inside Out."
Amy Poehler is the voice of Joy in Pixar's "Inside Out." Pixar

What It’s About

Pixar Animation Studios has raised the bar so often that we expect a certain level of excellence. A mind-bending, rib-tickling, envelope-pushing “Inside Out” achieves new heights, and stands tall alongside the studio’s very best.

This very ambitious effort is not only an imaginative masterpiece because of its exceptional modern techniques, but also connects emotionally through an insightful story that will charm adults and older children. (Younger children may have a harder time.)

This witty excursion into the human mind is chock-full of colorful visuals, but endears because of its warm look at childhood. Every parent can relate to the precious moments and pitfalls shown as the principal character grows up.

Precocious Riley, 11, moves from a pleasant town in Minnesota to an intimidating San Francisco, and the prospect of a new home, new school and making new friends has turned her world topsy-turvy.

Her kind-hearted parents, voiced by Kyle MacLachlan and Diane Lane, are flummoxed when Riley’s pre-teen emotions surface, and a new period of development accelerates.

They don’t realize her five main emotions — Joy, Fear, Disgust, Anger and Sadness — are battling for control in a command center that we peek inside. And the mind games get pretty crazy as Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) navigates her life’s passages.

While the inner workings go haywire for a time, ultimately the message is that life’s ups and downs are teachable lessons. For us to fully experience joy, we need to have felt sadness.

Every bit as profound as “Boyhood,” and a perfect companion piece to genius director Pete Docter’s Oscar-winning “Up,” this is a movie to be cherished.


The color-coded emotions benefit from keen casting. The fabulous five couldn’t be better — a perky Amy Poehler (“Parks and Recreation”) as the pixie Joy, a fretting Bill Hader (“Saturday Night Live”) as the fidgety Fear, a bellowing Lewis Black (“The Daily Show”) as the tightly wound Anger, a mopey Phyllis Smith as the miserable Sadness, and a sassy Mindy Kaling (“The Mindy Project”) as the smart-alecky Disgust.

Their sharp comedic skills bring the bright and breezy script to life.

And Richard Kind, as Riley’s imaginary friend, Bing Bong, nearly steals the film.

What Works

I doubt that another film this year can surpass it for cleverness. Getting on the Train of Thought for answers! Telling us that the Troublemakers are in the Subconscious! Not to mention pop culture jokes aplenty.

Truly beautifully co-written, by Docter, who brings his inherent Minnesota goodness and brilliant storytelling skills to his career as a genius director-writer. Heartfelt humor is woven throughout as well as heaping helpings of silly.

What Doesn’t Work

Some of the more subtle gags will be lost on younger children, and the subject matter is a wee bit esoteric.

A remarkable flight of fancy, however, “Inside Out” is that rare work that is both laugh-out-loud funny and springs leaks in eyes because of its sincere rooted-in-reality story.

4 stars out of 4

Director: Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen

Starring: (Voices) Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, Lewis Black, Phyllis Smith

Rated: PG for mild thematic elements and some action

Length: 1:34