JOY RIDE FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Anger, Disgust, Joy, Fear and Sadness govern the inner world of an 11-year-old girl, as imagined by Pixar.
By now you've probably heard that the latest animation from Pixar is a clever visualization of the human psyche. You know that it makes small children giggle and adults weep, and that writer-director Pete Docter (Up) and codirector Ronaldo Del Carmen have found madcap, nonpreachy ways to encourage viewers of all ages to talk more openly about their feelings.
But why find new words to praise Inside Out's central conceit when we could just illustrate it? So I've turned the remainder of this review over to my own versions of the five core emotions depicted in the film — Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black).
JOY: Guys, this movie is a-maze-ing! Mainly because it's narrated by Joy. Most of the story takes place inside the head of a little girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), who, like everybody else, is ruled by five emotions struggling for power in an internal control room. Until Riley hits her tween years, Joy is firmly at the helm, touching all her Core Memories and helping form her Personality Islands.
SADNESS: But then Riley's parents move her across the country to San Francisco, and Sadness starts touching all her Core Memories. Because that's what happens as you grow up.
DISGUST: You just liked this movie because it confirmed your downer worldview, didn't you, Sadness? Liking movies because you relate to them is so uncool.
FEAR: What if people think we're uncool for having an emotional response to a kids' movie? What if they think we're stupid? Quick, think of something smart to say! Maybe an allusion to a French philosopher! Where's rationality? Where's abstract thought?
JOY: Didn't you watch the movie? There's no rationality in the control room. But Joy and Sadness do cross the realm of abstract thought as part of their quest through the wilds of Riley's mind to save her tainted Core Memories. In a wonderfully creative sequence, conceptual thinking deconstructs their animated figures into nonfigurative shapes.
ANGER: Grrr! Stop being so relentlessly upbeat! Joy was my least favorite part of this movie — she was like Tinkerbell without the sass, and she thought Riley would live happily ever after if she could just quarantine Sadness in a tiny circle. How dumb is that?
SADNESS: It may be dumb, but people do it all the time. They think if they ignore me, I'll go away. The movie sets up Joy as the story's dynamic protagonist and Sadness as her droopy, pathetic antagonist, only to turn that schema, well, inside out. In a nation driven by "positive thinking," it's downright subversive.
DISGUST: So Pixar wants to create a generation of whiners?
SADNESS: Hey, the movie shows that without me, there's no true compassion. When you feel like crap, do you go for sympathy to the person with the creepy perma-smile?
JOY: I resent that! Anyway, there's so much good stuff we haven't mentioned yet. How Joy and Sadness enlist the help of Riley's nearly forgotten imaginary friend, Bing Bong (Richard Kind), a sidekick both absurd and unforgettable. How they all drop in on Riley's subconscious dream factory, drolly depicted as a Hollywood studio. How Riley's parents are real people with their own inner conflicts. How you shouldn't miss the bonus sequence during the credits.
DISGUST: Sheesh, would you get off the bandwagon of love for this movie already? It's not like Pixar needs our help — Inside Out made $90 million last weekend.
ANGER: Let's be contrarian! Complain about how we prefer hand-drawn animation! No one's going to click on another damn positive review.
SADNESS: Sorry, but a movie that satisfies both Joy and me gets at least four stars. It's a rule.
JOY: I'm sure the folks over in abstract thought will go along with this. They know who signs the checks.
Director: Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen Writer: Pete Docter Producer: Jonas Rivera Cast: Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Lewis Black, Bill Hader, Phyllis Smith, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan
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Margot Harrison is the Associate Editor at Seven Days; she coordinates literary and film coverage. In 2005, she won the John D. Donoghue award for arts criticism from the Vermont Press Association.