Not much will get me into the theater these days. There are just two many pushes and not enough pulls. However, the gravitational pull of Pixar is still pretty strong, so despite Monsters University, we packed up the family, ate hot dogs in the car on the way over (How much do they cost at the concession stand nowadays?), and went to see Inside Out.
Inside Out tells the story of Riley, an 11-year-old girl who moves with her family from Minnesota to San Francisco. The stress of the move brings on an emotional maturation played out in the film by five emotions that take corporeal form and operate Pacific Rim style inside Riley’s head–Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. The effect of these emotions on Riley’s personal development is expressed via colored glass crystal ball style spheres representing memories that are collected at the end of each day and filed. Most go to long term memory, but a few especially impactful ones become “core memories” that are kept in a central location. Having left behind many things dear to her, such as her friends and hockey team, Riley must now cope with newfound feelings of sadness that, until now, have not played a central role in her life. This conflict plays out in Riley’s head as a collision between the Joy character, who wants to keep everything simple and happy-go-lucky, and the Sadness character, who knows things are changing but doesn’t quite yet understand her new role in helping Riley cope with the complexities of a brave new pre-pubescent world.
Pretty heady stuff for a kids’ movie, eh? It is. Essentially, the movie is about catharsis. Offhand, I can’t think of any movie that deals with this topic, yet alone so deftly. Still, at the end of the day, it’s a Pixar movie. And Pixar, as always, manages to walk the tightrope between maintaining straight up entertainment value for the younger audience (i.e., the sight gags) and providing, not only the usual inside jokes aimed at the adults (Chinatown reference anyone?), but also plenty of food for thought and sentimental appeal for those who left childhood innocence behind long, long ago.