This review was requested by patron Amelia Mellor. If you’d like me to review a movie, please consider supporting my Patreon.
Okay. Okay. I see. Alright.
Okay. Yup. Yup. Uh huh. Okay.
Sorry. My bad. I see I haven’t been clear enough on this topic. So let me be frank.
STOP ASKING ME TO REVIEW PIXAR MOVIES. STOP IT. JUST CUT THAT OUT.
You want to know what I think about Inside Out? It’s PERFECT, okay?! IT’S GODDAMN FICKETY FUCKETY FLAWLESS! IT’S A FRICKIN’ GOAT! IT’S THE BEST POSSIBLE VERSION OF ITSELF. THERE IS LITERALLY NOT ONE SINGLE THING I CAN THINK OF THAT WOULD IMPROVE IT.
So what (excuse me) but what the FUCK AM I SUPPOSED TO SAY ABOUT IT? HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO CRACK WISE? YOU’VE HANDED ME THE CEILING OF THE SISTINE CHAPEL AND SAID “HERE, MAKE WITH THE FUNNY”. I CAN’T MAKE WITH THE FUNNY BECAUSE IT’S ONE OF THE GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN THE HISTORY OF HUMANITY AND I HAVE A SOUL, YOU MOUTH BREATHING HEATHENS!
Ohhhhhhhh oy vey oyvey okay.
Inside Out. It’s the Pixar movie of Pixar movies. It makes other Pixar movies look like Dreamworks movies and Dreamworks movies look like pimply butts. It slays all that come before and after it. It’s so good, such a triumph of writing, design, animation and performance that honestly it’s a little intimidating and hard to love. It’s never going to be one of those movies that I just have on in the background because when I’m doing housework I usually prefer something that’s not going to break me emotionally like an egg.
I never used to cry at movies. Not really. I distinctly remember crying at the end of Michael Collins and that being a big, shocking thing. And that was a special case, because he’s like the George Washington of this thing and he was a real guy who really died (spoiler). But crying at movies just because they were sad? No. Not a thing.
That all changed with the arrival of somebody.
Becoming a dad did something to me, people. Messed with my brain chemistry like a mad scientist juggling beakers and cackling. Now, when I watch a movie I cry if someone stubs their toe (unless its Adam Sandler, because my empathy can only stretch so far).
Researching this movie I learned that writer Pete Docter based it on observing changes in his daughter’s emotions when she reached eleven. I mean, I learned it, but I already knew it. This movie is so perfectly observed that it could only be drawn from real life.
The movie opens with the birth of Riley, possibly one of the most perfectly rendered depictions of a newborn baby in animation that I have ever seen.
Riley experiences her first emotion, who appears in her head as Joy (Amy Poehler). She’s soon joined by Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger, (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kahling) and Fear (Bill Hader). These are five of the Universal Emotions that correspond to distinct facial expressions that are universal to all human beings. There’s also a sixth, Surprise, but Riley obviously doesn’t need to feel surprise as she’s part of the post-millenial generation and knows everything.
So Riley lives in Minnesota with her loving parents and is as happy a little girl as can be notwithstanding the fact that she lives in Minnesota.
Joy is the emotion in charge of Riley and strives to make as many of her memories happy as possible. Now, I’ve seen it written elsewhere that Joy is selfish and controlling because she doesn’t want any of the other emotions to be in control of Riley but that’s just not true. Joy makes it clear when she introduces each new emotion that she understands that they’re important and all have a role to play. Fear keeps Riley safe, Disgust keeps her from being poisoned and also helps her adhere to social norms and Anger doubles as Riley’s sense of fairness. The only one whose purpose Joy simply does not get is Sadness, who she tries to keep as far away from the control panel as possible while wondering what her purpose even is, kind of like how I feel about Adam Levine.
Okay I need to talk about the art design in this because holy shit the art design in this you guys. There is a ton of world-building that has to be done to establish what is honestly a pretty darn complex alternate world and so much of the heavy lifting is done by the art design. Everything from how the memories are colour-coded, to the shelf full of idea lightbulbs to the Willy Wonka-meets-Rube Goldberg mechanisms that power Riley’s mind, it’s all designed so beautifully and with such simplicity that you’re never in any doubt about how this place works.
Okay, Riley’s emotions are thrown into turmoil when her parents Jill (Diane Lane) and Bill (Kyle MacLachlan) sell their house and move out to San Francisco. Joy is kept very busy keeping the other emotions under control even though Anger, Fear, Sadness and Disgust are all perfectly valid responses to having to move to California.
Joy keeps their spirits up by imagining what their new house will look like, but when they arrive they’re disappointed to find that it’s a lot less “Gingerbread House” and a lot more “Crack Den.”
Riley is upset that her new home is a dingy millionaire hovel with no furnishings and a dead mouse in the corner…oh my God.
Making matters worse, the moving van with all their stuff has gotten lost and gone to Texas, which Riley’s mother can’t understand because why would anyone or thing go to Texas?
Alright, strap in. I’m just going to insult all fifty states by the time the reviews ends. Start counting.
At Riley’s first day of school her teacher calls on her to tell the class about Minnesota and she tells them that at least its better than that shithole North Dakota.
Alright, so in the movie’s world there are regular memories and “core” memories. The core memories are formed after seminal events in Riley’s life and power the “core islands”. These islands are core aspects of Riley’s personality and are really fun and beautiful islands, you could call them “Anti-Rhode Islands”. So far, all of Riley’s core memories have been happy, but when she starts telling her class about her life in Minnesota, Sadness accidentally (?) touches one of her memories, turning it from yellow to blue. This causes Riley to start crying in front of her class, which creates a new core memory. A blue one.
Unable to deal with the idea that Riley might now have a sad core memory and tries to dispose of the new core memory up the magical suction tube. Sadness tries to stop her and in a rather unfortunate bit of slapstick Sadness, Joy and ALL the core memories end up getting sucked up the tube, leaving Fear, Anger and Disgust alone in the control room.
Joy and Sadness find themselves in long term memory, a long, long way way from the control room, about as far as Arizona is from having a secure border. Sadness tells Joy that without her in the control room Riley will never be happy again so they set off for home.
Meanwhile, Riley’s having dinner at home with her parents and they ask her about her day in school. Riley, who’s now just a solid mass of negative emotion like Wyoming, lashes out at her parents. This leads into the scene that was used as the movie’s first trailer, where we also meet Mr and Mrs Andersen’s emotions who, adorably, have the same glasses and moustache as their…owners? Is that how this works? Anyway, it’s a great scene, with lots of great comedic beats like the fact that Riley’s Dad putting the foot down involves his emotions breaking out nuclear keys and that Riley’s mother keeps fantasising about a Brazilian helicopter pilot that she used to date. Watching this again, I noticed something that I hadn’t before; Riley’s “leader” emotion is Joy, but her mother and father are run by Sadness and Anger respectively which sounds pretty bleak. But the whole point of the movie is that there are no “bad” emotions and that all of the emotions have an important and positive role to play. Besides, Mom!Sadness isn’t particularly sad, and Dad!Anger is pretty chill all things considered. I like to think that Mom!Sadness is in charge because Sadness is the emotion of empathy, and Riley’s Mom is a very kind hearted person whose very attuned to the emotions of the people she loves. Likewise, Mr Andersen having Anger in charge doesn’t mean he’s a rage case. As Joy explains early, Anger cares deeply about things being “fair”, so it could just mean that Riley’s father has a very strong sense of justice.
Anyway, Mr Andersen…I cannot say that without hearing Hugo Weaving’s voice, you know that? Anyway, Mr Andersen, who has broken every computer law we have a name for, tells Riley he does not like this new attitude.
He sends Riley to her room and while the Dad emotions high five each other on achieving peace in our time, the Mom emotions roll their eyes and go back to pining for Senhor Helipcóptero, as it’s clear that Mrs Andersen settled for Mr Andersen like Hawaii settled for the United States.
Later, Bill visits Riley in her room to try to mend fences. He tries to make her laugh with monkey noises which causes Goofball Island to collapse into Riley’s memory dump, while Joy and Sadness happen to be on and they only narrowly avoid falling in and being forgotten forever. They have to go through longterm memory, a labyrinthine maze of half-remembered piano lessons and gum commercial jingles where they meet the mind workers, basically the brain’s janitorial staff. The mind workers are siphoning away useless information like old phone numbers and the fact that Delaware exists. They also meet Bing Bong, Riley’s now forgotten imaginary friend voiced by Dom DeLuise.
Okay, he’s actually voicedby Richard Kind but it’s kind of spooky how much he sounds like Dom Deluise. It’s very impressive, like how Georgia still manages to be the worst Georgia despite going up against the place that gave the world Stalin.
Bing Bong offers to help the two get back to headquarters by catching the Train of Thought from Imagination Land. But first, they have to go through Abstract Thought, which causes them to decontextualise into abstract forms.
Unfortunately, they miss the train and their chances of getting home are now as sketchy as Mississipi’s record on Civil Rights.
So Bing Bong offers to lead them through Imagination Land where the trees are French Fries, the houses are made of clouds and anything is possible, even a version of Connecticut where everyone isn’t so up their own asses that they have to roll around everywhere like donuts made of people. They also encounter a machine that makes imaginary boyfriends for Riley. So here’s something I find interesting. There’s been a lot of speculation in this movie’s fandom that Riley is trans or maybe gender-fluid owing to the fact that she has both male and female emotions, whereas all the other characters have emotions whose genders correspond to their own. But firstly, that’s not actually true. Riley’s Dad!Disgust is clearly female. So why does she have a moustache? Because all of Dad’s emotions having little moustaches is hilarious and you need to stop overthinking everything. Now, Pixar have pretty much confirmed that the gender of each emotion has no greater significance than “We thought Lewis Black was perfect for this part”. That said, there is some evidence that Riley is maybe still figuring out some stuff about her sexuality. Look at Joy’s reaction to seeing Riley’s imaginary boyfriend.
Of course, Joy also represents Riley’s childhood innocence so maybe this is just a more typical “boys are gross” sentiment. Unfortunately, the mind workers take Bing Bong’s rocket ship that’s powered by song (yeah it’s good for emissions but not great for driving through residential areas at night) and throw it in the memory dump because Riley’s forgotten about it and Bing Bong and life is a horrifically cruel cavalcade of bitter losses only thrown into sharp relief by moments of beautiful melancholy.
Bing Bong is absolutely distraught and Joy tries her best to cheer him up because she doesn’t understand that she can’t help in every situation because she has a massively overinflated sense of her own importance like Washington. I mean, really? You name your state after GEORGE FRICKIN’ WASHINGTON?
Instead, Sadness and Bing Bong commiserate in their shared misery and hopelessness like the Carolinas, North and South and actually makes him feel better. So this is the heart of Inside Out’s quietly revolutionary message; it’s okay to be sad. Heck, sometimes it’s necessary to feel sad. Joy can’t help Bing Bong because Bing Bong shouldn’t be happy. At least, not right now. He needs to grieve. And Sadness helps by just letting him be sad. Finally realising that Sadness actually has a role to play, Joy follows Bing Bong and Sadness to the next train station and they hitch a ride on the train of thought. It grinds to a halt as Riley falls asleep, but they’re able to wake her up by giving her a scary dream and her mind suddenly becomes daytime again like its summer in Alaska, the mutant freak state.
Meanwhile, Riley’s emotional state is going from bad to worse and Anger decides that what they need to do is get her back to Minnesota. Riley steals her mother’s credit card and buys a bus ticket back to Minnesota which causes her last core island, Family, to go crashing down which takes the Train of Thought down with it. Sadness manages to jump clear but Bing Bong and Joy fall and find themselves in the memory dump, a massive black pit filled with more forgotten dreams than Nevada.
Realising that he doesn’t have long until he’s forgotten, Bing Bong sacrifices himself to help Joy ride his rocket car to safety and then we watch him vanish because Pixar is messed up and they get off on this shit or something.
It’s…oof. It’s rough.
Riley gets on the bus and Anger, Fear and Disgust suddenly realise that what they’re doing is crazy and try to get her to stop but it’s too late. Riley is now fully depressed and cut off from her own emotions. With all the paths back to Headquarters now gone, Joy improvises by using the the boyfriend generator to create a massive totem of disposiblel boyfriends to vault herself and Sadness back to where they belong. They arrive in headquarters just in time and Riley realises that holy shit, she almost went to Minnesota of her own free will. And that’s what we call hitting rock bottom.
Oh jeez, I’m almost at the end of the review. Okay, deep breath:
The Wizard of Oz has talking Scarecrows, Witches and flying monkeys and the most unbelievable part of that movie is that Dorothy actually wants to get back to Kansas.
Arkansas is actually pronounced “Arkansaw” because why hide the fact that your entire state can’t read?
West Virginia. Of all the states you could be a pale imitation of, you went with Virginia? Really?
Vermont was actually an independent Republic before joining the United States. Their state animal is the quitter.
Careful with those angular borders, Utah, you might cut yourself.
Wanna to know why the state of Ohio is different? Because it’s “hi” in the middle, round on both ends, and fucking terrible.
Louisiana: French for “buyer’s remorse”.
Idaho. Rhymes with “I dunno”. As in “Why anyone would live here.”
Hey Illinois, lower case Ls and uppers case Is are visually indistinguishable. Your name looks like a frickin’ barcode, dumbass.
Indiana, change your name to “Native Americana” its 2018 you racist assholes.
Kentucky, you’re the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln and you never brag about that. I wonder why.
Hey Michigan, where would you be without Michael Moore putting the best possible gloss on everything?
Colorado, you sound like an exotic disease that afflicted Spanish sailors during the Age of Exploration.
Hey Pennsylvania, thanks for 2016 you buncha choke artists.
Tennessee, you’re the worst.
Nebraska, don’t tell Tennesee, but you’re actually the worst.
Oregon, between, you me and the four walls you’re really the worst.
Maine, Maryland, Massachsetts, Michaigan, Missouri and Montana I’d like you to meet my friends THE OTHER 25 LETTERS IN THE FRICKIN’ ALPHABET.
Oklahoma. As if. More like “Really not good enough-lahoma”.
Wisconsin, you were originally where God was planning on sending sinners but he thought that was too cruel and just created Hell.
Florida, Florida…um. Damn. No. I can’t think of anything bad to say about Florida.
Anyway Joy finally realises that she’s been acting terribly, like Alabama for its entire history and lets Sadness take the controls, Riley returns home and finally confesses to her parents that she’s miserable. And they give her a big hug and tell her that they miss home too but that everything will be okay. And this right here is one of the most amazing, beautiful little moments I have ever seen in any film. Riley holds her parents and gives a tiny gasp. It’s the sound you make when you are broken hearted and hurting but full of love and happy at the same time. I don’t know if there’s a word for it. But I know that feeling. And this movie just captures it perfectly.
And from this moment comes a new core memory, blue and yellow, happy and sad. And beautiful, inside and out.
What do I say?
It’s almost certainly the finest movie I’ve ever reviewed for this blog, and one of the towering achievements of the artform.
I stand before you a humbled rodent. The thing is peerless.
In the end, all I can say is this:
It’s perfect, alright?
No, really. It’s perfect.
Earlier drafts of the Inside Out had a character called Gloom who would have personified Riley’s growing depression but that idea was nixed and thank God for that. It’s both more effective and more true to life that Riley’s depression isn’t an emotion in itself but the absence of emotion. Plus, it would have meant that to help Riley Joy would have had to, y’know, kill Gloom. And he was just adorable.
Supporting Characters: 20/20
Just gonna keep beating that drum.
Ha! A flaw! It can be killed!
Not really. Michael Giacchino (who we really need to start thinking of as being in the same category as John Williams and Hans Zimmer in terms of all-time great movie composers) does an absolutely fantastic job with the movie’s score. But for me to give a perfect score it would have to be absolutely iconic and I don’t think this is a movie that’s famous for its music.
FINAL SCORE: 98%
NEXT UPDATE: 25 October 2018
NEXT TIME: Just in time for Halloween…what the fuck is this?