“Inside Out” takes place almost entirely within the mind of an 11-year-old girl with her individual emotions as the main characters, and as they navigate the inner workings of her mind, the film teaches a fascinating and entertaining lesson about the nature of joy and sadness.
Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) is a happy, all-American kid who loves hockey and her parents until her life is turned upside down by a sudden move to San Francisco. In a new place with new strange customs (Broccoli pizza for one) Riley finds herself in a tornado of change and chaos.
Meanwhile inside her mind, a cast of colorful emotions manage the 'control board' that steers the Riley ship. Joy (Amy Poehler) being the first emotion Riley experienced has always been the default leader, but over time, she’s had to make room for a host other roommates. There’s Sadness (voiced by the excellent Phyllis Smith), Disgust (another ex office star, Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader) and, of course, Anger (Lewis Black).
Every time Riley creates a specific memory, her mind generates a globe that is color-coordinated to its dominant emotion — yellow for joy, blue for sadness, etc. The major events in Riley’s life create core memories, which in turn power her islands of personality, such as friendship and family.
Up until now, all of Riley’s core memories have been associated with joy. But when she has an awful first day at her new school, Riley creates her first sad core memory, and chaos ensues.
Of course, in the world of “Inside Out,” chaos means that Joy and Sadness take an epic journey through the complex world of Riley’s mind. They visit the different personality islands and the vast labyrinth of Riley’s long-term memory and take an amusing detour through abstract thought, never far from a bottomless pit that represents her forgotten memories.
The idea was inspired by director Pete Docter’s own daughter, and he builds the story around the polarity between joy and sadness. It’s a pretty creative way of illustrating the dramatic life-or-death way things like moving feel when you’re a kid (or an adult, really). Some of the complexity will probably be lost most younger viewers and some adults. At one point when Sadness touches a happy memory, Riley begins to see it in a melancholy light - but their is certainly enough to keep any child's attention .
That being said, Pixar movies have always maintained a delicate balance between their young primary audiences and the adults paying for the movie tickets. In this case, the scales might be tipped more to Mom and Dad than ever. Be sure to stick around for the rolling credits, as we see the complexity of how the characters could have been and still could be used going forward in potential spin off/sequels.
"Inside out" is a great family film and one that everyone should watch, at least once.