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When a studio partnership has engendered as much success as Disney/Pixar has over the years, it’s easy to judge a film by how it measures up to previous successes. Is it as emotionally compelling as Toy Story 3? Does it delight like Finding Nemo? Does it contain the artistry of Wall-E? With each release, Pixar hopes to continue its streak of excellent and beautiful films that exceed the audience’s ever-growing expectations. With Inside Out, rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action, Pixar has delivered.
The film tells the story of Riley Anderson, an 11-year-old girl who moves to the West Coast and struggles to adapt to her new home and school. Inside Riley’s mind, at “headquarters,” are characters that personify her primary emotions: Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger. As Riley’s emotional issues surface in her new experiences, Joy and Sadness take a journey through Riley’s mind (“Long Term Memory,” “Imagination Land,” “Dream Productions,” and the subconscious), hoping to restore Riley’s happiness.
The story world of Inside Out is incredibly complex, reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, and yet the story is told simply enough for young children to follow. The film emphasizes the foundation of the family for emotional wellbeing. When everything else crumbles (literally) inside Riley’s mind, the restoration of her relationship with her family drives the narrative forward.
Though the film features five emotions, the spotlight is on Joy and Sadness (brilliantly voiced by Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith respectively). A simplistic resolution would have Joy and Sadness battling to become Riley’s permanent state. Instead, Joy and Sadness are partners, and by the end of the film, it becomes clear that sadness is an appropriate emotion when it is required for repentance, or when it serves as the catalyst of greater and more lasting joy. Through this, Inside Out features a richly layered vision of human emotion and challenges the idea that one can suppress sadness merely through the assertion of “positive thinking.”
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