“Sad is happy for deep people” said Sally Sparrow, in the memorable Doctor Who episode Blink. It’s safe to say Sally Sparrow would wholeheartedly approve of the immensely poignant new Pixar movie Inside Out, which, in a way, is all about the need for sadness. It also represents a real return to form for the studio after a few years of (relative) disappointments.
The wonderful premise concerns the feelings inside the brain of eleven-year old Riley, as literally personified by Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). When Riley moves to San Francisco, her world is rocked, leading to an emotional crisis that causes Joy and Sadness to get separated from their places in the brain’s control room. They have to find their way back whilst Riley’s crisis causes destruction in key memory personality centres, including friendship, family, goofiness and her interest in ice hockey. Their colourful journey takes them to areas including dream construction (a movie studio – what else?), the subconscious (containing, amongst other things, menacing giant pieces of broccoli), imagination land (cue a brilliant Chinatown gag), a literal train of thought, the long term memory maze and the delightfully surreal “abstract thought” zone. Along the way, Riley’s defunct imaginary friend Bingbong (Richard Kind) turns up to help.
Directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen do a yeoman’s job of ensuring suspension of disbelief remains in place for the duration of this agreeably far-out movie. The animation is superb, the vocal cast spot-on (it also includes Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan), and the appeal as broad as any of the great Pixar movies. Michael Giacchino’s wonderful score is yet another bonus.
Inside Out does that Mary Poppins thing of appealing to children and adults for completely different reasons. Amid the many laughs and thrills, there are moments of surprisingly profound insight into human nature, such as how sometimes people just need space to feel sad, rather than being forced to cheer up. Moments that ought to provoke metaphysical headaches, such as Joy feeling sad and Sadness feeling joy, work, because of a key plot element that shows how some memories can be both happy and sad. Bittersweet is not necessarily bitter. In addition, cardinal virtues such as courage and sacrifice are extolled, and I am not ashamed to say I shed a few tears during the beautiful and moving finale.
All things considered, Inside Out is charming, disarming and very wise. It’s hard to think of a reason why anyone of any age wouldn’t love this movie. Certainly Sally Sparrow would.