Pixar had us worried there. Their near-flawless run that started with the first “Toy Story” and extended into the third movie began showing signs of sputtering. “Cars 2” had a promising plot but too much Mater. “Brave” gets better upon repeated viewings, but the idea of Merida becoming the Katniss Everdeen of the Disney Princess canon remains frustratingly unrealized. “Monsters University” was good, and will resonate for college-age people, but doesn’t separate itself from the original movie enough to be as enjoyable outside of the fanbase. With “Inside Out,” now available on Blu-Ray, Pixar has righted the ship.
Riley, an eleven-year-old living a joyful life in Minnesota, ends up moving with her family to San Francisco, which throws everything out of whack. For most of her life, Riley’s primary emotion is Joy (Amy Poehler). Things are running smoothly, that is, as long as the other emotions are relegated to the sidelines: Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (The Daily Show’s Lewis Black), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith from The Office). At first, Joy continues to dominate Riley in San Francisco until Sadness starts creeping into Riley’s memories and altering them. Joy can’t handle this change, but before she can keep everything under control, she and Sadness are sucked into the inner recesses of Riley’s brain, and Riley starts emotionally disintegrating.
The Pixar people are known for their creativity, and “Inside Out” is no exception. They obviously did their homework on portraying the emotions, but exploring the other facets of Riley’s brain like an actual Train of Thought and a particularly inventive sequence involving abstract thought help flesh out the story.
The cast is terrific, with Poehler and Smith standing out in particular. But where the movie excels is how deeply affecting they make the movie. Riley’s spiral into depression is achingly honest, and it is a good introduction to spark discussion about how to notice the signs of depression and help people who are afflicted with it. One part where Joy and Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong (Richard Kind) are stuck in a chasm where memories fade so completely that they’re lost forever is also resonant. However, the one scene that will shatter you happens near the end. No spoilers, but I’ll say this much: Everyone who’s been through a traumatic move will not have a dry eye after seeing that scene. I even teared up, and I never cry at movies.
There are some things that require suspension of disbelief (anyone who has ever taken a bus like the Lamers or Greyhound will call foul on how Riley stops from leaving San Francisco in an ill-advised attempt to go back to Minnesota), but these are quibbles. “Inside Out” helps restore our faith in Pixar again, even if they’re venturing into sequel territory again. Now to see if “The Good Dinosaur” can keep the momentum going.