By Elias Savada.
What’s PIXAR gonna dream up next? Something about singing taste buds, perhaps? How out this for a ticklish tale of palace intrigue: Spicy Salsa (Sofia Vergara), Dour Sour (Jim Parsons), Mr. Salty (Kevin Spacey), and Grace Bitter (Melissa McCarthy) band together in a scrumptious comedy about a down-and-out chef who must dream up a dish fit for King Korn (John Goodman). Hmmm, yummy. PIXAR, call my agent.
It’s hard to say what the imagination maestros might be thinking up down their long road of animated development, but they’ve outdone themselves with the latest megahit Inside Out, another in a non-stop parade of successes. While the studio’s string of 14 number-one-with-a-bullet openings was broken because some dinosaur film stuck around to become an even bigger hit, it still pulled in more than $90 million at the box office during its opening weekend.
Directed by Pete Docter (Oscar-winner Up, Oscar-nominated Monsters, Inc.) and co-directed by Ronnie del Carmen, the film is, literally and figuratively, an emotionally driven masterpiece. Emotions run wildly funny in this exceedingly original story by Docter and del Carmen that was scripted by Docter, Meg Lefauve, and Josh Cooley.
In the mind of 11-year-old Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias) the brain’s high tech headquarters, featuring colored, glowing globes (memories) on various grooved ramps and pneumatic tubes, overlooks a wondrous array of colorful structures that have been magically constructed from a lifetime of recollections. Five emotions take responsibility for the decisions Riley, on the cusp of puberty, makes. The leader is an energetic, eternally vibrant pixie called Joy (Amy Poehler, perfect). The Office‘s disagreeable saleswoman Phyllis Smith elevates self deprecating Sadness (color her blue) to levels that will break your heart and leave you in tears. Saturday Night Live‘s Bill Hader (whose vocal talents are also in PIXAR’s forthcoming The Good Dinosaur, arriving this Thanksgiving) is the purple, bow-tied, bug-eyed, safety-conscious Fear. Red hot-headed sparkplug Anger (rant-a-holic Lewis Black) and the pouty, green queen of sarcastic adjudication, Disgust (Mindy Kaling), round out the handful of touchy-feelings.
Of course, the abstract concepts of our minds are a perfect playground for the PIXAR pixelators. They more than capably blend the story of the hockey-playing Riley being uprooted by her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) from a pleasant, friend-filled Minnesota home to the cold, lonely streets of San Francisco. Joy puts her best foot forward, trying to keep the girl happy. When Sadness noses in — she can’t seem to keep her mitts out of the mind’s contented pie — the external situation turns serious for Riley, resulting in problems at home, school, and beyond.
Joy and Sadness find themselves sucked away to the distant Islands of Personality (Family, Friendship, Honesty, Family, Goofiness) and the warehouse of all vaulted memories. With the control center in the uneasy hands of Fear, Anger, and Disgust, Riley stumbles into a depressing funk and a side order of homesickness. For Joy and Sadness their road trip home hits quite a few speed bumps. It’s an amusing and enlightening journey of self-discovery through a crazy, abstract world.
Oodles of imaginative items and characters populate the mind’s theme-ride landscape. These include millions of delicate long-term memories stored in racks that producer Jonas Rivera said were modeled after units found in a Jelly Belly factory and an egg processing plant. The nose-less gumdrop-shaped staff out in the outer brain suburbs are called Mind Workers, including Forgettors, who cull the crap that we no longer remember (yes, there’s a dump). You’ll make stops in Riley’s dreams (Hollywood back lot productions), and find some hilarious abstract thought in Imagination Land and some oversized scares in the Subconscious. And, naturally, Joy and Sadness with catch a ride on a Train of Thought. There’s also Bing Bong (Richard Kind), a nearly forgotten imaginary childhood friend that’s part elephant, cat, dolphin, cotton candy, and Ed Wynn (for you youngsters, look him up — he was a Perfect Fool).
Kids and adults will love the variety in production design and the vibrancy of the colors. The fine 3D effects don’t grey down the luminosity enough to make it noticeable. For the design of inner vs. outer: the human side of things flavors a handheld look (using camera capture technology), the mind side has the filmmakers using tracking shots taken out of a 1940s studio production.
Oh, it turns out that Riley’s too-distracted father and concerned mom have their own set of controllers that are ditsy variations of a TV chatfest. Sports nerds and a Brazilian helicopter pilot are part of these small ensembles. By the way, be sure to stay through the credits because there’s additional brief and boisterous looks inside some other minds.
Hands down, this is the most imaginative work from this grand Disney subsidiary, which has won 15 Academy Awards and plenty of Golden Globes and Grammies. The only genuine award competition I think it will have this year is its own The Good Dinosaur. By now you should have either seen the film or put it on your to-do list. PIXAR, thanks for the memories.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the new horror film German Angst and co-author, with David J. Skal, of Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning.