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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

Inside Out movie review: all the feels

by MaryAnn Johanson

Inside Out green light

There is joy and wonder in this marvelous mounting of a human mind, and a thrilling audacity in how it dares at such a strange and impossible thing.
I’m “biast” (pro): mostly love Pixar’s films

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I have some misgivings about this Inside Out movie. Only five emotions in a little girl’s head? Only Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness? Maybe things will get more complicated when she’s an older girl… but even the grownups here have only those five emotions. I dunno about that. Cuz in my not-little-girl head right now, Doubt is telling me “There’s no way you can do justice to this movie, so don’t even bother trying,” and Procrastination is agreeing, saying, “See? It was right to put off writing this review. Let’s put it off some more,” and There’s No Point In Anything So Might As Well Just Go Make Another Cup Of Tea is telling me “Might as well go make another cup of tea.”

And now Chastisement is completely missing the point and saying I should be nicer to the movie (Hey, I’m not NOT being nice!), and Good Trooper is egging me to “just get on with it and get it over with already, everyone is waiting for this review.”

Okay! I’ll try…

Inside Out is an amazing movie in every way that it can be amazing. The animation represents another leap forward for Pixar, and for computer graphics, and for what we should expect a movie to do when it is not restrained by a necessity to approximate the real world. It is explicitly not the real physical world where we spend most of our time here, but inside the head of 11-year-old Riley (the voice of Kaitlyn Dias), in the Headquarters where her emotions drive her every waking and sleeping moment. Directors Pete Docter (Up, Monsters, Inc.) and Ronaldo Del Carmen (making his feature debut), both of whom also helped write the script, and their creative team have whipped up wildly inventive and hugely amusing ways to depict the human psyche in all its convoluted, confusing glory, from the imagination to the subconscious to memory to — oh my — abstract thought. There is joy and wonder in this marvelously expansive mounting of a human mind. There would be a thrilling audacity in this if the film merely dared to attempt such a strange and impossible thing, and failed. That it succeeds this well? It’s kinda mind-blowing.

There is also Joy (the voice of Amy Poehler: They Came Together, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues) here, who’s in charge of Riley’s head, what with Riley being such a happy, outgoing kid. (There’s no point in asking whether Riley is happy because Joy is in charge, or if Joy is in charge because Riley is happy. They are the same thing.) Except now Riley and her parents (the voices of Diane Lane [Every Secret Thing, Man of Steel] and Kyle MacLachlan [Breathe In, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2]) have moved from Minnesota to San Francisco, and it’s awful for her to be away from all her friends and from the hockey team she loves to play on, and awful having to start in a new school, and awful that her dad is so busy with the new job that brought them halfway across the country in the first place. And so Sadness (the voice of Phyllis Smith: Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, Bad Teacher) is trying to edge her way into Joy’s position as boss, because obviously this is all so sad, and she’s infecting Riley’s once purely happy memories of Minnesota and hockey and friendship with her insistence on helping Joy clean up the mess that Riley’s head is right now: all she has to do it touch a little globe of memory for it to become tinged with the sad.

This is where Inside Out gets truly poignant and wonderful and perfect.

There’s a thing that happens to little girls around Riley’s age, and it’s not something I can recall ever seeing onscreen. (Maybe there are a few examples, but there are certainly countless comparable depictions of the woes of little boys.) Where boys seem to become more themselves as they transition into teendom, girls tend to lose their child selves, to lose confidence and get narrower and smaller and more contained. (Not all girls, but too many, and it’s terrible to see.) It seems to have a lot to do with suddenly becoming self-conscious about how boys see them, and whether boys will find them attractive… and though that’s not the cause of Riley’s deflating here, what we see as Riley tries to cope with her new life is very similar.

And Inside Out gets it. Completely. In a way that no other film that I’ve seen ever has. In a way that I imagine boys and men get to experience all the time, I finally feel like a movie gets me and understands what my life has been. Maybe that’s a bit of a delusion simply because Riley is a girl — this would have been much the same story if Riley had been a boy — but still: that’s a huge thing.

It’s like this: While Joy and Sadness find themselves a long way from Headquarters facing a long and difficult journey back, their coworkers Fear (the voice of Bill Hader: The Skeleton Twins, Monsters University), Anger (the voice of Lewis Black [Man of the Year, Accepted], perhaps the most perfectly cast of the entire perfectly cast cast), and Disgust (the voice of Mindy Kaling: This Is the End, Wreck-It Ralph) are left to keep Riley running. And we see, in Riley’s outside world, how this causes her to collapse in on herself, and how her lack of emotional balance means she makes a lot of bad decisions. We see the goofy child that was Riley die — the visual metaphor for this is powerful and heartbreaking — and though of course there’s a happy ending, because this is a Pixar movie, the goofy child does not return.

That’s not a spoiler. The goofy child can’t return. That’s okay. That’s the entire point of Inside Out’s exploration of this moment in time as a transition from childhood in which our emotional landscape gets more complex, and we learn how to integrate joy and sadness and see them as complementary. One cannot exist without the other, and they boost each other, and sometimes even occur in tandem.

“It’s okay to be sad.” That’s not something that only children need to hear. This is the extraordinary message of a mainstream cartoon in a culture that constantly bombards us with the command to be happy at all times.


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Inside Out for its representation of girls and women.

green light 5 stars

Inside Out (2015)
US/Canada release date: Jun 19 2015 | UK release date: Jul 24 2015

MPAA: rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action
BBFC: rated U (very mild threat)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Rod Ribeiro

    That is a fantastic movie, an instant favorite for me. I’m sure you couldn’t have noticed this, since you watched this with critics only, but I’d like to add: this seemed more emotional to younger children than other Pixar movies.

    I’ve seen kids scared and sad in the obvious Toy Story 3 and Up scenes. But not quite like this. We were in a big multiplex, and lots of kids age 4-7 were crying out loud. Four of them were inconsolable and had to be taken away at some point.

    I got two girls, 10 and 2½. It was wonderful for my tween. Now every time she’s angry I just go “hey the red guy is controlling your head, can you bring Joy back”? Lol.

  • There were actually a lot of children at the screening (I should probably change that note), and I can’t say that I noticed any unusual responses among them.

  • amanohyo

    I cried like a baby at the manipulative Bing Bong scene even though I saw it coming a mile away. The worst part was glancing around me and seeing small children who were completely unaffected. There definitely were some kids sobbing audibly at the end though, so my stoic manliness was marginally vindicated.

    I liked the movie enough to watch it twice, but my only gripe is that it didn’t do enough with its premise. I wanted it to be trippier and more imaginative, but all of the craziness was confined to puns and background images for the most part. I did enjoy the abstraction scene and the tower o’ imaginary boyfriends’ melodramatic proclamations quite a bit.

    It builds to its emotional climax beautifully too. Not quite Iron Giant levels of pathos, but very close. It took all of my willpower to avoid breaking down even during the second viewing. The first viewing, snot was running out of my nose for about five minutes.

  • The movie is one of the few I’ve ever seen that directly addresses the depression that can affect someone in an emotionally unbalanced life. It wasn’t afraid to avoid how people can get like that, and while the movie tries to end on an up note there is this understanding that life is complex and messy and that our emotional turmoil is with us.
    Also, that Brazilian Helicopter Pilot sure does get around.

  • just to note the filmmakers wanted more emotions running around but for the sake of narrative worked it down to 5 main emotions.

  • Matt Clayton

    I really like the concept of the plot — but I feel that Pixar could’ve taken this concept further (adolescence and high school), but that would’ve taken it into PG-13 territory.

    And this movie didn’t do anything for me… it’s beautifully animated, its heart is in the right place, but most of it makes me shrug. There were some very funny moments and a few poignant moments though.

    While it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison, I felt Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” was far more engaging and moving.

  • I cried a lot too. Bing Bong’s story was especially moving… but I didn’t find it manipulative. It’s a perfect metaphor for leaving the stuff of childhood behind.

  • I’m sure that’s true. I was being jokey.

  • Max Urai

    It’s funny what you say in the Where Are the Women-scoring for this movie: I recall saying to my girlfriend as we walked out of this movie that it probably doesn’t pass the reverse Bechdel test. That’s pretty rare in and of itself, but in a kids movie, it’s just about amazing.

    Also: Sadness is my new favourite character in the whole world.

  • Max Urai

    That was my favorite running joke in the whole movie. Maybe second only to that moment when Riley bumps into a boy and we see his entire control panel go absolutely haywire.

  • when they delved into the emotional control room of the teacher, I *knew* he was gonna show up… /aaaahhh

  • they still came up with an interesting chart of how the five primary emotions can blend – which is how Riley’s more complex emotional state becomes at the end. Although looking at it now, there’s redundancies in the chart, I counted 15 original/combined emotional states… :/ http://i.imgur.com/C7xEyxNh.jpg

  • I dunno. Anger was right about San Francisco ruining pizza forever.

  • Danielm80

    It’s inspiring—and oddly hilarious—to apply the Bechdel test to this movie. Not only do women talk to each other all the time, but almost every conversation in the movie, no matter who’s speaking, is about a little girl.

  • amanohyo

    Perhaps manipulative is too strong a word. The character’s arc felt very… engineered. As soon as the writers infodumped how the rainbow wagon worked and then literally dumped it in the chasm, I knew it was going to show up again later. When Joy and BB fell in, I immediately saw what was going to happen. Some arcs are symbolic to the point of being overwritten. If I was a kid, I wouldn’t notice or mind, and even as an adult I got hit by the feels.

  • Max Urai

    Not only that, but there are no conversations between men in this movie that are not about a woman.

  • But he’s not talking to another man!

  • I was so focused on the tragedy of the rainbow wagon getting dumped that it never occurred to me that we’d see it again!

  • Nina

    This was such a beautiful film, and I’m glad to finally see your review up! I’ve been looking forward to reading it. I saw it with my friend of nearly 25 years on opening weekend.

    That evening was especially poignant for us, as I was (still am to an extent) going through something of a “Brian Wilson period”. Meanwhile, my friend opened up to me about a terminally ill member of her family. Over after-movie ice cream and crepes and tea, she told me she’d been keeping that information from me because she “didn’t want to be a burden”. Needless to say, the tears didn’t stop after the movie.

  • Nina

    The screening I was at had lots of kids, and I didn’t notice any particularly emotional responses from them. My parents took my sister and 4 y/o nephew to see it the next day, and everyone but my mom HATED it. My dad fell asleep (?!), my sister doesn’t like movies unless they star Madonna, and my nephew thought it was boring. I felt as though this was way more of a film for adults. As marketable as the cute emotions are, I think the movie’s just too nuanced for very young children to understand.

  • I’m partial to the part with the cat’s emotions, myself.

  • I felt a bit letdown by this. It was very inventive, and has some good commentary on mental issues, but overall it just didn’t get to me like other great Pixar movies have. I really don’t get why so many people are going nuts over this.
    The “emotions” play out exactly as you expect them to. The base story is a very simple one; of a girl growing up, being pulled away from her hometown, and the family issues that happen thereafter.
    The movie tries to tug at us with all these memories, but we don’t know the outside characters(the actual people) well enough to really feel much.
    Plus, it all resolves too “happily ever after” in the end, and that felt disingenuous considering all that came before.
    Not a bad movie by any means, just not top tier Pixar, in my opinion.

    Plus, I didn’t like that weird Lava short much. It was so…odd.

  • My feelings exactly. It just didn’t work for me.

  • I hated the Bing Bong stuff. It did feel manipulative, and I knew exactly how it was going to play out. Plus, I just can’t stand weird ass goofy characters like him in any movie ever.

  • Movies can be important experiences that bring us together, or allow us to share our own stories/emotions/experiences. I always figure that people who can say things like “It’s just a movie” have never seen a good movie.

  • Seems to me that small kids can appreciate the bright colors and the antics of the emotions characters, and kids Riley’s age may also recognize something of their own experiences in hers. But getting *all* the meaning requires the perspective of adulthood looking back at being a child, and growing up, I think.

  • Do you think it would have made a difference for you if Riley was a boy?

  • Daniel Hayden

    I adore Miyazaki for his willingness to embrace and tackle unsavoury truths and pathos. That said, I also found Inside Out deeply affecting. ‘Disney’ is often used as a descriptive for things which are naively optimistic and sugarcoated and happily-ever-after, and even though they’ve been combating that association for the past few decades (particularly in their Pixar ventures), I found it shocking and refreshing how creatively, explicitly and expressively they told the audience “It’s ok to be sad” and “Things don’t always work out how you want.” Perhaps as someone who started having his own brushes with depression at an early age, I was wishing I had seen a movie like this at 11. Cue lots of ugly crying and, after, endless superlatives when describing the film to friends and family.

  • it doesn’t matter: Anger was railing about the injustice of PIZZA BEING RUINED FOREVER. That passes every man-test in the books.

  • it may not have been a movie for 4-year-olds. It may have been a movie for 10-year-olds. I wonder if anyone’s been asking middle-schoolers if they’ve seen Inside Out and what they thought.

  • LaSargenta

    Whether or not it passes the man test, I have to commiserate: I spent much of the 1970’s in SF until I went to high school. I hadn’t had pizza until I was living there with my mother and she’d get it at a place on a corner of Chestnut and Fillmore in the Marina. I thought pizza was nasty (although I liked nearly everything else at that restaurant) and didn’t understand why people thought it was something to eat. Then, I moved east.

    So, WTF with San Francisco and pizza????!!?

  • Er, some women have strong feelings about pizza too! And not every man does. :-)

  • “It’s okay to be sad.” That’s not something that only children need to hear. This is the extraordinary message of a mainstream cartoon in a culture that constantly bombards us with the command to be happy at all times.

    Not only “It’s okay to be sad,” but also “Sadness has a purpose.” The first moment where Joy begins to understand this — after she attempts to cheer up Bing Bong — is possibly my favorite scene in the movie.

  • Good point!

  • Good question that I hadn’t even thought of. I really don’t know, but seeing as my main issues with the movie have nothing to do with gender, I believe the answer is no.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Personally I’d like to think that San Francisco has had about as much influence on pizza as NYC has had on Mexican food but then that’s just me.

  • you do not understand these things about pizza. One ruined pizza anywhere is a threat to pizza everywhere.

  • LaSargenta

    How the fuck do you deal with Chicago then??

  • You pretend it’s meat and cheese pie and not pizza.

  • LaSargenta

    I like Jon Stewart’s take: tomato soup in a bread bowl.

  • jemblue

    Good review, although I’d like to address one line:

    “Where boys seem to become more themselves as they transition into teendom, girls tend to lose their child selves, to lose confidence and get narrower and smaller and more contained. … ”

    “Seem” is the key word there. Boys have their own share of confidence issues growing up, believe you me. They merely have different coping mechanisms.

  • Okay. But in my own experience, I see girls shrinking in on themselves once they start realizing that boys are watching, and I’ve never seen anything similar in boys. I have no doubt they change and perhaps suffer from confidence issues, but not, as far as I can see, in the same way that girls do. If boys are suppressing their interests, they still have a far wider ranger of “acceptable” slots to fill.

  • iakobos

    It’s exceptionally rare for a movie to provoke the kind of emotional response Inside Out did in me. In my view, that rarity makes Inside Out an exceptionally good movie. And even though I’m a huge fan of blockbuster movies (esp. Marvel movies.) Inside Out is better than either of this year’s Marvel offerings or any of the other movies I’ve seen this far.

  • At the end it was pretty clear a sequel is being planned to deal with Riley’s life in PG-13 territory, so maybe you will enjoy that one more.

  • Danielm80

    Why do you say it’s PG-13? Or are you just referring to Riley’s age?

  • Well, Riley’s brain was preparing for her puberty at the end of the film. If they were going to be realistic about what that entails, the film would have to be PG-13.

  • Yes, that was the basis behind my post.

  • Bluejay

    I may be misremembering this, but I found it odd that while Riley’s emotions were a co-ed bunch, the emotions of the grownups all seemed to be presenting as exclusively whatever the grownup’s gender was.

    *googles a bit*

    Ah, that was intentional! Kind of a “settling into who you are” theory, similar to what happens to daemons in His Dark Materials. But given what we know these days about the fluidity of gender, that approach seems kind of restrictive, to me. Though the grownup emotions were played mostly for laughs, so maybe I shouldn’t overthink it.

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