The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Inside Out

It's something of a cliché for film critics to utilize the term “brilliant.” The word is often used to denote something good, although by definition it is intended to signify a work of uncommonly inspired status. So let me say that Pixar's Inside Out is brilliant in the truest sense of the word. This is a beautiful, meaningful, deeply touching film. Yes, Pixar has a track record in those departments, but the company has outdone itself this time, delivering its best picture to date, and also one of the best family films I've ever seen. No hyperbole.

This is the story of Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), a little girl whose parents have just moved her from Minnesota to San Francisco. Much of the movie takes place in her head, where her emotions attempt to deal with the implications of the move. Amy Poehler plays Joy, who works to keep Riley happy and upbeat under these new circumstances. Joy has competition from Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Anger (Lewis Black). Whenever Riley has an emotion, the corresponding feeling creates an orb of memory, which is then filed away in her subconscious. Trouble starts when Sadness (The Office's Phyllis Smith) emerges from her background role and starts touching the orbs, causing Riley to become severely melancholy. After being accidentally sucked out of “headquarters” - which leads to full-on depression - Joy tries to make things happy again, with the help of Riley's imaginary friend, a strange cotton candy creature named Bing Bong (Richard Kind).

The level of detail in Inside Out is astonishing. The film doesn't just deal with basic emotions, it also explores more complex processes, such as abstract reasoning, imagination, and core memories. (These things become important in helping Joy bring pleasure back to Riley's life.) Despite being complicated, the concepts are presented in a way that kids can understand without watering the down the importance of them. Also, the story depicts the manner in which emotions work together, sometimes feeding off one another. Sadness can evolve into anger, or disgust can morph into fear. Sometimes multiple emotions come into play at the same time, leading to confusion. This sort of detail leads to a depth of storytelling that is almost unprecedented in “children's” entertainment. Inside Out addresses human feeling with more wisdom than 99% of pictures aimed primarily at adults.

Perhaps the best quality of the movie is its message. Inside Out dares to say (correctly) that without sadness, we are incomplete. It's an important feeling, despite being one most of us are keen to avoid. Sadness sometimes leads to joy, sometimes brings people together, and occasionally instigates change that eventually makes things better. As the plot moves forward, Joy makes a key transition. Her initial motive is to keep Riley as happy as possible at all times. She comes to learn that this is not only impossible, it's also not healthy. The girl needs to work through a little sadness in order to learn how to cope with life's troubles. The movie asks: How can you know true happiness without something to measure it against?

Despite the prominence of sadness, Inside Out is often very funny. Much of the humor comes from the way Riley's emotions fight each other for control. All the voice actors are effectively cast, each of them bringing some facet of their individual comic personas to their roles. Together, they create group chemistry that sells the idea that the characters are all part of the same mind. And could there be more perfect casting than Amy Poehler as Joy? Her bubbly, infectious personality – which is still capable of maintaining great substance – is a perfect fit. There really need to be Oscar nominations for voicework, and if there were, she'd be a shoo-in this year.

With Up, Monsters, Inc. and now Inside Out under his belt, it's time to recognize Pete Docter as one of the most important filmmakers working today. He's using animation to tell compassionate stories that address significant themes such as fear, loss, healing, and the value of experiencing a full range of emotions. Docter is an ambitious director with a flair for making tough material not only palatable, but also pleasurable. Inside Out is a movie any director would be proud to put his or her name on. Kids will gain some insight into why they feel the ways they do, while adults will doubtlessly identify with the story's ideas about the value and impact of feelings, especially during childhood. Funny and wise, with an appropriate touch of heartache, Inside Out is an absolute masterpiece.

( out of four)

Inside Out is rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action. The running time is 1 hour and 34 minutes.

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