photo courtesy of pixar

photo courtesy of pixar

I rarely mention movies on this website, but “Inside Out” is brilliant. I won’t tell you too much, but it is very creative, intelligent, funny, poignant and some of the concepts/paradigms blow my mind. And the lead character is voiced by the amazing Amy Poehler (I just read her autobiography, which I also recommend).

Here is a basic review of the movie (courtesy of, who describe it much better than I do):

Adventurousness is an odd thing to ask of a major animation studio, especially one receiving its marching orders from Disney.  Inside Out, the first new Pixar movie in two years, takes place almost entirely within the mind of a preteen girl, where five personified emotions struggle to guide her through a life crisis.

Bucking the current company mandate of churning out lesser sequels and prequels, it’s not just a brilliant idea, but maybe the most conceptually daring movie the Bay Area animation house has ever produced. And that’s really saying something, what with WALL-E on the books.

Looked at one way, this is a very simple story of childhood growing pains: Forced to say goodbye to her friends and the happy life she’s built in small-town Minnesota, 11-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is abruptly uprooted when her father lands a job in San Francisco. The mundane hardships that follow—a disastrous first day at the new school, a sports tryout gone wrong—don’t unfold from Riley’s perspective, exactly. Rather, they’re experienced through the eyes of her emotions, the anthropomorphized feelings that run the control booth in her mind. Joy, a Simpsons-yellow sprite voiced by a perfectly cast (and perfectly chipper) Amy Poehler, is de facto leader of the group. But she has to share console space with the other color-coded voices in Riley’s head: eye-rolling Disgust (Mindy Kaling), skittish Fear (Bill Hader), literally hotheaded Anger (Lewis Black), and glum Sadness (Phyllis Smith).

As Poehler reveals, through load-bearing voice-over, Riley’s personality is represented through a series of themed islands, like Honesty, Family, and the all-important Hockey. Memories, the currency of her headspace, arrive in the form of glowing orbs, colored by a particular shade of emotion. The script pokes fun at these various laws by having the characters literally consult “brain manuals”.

Eventually, Joy and Sadness find themselves sucked out to the warehouse-like recesses of Riley’s mind, leaving the other three emotions to run damage control from their pale tower headquarters.

From here, Inside Out runs on parallel tracks, cleanly crosscutting between Riley’s inner and outer worlds.  A literal train of thought zigzags around the crumbling personality islands, as Joy and Sadness venture into the horror-show basement of Riley’s subconscious, get flattened by her capacity for abstract thinking, and—in the film’s most inspired gag—bumble onto the movie set of her dreams.

Inside Out is also the brainchild of Pete Docter, biggest feeler in John Lasseter’s directing stable, whose Up—the last truly exceptional Pixar movie—left no eyes dry a few years ago. Like his previous movie, his new one is chiefly concerned with the tough business of letting go, and Docter works his own special magic on the audience.

It’s Docter’s endgame, the final heartening point he lands on, that launches Inside Out into the upper echelons of Pixar’s filmography. The director’s after something thematically grander, a vision of adolescence that’s not so different from Boyhood, at least in the insistence that it’s life’s seemingly insignificant moments that shape who we become.

The most radical thing, perhaps, about this ambitious family film is the profound case it makes that feeling melancholy is not just healthy, but entirely necessary. Sadness is as important as happiness.

Come for the high concept, stay for the lump in the throat.