Film review: Inside Out

Melissa York
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Joy, Riley’s core emotion, is played by Amy Poehler
Cert U | ★★★★☆

Kids are notoriously difficult to read. Try asking one whether they like school or turkey dinosaurs and all you’re likely to get is a non-committal shrug. But Disney Pixar’s latest animated feature will make you completely reassess the way you talk to pre-teens as it fires you right into the turbulent mind of an 11-year-old girl.

Riley’s been uprooted from her idyllic life in Minnesota to San Francisco so her dad can set up a tech business. She’s not adjusting well. The house is smaller than she expected, it’s too warm to play her beloved ice hockey, and, to top it off, she burst into tears in front of her class on the first day of school.

The viewer has the uncomfortable task of watching her mental turmoil unfold from the engine room as her five core emotions – personified as Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust – jab away at a cockpit in her mind. This all takes place in a deliciously inventive world, which the writers have created in concert with child psychologists to bring abstract neurological concepts to life. Memories are stored in glowing orbs that fade with time, perfect boyfriends are pumped out on a production line in Imagination Land and dreams are hastily assembled every night on a film set in the Subconscious.

It’s a lurid, chaotic landscape made even brighter by Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation) who squeals her way through the plot as Joy, Riley’s core emotion. When Riley descends into a state of numb depression, Joy is cast out into the wilderness with Sadness and they’re forced to work together to find their way back into Riley’s consciousness.

The film’s brief excursions into the minds of her parents’ – desperately trying to get their happy little girl back – are sure to keep adults just as moved and amused as their children. In fact, it may just be Disney Pixar’s greatest achievement since 2008’s WALL-E. But it’s not relatability that lies at the heart of its success; it’s the dexterity with which it handles complex gender and mental health issues and its refusal to talk down to children. As a result, Inside Out is utterly refreshing and breath-taking in its ambition. A true original that feels like it could only have been made in 2015.

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