Inside Out. Directed by Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen. Rating: 8 (out of 10)
Inside Out should be required viewing for the parents of pre-teens, just as those embarrassing "What's Happening To Me?" books are must-reads for growing minds and bodies.
The film explains, better than any Jungian therapist and in simplistic yet marvelous detail, how children transition from irrepressible balls of positive energy to often-moody teens with the weight of the world on their shoulders.
The Disney Pixar-Studio Ghibli partnership is a strong one, and Inside Out begins in much the same way as Miyazaki's Spirited Away, with a girl leaving everything she knows and relocating with her family to a new city, carting along the requisite anxiety that accompanies big change.
Helping 11-year-old Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) make the transition are the five emotions inside her mind: Joy (Amy Poehler), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith).
Joy rules the roost, for the most part, until one day she and Sadness are mistakenly bumped out of HQ and hurtled to the far corners of Riley's mind, taking some of Riley's most vital memories with them and leaving Disgust, Fear and Sadness in charge of Riley's moods. Thus the quick switch from happy-go-lucky child to get-off-my-case tween, as Riley is left to navigate a new school without the core happy memories that helped define her.
Meanwhile, Joy and Sadness are forging their way through new realms of Riley's brain: Imagination Land, Abstract Thought (where things briefly get Cubist), Dream Productions (cleverly designed like a Hollywood backlot), and Long Term Memory.
The film switches easily between Riley's daily struggles with friends and a rickety new home and the behind-the-scenes crisis management in her brain. The real-world scenes, in particular, are beautifully rendered and a counterbalance to the lovely lunacy of her inner brain terrain.
Big concepts for little viewers, to be sure. But not so confusing, say, as Tomorrowland, a big-kids' movie in a PG package. The necessary exposition early on in the film soon gives way to the sheer - well - joy of watching a fresh concept so deftly executed.
It's only a little reminiscent of Herman's Head; Joy and Sadness' odyssey reminded me more of Harry Nilsson's The Point, and young Oblio's journey through The Pointless Forest, bizarre landscapes that provided wise insight into the point of things.
And it's not overstating the fact to say that we the viewers have been on a meandering journey of joy and sadness by film's end. In the same way that Pixar's Up wrought tears in the first minutes, so too does Inside Out - which is about emotional manipulation, after all - put us through the emotional wringer. (I wouldn't have bet that a character called Bing Bong could reduce grownups to tears.)
This is a poignant tale, particularly if you have a pre-teen of your own and are watching the transition from carefree, joyos childhood to doubt-tinged early adulthood play out
in your home. Joy has to relinquish some of her power to sadness: it's a melancholy and crucial truth, but one that Inside Out imparts beautifully.