Film and TV

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Inside Out

Title: Inside Out

Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote: "You know, my course can help you with every personality disorder in the 'Feel Bad Rainbow.'"

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Four-and-a-half Metal Health album covers out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Herman's Head meets Lizzie McGuire.

Tagline: "Meet the little voices inside your head."

Better Tagline: "Joy and pain/Sunshine and rain."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Things are going great in the life of 11-year old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias): happy family, lots of friends, and a successful youth hockey career. However, when the family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco, it's up to the various voices in her head — Joy (Amy Poheler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) — to deal with the huge changes threatening Riley's personality and the safety of her "core memories."

"Critical" Analysis: God damn it, Pixar. Just when I think — after Up and WALL-E — I'm immune to your emotional manhandling, you throw this at me.

Where other animation studios have tried to rise in answer to Pixar's challenge, nothing they've been able to put out has come close to reaching that little desk lamp's best work. Unlike, say, DreamWorks Animation or Sony, Pixar continues to stretch itself. Sure, you still get the occasional Cars 2 and ... Cars, but for each of those, the studio still releases movies with themes that resonate with actual human beings. More to the point, their best work appeals to kids and adults alike.

Inside Out is often uproariously funny, especially in the scenes involving Lewis Black, who is possibly the weirdest choice for kids' movie voice casting since Steve Buscemi (counterpoint: who the hell else would you get to play "Anger," Nicolas Cage?). Then again, I can fault none of the talent this time around. Poehler, Smith, and Kaling are great, and Richard Kind, whom I'd normally greet with the same enthusiasm as a prostate exam, is perfect as Bing Bong, Riley's imaginary friend.

Director Pete Docter (and Pixar in general, it should be noted) walks a very fine line between genuine emotion and schmaltz, and I won't lie and say there aren't times when Inside Out threatens to veer too far toward the latter, but what struck me most about this movie is how damn powerful and — at times — unsettling it was. The shock to Riley's system caused by the move (the manner in which this is portrayed in her mind is brilliant) affects not just her actions but her perception, rendering her surroundings dull and unfocused, and her actions — driven by Fear and Anger — will be terrifying to any parent.

I was asked if parents would enjoy this movie more than people without kids, and I honestly don't know (I also don't know if "enjoy" is the word I'd use for watching a child process pain and misery). There are aspects of the movie which, I believe, are nigh universal to all people, but folks with young children will probably feel the 'oomph' more than others.

Now I'm realizing I haven't really said anything about the visuals, and at this point I'm not sure what to tell you other than they're excellent. The human characters are distinctly animated, but rendered in such a way as not to diminish the story's impact (one of my girls was sobbing at the end, and I'm man enough to admit it may have gotten a bit dusty in the theater for me as well). Inside Riley's head, of course, is where the real magic happens, and everything from the design of the various emotions to the charmingly innovative way memory and experience are represented is superb.

I believe the film's core message, how sadness is as much a part of life as happiness, hits harder than anything we've seen from the studio to this point. I hope Pixar keeps it up, even in the face of the great personal sacrifice I may end up making by crying in front of my kids. Speaking of that...

Ask A Five-Year Old:
"Did you like the movie?"
"I didn't like the clown part."
"Honey, the clown was only in it for five minutes."
"It was too much."
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar