AS a child, one of my favourite comic strips was ‘The Numskulls’. It detailed the adventures of a team of tiny human-like technicians who lived inside the heads of various people, running and maintaining their bodies and minds.
According to Wikipedia (from which the above summary was taken), part of the appeal of ‘The Numskulls’ is that it addressed metaphysical questions that fascinate children and philosophers. Where do thoughts come from? Why do people do as they do? And similarly weighty matters feature in ‘Inside Out’, the latest offering from Pixar Animation Studios.
Directed by Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen, it tells the story of Riley, an eleven-year-old girl who has just moved from Minnesota to San Francisco, and the range of emotions living inside her head. Their leader is Joy (Amy Poehler), and her team includes Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith), who take turns at the controls as Riley’s moods shift.
The move to California causes turmoil in Headquarters, the place inside Riley’s mind where the group spend their days. She misses ice hockey, the snow and her friends. Her new house is underwhelming, she is disgusted by the broccoli-inspired pizzas, and many of her previously happy memories become tinged by sadness.
Booster seats aplenty were deployed for the screening I attended, yet this is a movie which has at least as much to offer adults as children. Bigger people with more life experience will certainly appreciate it more than those they are accompanying. It’s a great concept, probably Pixar’s most ingenious since ‘WALL-E’, and it has proved a big hit.
Joy and Sadness found themselves stranded in the outer reaches of Riley’s mind amid long-term memories, and they spend much of the movie trying to make it back to Headquarters. Along the way, they run into Bing-Bong (a pink elephant who was Riley’s imaginary friend in early childhood).
They take detours through Abstract Thought (all Picasso shapes) and Imagination Land (complete with Cloud Town and an actual House of Cards). They interrupt the film set that serves as the raw material for her dreams, disagree about whether to give their girl a nightmare and have to outrun a terrifying clown. Meanwhile, the remaining trio are left to run the day-to-day operation, and unsurprisingly, a combination of anger, disgust and fear doesn’t make for a happy child.
Some of the funniest moments involve brief flashes of the emotions inside other people’s heads. Riley’s mother contains a group who regularly dream of a Brazilian hunk who got away. The gang inside Riley’s dad spend their time watching sport. After Riley collides with a young adolescent male, we see a siren going off with the word ‘Girl!’ inside his head, and he’s unable to get a single word out. More such madness ensues over the closing credits, so be sure to stay until the end.
The big criticism of ‘Inside Out’ – and what keeps it from sharing the top rung Pixar’s bag catalogue with pictures like ‘Ratatouille’ and ‘Toy Story’ – is its complexity. There’s too much focus on the architecture of this world, complete with core memories, islands of personality and a Train of Thought. Little kids might get lost.
And yet, there’s an awful lot to like here. A kids’ film which is ultimately a defence of sorrow – stressing the importance of embracing sadness as well as joy – has to be respected. A sequel seems almost inevitable.
‘Inside Out’ is preceded by a short film called ‘Lava’, which tells the story of a lonely volcano.
Rating 8 out of 10