Inside Out

Directed By: Pete Docter

Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, and Mindy Kaling

America could use a little happiness right about now.  With the atrocities that took place in Charleston, South Carolina this week, I'm certain that many of our hearts are heavy.  Regardless of what anyone in the media or the blogosphere says, racism and gun control are two of the crucial issues of our time.  The desire to pick up a gun and go kill black people is not a mental illness, but it is certainly symptomatic of two diseases festering in the heart of America.  Though the national conversation is being dominated by this latest example of what happens when these issues go unchecked, movies are still hitting the big screen.  Alas, I must do my job.  Interestingly enough, I'm changing gears from reflecting on the worst things taking place inside the head of a racist murderer to delving into the innocent, wholesome mind of a child in this weekend's Inside Out.  It's not an easy transition for plenty of adult moviegoers such as myself, but getting lost in the movie magic is certainly the right move to make.

From the moment her parents Bill and Jill (Kyle MacLachlan & Diane Lane) gave birth to her, Riley Anderson's (Kaitlyn Dias) life has been one big job for five emotions that take physical form in the headquarters of her mind — Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling).  Led by Joy, these emotions have helped Riley live a happy, healthy life.  They help Riley to make beautiful memories throughout her childhood with her friends and family.  The core ones establish and fuel what are known as the islands of personality, which serve as the foundation of who Riley is.  A Minnesotan girl, Riley's islands include family, friendship, honesty, goofiness, and, most importantly, hockey.

For the first eleven years of Riley's life, things are pretty rosy for the gang of emotions serving at HQ.  Things go off the rail, however, when Riley's father decides to move the family from Minnesota to San Francisco for his job.  Leaving her home and friends behind, Riley is certainly not in a happy place.  Joy and the other emotions fight to keep Riley afloat by leveraging every happy memory in storage.  Sadness, however, is compromising the group's efforts and has a newfound ability to touch memories and make them sad.  Joy tries to limit Sadness's role, and the two tussle.  In the struggle, they're both ejected from HQ and stranded in Long Term Memory, along with Riley's core memories.  Now, Riley only has Fear, Anger, and Disgust at the control board during her time of crisis.  With the islands of personality crumbling without the core memories to power them and Riley in a tailspin, Joy and Sadness must put their differences aside and make their way back to HQ to save Riley.

For a week of horrific news like this, we need a joyous distraction that could rival any Pixar film ever released.  Director Pete Docter's Inside Out is just that distraction.  Using our own humanity for the building blocks of its fantasy narrative, it’s immensely creative.  With top notch animation, it’s visually breathtaking.  Offering a world of crazy characters brought to life by expressive vocal performances, it’s endlessly engaging.  Simply put, this latest Pixar flick is the best animated feature in years.  Running the gamut of emotions, Docter does something that defines the best films by capturing that lightning in a bottle called movie magic.  On top of this, we have a delightful and beautiful animated short with James Ford Murphy's musical Lava kicking things off.

Inside Out is one truly imaginative piece of cinema.  From the islands of personality to imagination land, Docter really immerses his audience into this fantastical world of thoughts and emotions personified.  What's impressive is the underlying mythology of the film, which has the depth of a well-crafted science fiction film.  Docter really goes the extra mile to deliver something original and innovative to moviegoers, a rarity at the mainstream box office these days.  With an elegantly melodic score, and absolutely gorgeous animation, Inside Out indeed has the charm to match its creativity, which makes it even better.

The film boasts a colorful world of characters brought to life by wonderful vocal performances.  For her part as Joy, Amy Poehler really knocks it out of the park.  She's bubbly, charismatic, and generally a chipper gal.  What's most notable about her performance is the heart she brings to the picture.  Like any great protagonist, she is undeniably gutsy.  Her co-star Phyllis Smith is just the opposite as Sadness.  Drooping around Riley's mind turning everything as blue as her mood, Smith captures what it's like to be in the presence of unchecked sadness in an entertaining way.  It's really quite an amusing performance.

For his part as Fear, Bill Hader is also quite comical.  Mortified of everything that comes into his path, he overreacts to just about everything inside and outside of Riley's mind in an over-the-top way.  He is indeed the class clown of the group.  As Disgust, Mindy Kaling gives us the budding diva in Riley.  She's the cool girl of the group and has no problem articulating her disdain for just about everything.  Finally, Lewis Black gives a red hot performance as my favorite emotion Anger.  There's a feisty spirit in this guy, and it's clear that he embraces confrontation.  The most animated personality amongst the group, Black really delivers one truly entertaining vocal performance.

It's clear that I have plenty of love for Inside Out, but where does it rank amongst the pantheon of animated movies?  I wouldn't buy into the hype and say that it's Pixar's greatest film.  To infinity and beyond, that will always be Toy Story.  Still, it's pretty high up there and stands in the company of some mighty animated fare.  I'll just leave it at this.  Offering plenty of core cinematic memories to the young generation of moviegoers, it's easily the best animated film of the decade so far.  Inside Out gets a sober rating.