Inside_Out_(2015_film)_posterThis past Tuesday, because I am a highly influential member of the media because Disney was providing early access, I got to see the latest Pixar film early.

Continuing my recent trend of being supremely unimpressed by previews, I didn’t have very high expectations. They raised a bit by the time of the showing, though, because the buzz I was hearing wasn’t tinged so much by fanboyish/girlish enthusiasm as it was by an anticipation of something new and exciting. Still, I wasn’t expecting something huge. After all, the “little people running your body” concept has been used a lot. Pixar is known for being innovative, but still . . . what exactly would be new here?

Answer: everything. Holy cannoli. I think this is their best installment ever. Yes, better than my previous favorite, The Incredibles.

The basic concept seems simple. Little people controlling someone’s thoughts and actions, with the inside of the brain represented by a control room where pulling levers and pushing buttons makes stuff happen. In this version, it’s the five most basic emotions: joy, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust. They manipulate the person’s reactions to the world, collect memories, and attempt to regulate mental health.

Sounds kinda boring, doesn’t it? If it weren’t for it being Pixar, I wouldn’t have gone. But I did go, and I’m delighted. If you’re wondering if this movie is worth watching, then this is your notice. You don’t even have to read the rest of this. If you’re capable of reading these words, you are the target audience. Go watch it and thank me later.

. . . still here? Okay, I guess I can talk some more. Very mild spoilers ahead. In fact, it’s almost not worth it, but I’ll put up the cool graphic anyway.

Spoiler Warning

Inside Out lanyardI showed up ready to spend a diverting evening watching what I expected to be a decent film, but no more than that. I was mostly going because the buzz I was hearing told me it would be worth reviewing early, and I’d probably be busy this weekend, so I might as well stop at the theater on my way home from work. I got a poster for my efforts that I figured I could give to someone, and also a cool little lanyard badge. (I hear the Level 9 lanyards are even better.)

The crowd wasn’t exactly buzzing with anticipation, the way things had felt for other films I’ve been seeing like Age of Ultron, but there were a fair amount of people there and they all seemed relaxed. There were plenty of kids, but by no means was it a crowd of parents just looking for something to give to their children as a treat. Most of the audience members were adults.

The energy in the room changed as the movie went on. We got sucked in, laughing uproariously, and I heard a few sniffles when . . . well, trust me, you’ll know. “Take her to the moon for me.” Sniff. It wasn’t an emotional roller-coaster, but there were some sad moments; and yet, by the time the credits were rolling, I had a stitch in my side from laughing too hard.

The story centers on Riley, an 11-year-old girl who is known for being extremely cheerful. Her most dominant emotion is Joy, a happy character that reminds me of Tinkerbell in more ways than one. Joy pretty much runs the show inside Riley’s mind, laying out jobs for everyone else — and Sadness’ job is basically to do nothing.

I’m going to stay away from major spoilers, but there’s one thing that won’t be a spoiler even though it seems like it. The moment you see how things shape up, you know that we’re going to see the benefit that Sadness can have for Riley, or for any person. So yes, I’m going to be up-front with that part. Face it, if you’re coming to this blog, you’re interested in how stories work; and if you have even a casual knowledge of how stories work, then you know that’s a major part of the plot line, if not the whole thing. In fact, those first few minutes seem like this is just going to be another generic Disney movie where we learn a life lesson and move on.

Life lesson? Yes. Enjoyable, surprising, innovative, imaginative (heh), engrossing, emotional (heh), and likely to keep you engaged from start to finish and become an all-ages classic? YES YES YES.

This is so engaging and full of twists that just knowing that the plot shows that “being sad” is important for mental health is, in the end, incidental. In fact, staying away from spoilers is less because I want to and more because if I talk about what happens then I’ve said too much. This is an amazing film, and it deserves to be seen without knowing the major points.

That also means it’s going to hamper me more than a bit. You have no idea how much I’m going to want to reference Inside Out the next time I’m giving a lecture on character growth.

As I said, this is for all ages, and I mean it. There is plenty of humor for little kids (and without even dipping into poop jokes — what a concept!) and a ton for adults. It’s a movie that your kids will watch over and over, and as they grow older they’ll periodically realize why Mom and Dad were laughing so hard. The amount of clever psychology humor in here is incredible. I think the only part that got louder laughter than the “facts and opinions” line was the visual joke with the cat.

If you’re going “Okay, if you say so” right now, you haven’t seen the movie go see the movie why are you still reading this post my blog isn’t that important *cough* Sorry. I might be a little enthused about it. And it’s not just because it’s a movie that rewards you for keeping up without assuming you’re dumb or stoned.

As we get a closer look at the mindscape in the movie, it just keeps getting better. What seems like a simplistic setting is revealed instead to be very deep, capable of sustaining a close look. Basically, once you’re over the “little people in your head” bit, you’ll find that you don’t so much suspend your disbelief as allow said disbelief to kick up its heels and order a frosty beverage. Everything follows from that part so naturally and is so well-constructed that the only reason you might miss a connection is because you’re laughing too hard.

The ending works out so very well, too, and it’s the other partial spoiler I’m going to talk about here. During the movie, we see how the five emotions work in Riley’s parents’ heads, all very different and indicative of their personalities. However, they have one interesting thing in common: in each head, the five emotions are sitting down at the same console. In Riley’s head, they’re standing and constantly pushing each other out of the way to have their turn. At the end of the movie, Riley’s control console has expanded, giving them enough room that they can all participate at once.

It wasn’t called out in the movie, but I thought it was a wonderfully subtle way of showing growth. Riley has grown from being just a kid whose emotions are jumping about to someone whose emotions are starting to become more unified and constructive. In the adults, they all work together with practiced ease. With that ending, it’s clear that Pixar is set up for a sequel, and the only reason I’m not wanting it right now is that I’m not done admiring this movie just yet.

If there’s any criticism I have of the film, it’s that it doesn’t delve into the results of the Joy/Sadness plot enough. But let me tell you, as someone who has to deal with chronic, clinical depression, I know about the value of sadness. It would have been very easy to add in some stuff about depression or underscore what’s already there. While you don’t need to in order to enjoy the movie, you will get more out of it if you’ve either experienced depression or if you’ve read my essay on the subject, because you’ll be able to fill in a little extra.

There’s so much more I want to say. I want to talk about the characters of the emotions themselves. I want to talk about the way each of the five emotions are different in different people’s heads. I want to talk about the way the movie employs near-perfect setup/payoff. Maybe I’ll have to do a spoiler post, if I have time. I’m certainly going to use it as a demonstration movie the next time I get a chance in a workshop.

Oh, and I’m also going to see this movie a second time. Probably a third as well. It’s opening weekend, and I’m already wanting to know when the DVD comes out!