It never fails: I have yet to see a Pixar trailer that makes me excited about the movie. Don’t get me wrong- at this point, knowing a movie is a Pixar movie is enough reason for me to get excited about it. But the trailers themselves never impress me. Even way back in ’03, the original teaser for Finding Nemo, which was only featured Dory and Marlin and a school of fish, made my 13-year-old self worried the movie was going to be boring compared to the Toy Story movies and A Bug’s Life. Fast forward eleven or so years, and Inside Out’s first trailer (which was basically just the scene around the dinner table cycling through each person’s inner emotions) didn’t impress me. It seemed a little cheesy and insulated- how were they going to make a whole movie out of that?
Of course, it’s no surprise that Inside Out is magnificent. Pixar, as usual, knows better than I do. They know how to release just enough of their movie in its trailers to introduce the concept (which is usually on a higher level than other animated movies) and give you the parameters in which their world exists. They know that, by now, the brand is enough, so while other movies are giving away the entire plots of their movies to take away all the risk, Pixar just gives out a little taste. They know that, when it comes to making movies about family for families, they’re the very best in the business.
The family in Inside Out consists of a husband and wife and their daughter, Riley, but they’re only indirectly the focus of the movie. The main characters of Inside Out are actually Riley’s emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). In the world of Inside Out, each person’s brain is run by these five emotions in that brain’s Headquarters. They control the body’s verbal and active functions as well as the organization of the day’s memories. The movie doesn’t try to fully explain the ins and outs of how things work in Headquarters- but you get the idea that these emotions are in charge and, perhaps more importantly, that they all care very deeply for Riley.
In Riley’s brain, Joy is the boss, and she is indeed bossy, though also sunny enough to where you might not mind. In fact, the other emotions cede control to her more often than not, trusting her to make the hard decisions and to maintain Headquarters’ equilibrium. But when Riley’s family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco and the trip doesn’t go quite how the family expects, the equilibrium gets upset. This big life change coincides with Sadness messing around with some of Riley’s core memories in an attempt to help, which leads to both Joy and Sadness being lost in other areas of Riley’s brain. The bulk of the movie involves Joy’s and Sadness’s trek back to headquarters through different regions of Riley’s brain, including her Imagination, Long-Term Memory, and Princess Dream World, meeting several characters along the way, including one of Riley’s old imaginary friends, the elephantine Bing Bong. Interspersed throughout, we also see the rest of the emotions’ failing efforts to right the ship in Headquarters after losing Joy and Sadness.
If this sounds a bit science-fiction-y or a little too complicated for an animated kids’ movie, don’t worry- I didn’t write the movie, Pixar did. So the plot is super-easy to follow, and the characters are so brightly colored and full of personality that nothing ever gets confusing. The different parts of Riley’s brain are clever and well-thought-out, so that they all become one big adventure (my personal favorite was their trip through Abstract Thought). Like with most Pixar movies, there are levels that only adults will appreciate but never at the expense of any child’s enjoyment. Speaking to a few parents who saw it, they said their kids enjoyed the whole movie, and that it was fast-paced enough to hold their attention.
In fact, while Pixar threw in a bunch of witty asides and in-jokes for the big kids, it was my little kid side that most appreciated what Inside Out accomplished. Specifically my little kid side that cries a lot. You see, I cried a lot during this movie. I’m not ashamed of it – I’m not the only grown man I’ve talked to who cried during this movie. I think it’s a chronic thing, an epidemic of sorts among grown men who see Inside Out, and I want all you other grown men to know ahead of time, so you can practice hiding your faces from your significant others and sniffling quietly enough to not attract any attention.
It’s not the first Pixar movie I’ve cried during, but it’s the first one that I bawled during. Co-directors Pete Docter (Up, one of the other Pixar movies I cried during) and Ronaldo del Carmen and the whole screenwriting crew that crafted this story understood something fundamental about how our emotions work and how they tie us to other people. There’s something about how simple they made everything involving our emotions, and how they uncovered truths that don’t get discussed often in movies at all, much less children’s movies in particular, that reminded me of my own childhood and forced me to look ahead to parenthood. They uncovered a truth that our society tends to ignore and a truth that even our churches could stand to learn from as we minister to people who are hurting. I’m doing my best not to spoil anything in the movie, but I’ll leave you with this: we all want joy, but we need sadness. And they’re not mutually exclusive.