Almost to a fault, Disney's Pixar Films have put an emphasis on the storyline in ther films. Sure, the animated studio is known for getting A-list talent to provide the voices for the characters in its films. And it spares no expense when it comes to the detailed, life-like animation you find in the movies. But the story is just as important, something that can't be said for many animated (and even live action) films. Inside Out, its latest offering, is another triumph.
The concept behind the movie, which opens areawide on Friday, revolves around the various emotions that young Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) feels as she and her parents pick up and move from Minnesota to San Francisco after her father gets a new job. Her emotions, which take physical forms, include Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). They go haywire as she struggles to adjust to a new school and a new home (the film's creators make San Francisco, one of the most beautiful cities in the country, look dark and dingy but that's a minor quibble). You can imagine the fear she feels as she has to eat lunch in the school cafeteria for the first time. And who better to voice fear than Hader, a guy who always sounds like he's on edge.
In the struggle to adjust to her new environment, Riley starts shutting down, and her fond childhood memories start to fade. So Joy takes the lead and heads off to a place called Long Term Memory. With Sadness by her side, she meets Riley's imaginary friend Bing Bong (Richard Kind) as she and Sadness, who has good intentions despite being a total downer, try to find a way to keep Riley from having a complete breakdown. At this point, the film becomes rather somber and takes on a complexity that might be beyond the grasp of most young children. But Joy's sheer determination provides a sliver of hope even as Sadness, who functions a lot like Winnie the Pooh's Eeyore, always sees the glass as half empty.
This film succeeds on concept alone. Turning a young girl's emotions into physical forms that have personalities of their own is a brilliant concept for an animated film. That the film has a complex-but-not-confusing plot and some terrific voice actors is an added bonus. Kids might not totally understand what's going on throughout the entire movie, but they should gravitate to the coming-of-age theme at its core.