Inside the trauma of childhood change

Inside Out (PG). Directors: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen. Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan. 102 minutes

If you think the premise of animation juggernaut Pixar's latest feature sounds familiar, chances are you at some point watched or were at least aware of the short-lived 1990s sitcom Herman's Head. Both the new film and that old TV show set out to look inside the mind of their respective heroes — in Herman's Head, a 30-something research assistant; in Inside Out, a preteen girl named Riley (Dias) — and personify aspects of their personality as characters vying for control.

Thankfully, that is where the similarity ends. Where Herman's Head was pure lowbrow, Inside Out takes the clever premise and expands it to the kinds of entertaining and poignant proportions that are the hallmarks of Pixar's very best. Co-director Pete Docter had a hand in some of the studio's more outlandish expeditions (Monsters Inc., WALL.E, Up) and again demonstrates both the endless invention that elevated those films, and the profound human insight that grounded them.

Riley has enjoyed a largely happy childhood in the American Midwest. In the 'headquarters' of her conscious mind, Joy (Poehler), Sadness (Smith), Fear (Hader), Anger (Black) and Disgust (Kaling) each take their turn at the control panel — but Joy is undoubtedly in charge. With manic dedication, she tries to keep Riley in a state of general happiness. As a result she has overseen a prolific accumulation of happy memories that have coloured Riley's temperament and world view.

Coloured, literally: in a fun conceit that gives substance to abstract ideas, memories take the form of spheres that are colour-coded according to the emotional state in which they were acquired. Sometimes, an extra-luminous bulb appears, and these 'core memories' fuel massive island-like engines that function as key inputs to Riley's personality. In Riley's mind, Joy's yellow orbs abound, and the core memories have all been happy. But a move with her family to San Francisco is set to change all of that.

Inside Out is packed with ideas and reasonably faithful to psychological principles, despite its fun and fantastical veneer. The 'headquarters' control room is merely the gateway to the world of Riley's mind: we also visit the film studio where Riley's dreams are produced, and the surreal landscape of 'abstract thought'; we meet Riley's displaced imaginary friend, Bing Bong (Kind) (part elephant, part cat, part fairy floss), and a pair of cheeky 'forgetters' who ditch faded memories but preserve one irritating jingle.

As is to be expected from a Pixar film, there is a weighty, serious side to all of this. Docter was inspired to tell this story after observing changes in his own preteen daughter's personality. His research with co-director Carmen included consultation with psychologists specialising in emotion — including, tellingly, University of California professor Dacher Keltner, whose insights included the role of sadness in strengthening relationships. The film is an exploration on loss and change, and on pain's place in it.

As such we also visit the darker regions of Riley's mind — the tragic wasteland of the 'mind dump'; the terrifying vault of the subconscious. The film considers, too, the implications of core memories formed in sadness, and the possibility of new life experiences causing happy memories to take the colour of sadness. Though not as brutal as Toy Story 3's confrontation with mortality and the end of childhood, its depiction of Riley's emotional turmoil in the face of great change is both authentic and harrowing.


Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is assistant editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Inside Out, Amy Poehler, Disney, Pixar, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader

 

 

submit a comment

Similar Articles

The rhetorical question with an answer

  • Maureen O'Brien
  • 24 June 2015

What can you do? There's comfort arising from an internal acknowledgement of the fact that, however painful it might be, there are some things beyond our control. But certain role models in our community - including anti domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty - have demonstrated through their actions that it is possible to move beyond a seemingly all pervasive sense of resignation.

READ MORE

Greeks suffer as leaders quarrel

  • Gillian Bouras
  • 23 June 2015

My youngest son, who lives in central Athens, is on the phone. ‘What do you think I should do with my money?’ he asks. The New York Times likens Europe and Greece to two prize-fighters, but I suspect that this is a male take on the matter. The women on the scene, Chancellor Angela Merkel and IMF chief Christine Lagarde, are more or less playing the part of the firm mother to naughty, quarrelling boys.  

READ MORE

We've updated our privacy policy.

Click to review