Tony Fyler listens to the voices in his head.
There were so many ways this movie could have gone wrong.
It’s a concept that’s been used and re-used so many times in the world of geek entertainment – little people living inside your head, controlling how your brain works, what you think, and remember, and say. Geeks most recently saw the idea in Doctor Who’s Let’s Kill Hitler episode, with the Tessalecta being full of miniaturized people going about the place ‘giving people Hell,’ but British geeks of a certain age all watched that episode and cried ‘Oh, the Numskulls!’ – harking back to a comic-strip in some of our comic-books, which first pushed the idea of little funny people in people’s heads back in 1962.
So how does the Disney version of little people in people’s heads stack up?
Better than you might expect.
To be honest, I didn’t particularly want to go and see Inside Out – largely because, in my jaded geek brain, I’d already seen it all before: little people in people’s brains, plus Disney.
What I’d neglected to take into account that this is a Pixar movie, not just a Disney one, so it’s character-based first and foremost, with gorgeously slick visuals and a story arc of realisation encompassing almost all the characters in the movie – both the little people in the head of 11-year-old Riley, and the big people in ‘our world’ – Riley, her parents, and the challenging new world of changed classmates she encounters on moving from Minnesota to San Francisco. It manages to effectively, simply tell a story of a child moved across the country from where the majority of her memories have been happy ones, to a new place, losing her friends, struggling to fit in, feeling the pressure of keeping a smile on her face to please her parents and generally growing up a little, while also giving it the full Disney Pixar treatment of the world we never see – the emotion-people inside our heads, and their continual struggle for supremacy or harmony in control of our thoughts and actions.
Beyond that though, if you’re looking for a USP to make you take an interest in Inside Out, it’s the inventive representation of solid brain biology and psychology that will get you. Islands of personality are here, core memory is here, a train of thought, long-term memory storage, and methods of forgetting. It all has an internal consistency that takes what we know about how the brain works and turns it into a Pixar world that makes a ridiculous degree of inherent sense. As with monsters under your bed, or living cars, or toys that come to life when there are no humans to watch them, so Inside Out focuses firmly on characters and the logic of their worlds and problems.
The artwork and animation, as you’d now expect from a Pixar movie has that stylized, soft reality that marks the company out as a force to be reckoned with, and always serves the characters and their stories.
In terms of story, the outside world strand is simpler and more moving – we see Riley progress in gulps from just being born to the age of eleven, and the memories that are shared with us help to hook her quickly in our mind as a ‘good kid.’ Her folks have upped sticks across the country to essentially pursue a 21st century version of the American Dream, but face difficulties that only compound her ‘my world has turned to grey, cold, friendless, scary mush’ anxiety at losing her friends and her understanding of how life worked – an anxiety truthfully and uncomfortably exacerbated by a heart-to-heart with her mom, who asks her to keep smiling so her dad doesn’t feel bad about the move and everything they’ve given up to make his dream a reality.
The inside story gives us a simultaneous origin tale for the emotions in Riley’s mind – going from Joy, to include Anger, Sadness, Fear and Disgust – and then sets up the way their world works before giving them a big problem to solve when Joy and Sadness (voiced by Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith respectively) are stranded outside Headquarters (don’t tell me you don’t love that), with a bunch of happy core memories they have to get back in place before Riley forgets them altogether. So it’s they, the emotion-people, who have the hero’s quest in the movie, travelling through a lot of different realms, making friends and facing dangers on the way. Meanwhile, the conceit of the movie is neatly underlined. Without Joy and Sadness in Headquarters, Riley’s mind and actions will be governed by Fear, Disgust and Anger – the feelings she ‘naturally’ has for the new world of San Francisco in which she finds herself. It’s clever plotting, giving everyone something to think about and someone to root for.
Is it slightly schmaltzy in the lessons it delivers? Well yes, but a) it’s a Disney movie, and b) it’s a Pixar movie, and there’s a degree to which a dollop of schmaltz is necessary to make either of those work, a bit of Buzz and Woody, Mike and Sully not-a-dry-eye-in-the-house stuff that now extends to include Joy and Sadness as unlikely friends as they struggle to get home before the whole world of Riley’s mind goes to hell.
One to go see then? Yes – you pretty much know where you are with Pixar, but where you are is a good place, not afraid to puncture the schmaltz with some severe actual danger and some adult gags as well as some that will make the kids giggle uncontrollably. One of the funniest sections is actually tucked in right at the end, where we get to see a bunch of other people’s emotions in their brains – teenage boy, dog, cat, teacher and so on. It’s a fun excursion outside the main plot, and one that’s only hinted at elsewhere in one particular scene that’s been in the bulk of the trailers for the movie.
Will Inside Out change your life? No, it’ll entertain you for a couple of hours, as well as making any kids you take along to it laugh – that’s its job, and it delivers. Will it make you look at your interactions with others in a different way long after you watch it? Actually, yes, it will. It achieves that classy level of creativity where you laugh so much your brain starts working. A movie that can do all that is worth checking out.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk