As Inside Out approached its heart-wrenching finale, having been immersed in an adventure through the maze of the mind, I could feel the pipes beginning to overflow. As I moved my clenched fist from my cheek to wipe away what I thought was the one stranded tear from my left eye a pool of water collapsed onto my face. The tears had been—unknown to me—piling up for minutes. After taking a second to contemplate this moment of vulnerability I quickly removed my glasses and wiped myself clean before the girls around me could see what had happened to this seemingly grown man.
But that was simply what little manly emotion I have in me trying to take over. Soon I realized I was not the only one stripped down to their innermost core by Pixar’s newest masterpiece of irrationally natural genius. How, on God’s green/brown/in-some-places-teal Earth, could an animated children’s movie be so completely raw and human while also being insanely, comprehensively hilarious and imaginative—and for its entire runtime, nonetheless?
Delving back into the mental toy chest that created Toy Story, the team at Pixar led by director Pete Doctor (Up), has once again given us another aspect of life to completely reimagine: the mind. The mind of an 11-year-old girl, Riley (as well as everyone else’s), is run by the primary emotions—Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling)—who man a central command station, with whoever has their hands on the wheelthe dominant emotion for any situation. Now, to explain all the rules would drive my own emotions over the edge, but let’s just say Pixar has reimagined the brain:a wonderland of colorful monoliths where our best qualities are literally amusement parks that form the basis of our entire being and our memories are encapsulated in trillions of glass spheres (think those things from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix).
When some of these spheres—the “core memories”—get loose it sends Joy and Sadness out into the world of Riley’s brain where they must find a way to get back to Headquarters before her entire being collapses into nothingness. Sounds bleak, but in Pixar fashion the quest is filled with rich humor and detail that will make you mad you’ve gone your whole life not seeing the world this way.
Facts and opinions are haphazardly placed in boxes where they can be mixed up at any time; our fears are thrown into a seedy “subconscious” world that looks like the dark woods from Alice in Wonderland; our mind is maintained by tiny jelly-bean creatures with Brooklyn accents; the imagination is a land filled with French fries and princess castles (contents may vary); your dreams are really the product of a movie studio that turns the day’s events into a scripted film and, most damning: those annoying little jingles popping up in your head are indeed one cruel, relentless joke. Damn you, Pixar, damn you for thinking of everything.
But the journey is not just fluffy clouds and elephants that cry candy and have the voice of Richard Kind. Along the way we see what happens when we let Fear, Anger and Disgust (literally and metaphorically) take the wheel. We lose ourselves to the emotions, though not bad and often quite silly, that have no place controlling us. Joy and Sadness are needed, even if we try as hard as we can to forget the latter.
That being said, the journey of Joy and Sadness is the perfect antithesis for not only the movie itself but, frankly, the best part about going to the movies at all. There is this necessary combination of joy and sadness that we forget is so palpable and perfect because we let one take over the other. But we need them both, and it’s when the two come together that they form something so indescribable that all you can do is let out the smallest sigh of…well, I can’t describe it. But don’t worry: the filmmakers realized this, put it in a movie and take you there in the most rewarding way possible. The joy gives you wonderment and laughter behind the most bulging of eyes, and sadness turns that marvel into something real that will live inside forever, cementing it as part of your being. A great movie can create that feeling; a perfect one can embody it.
I haven’t seen an animated movie this beautifully human, creative, hilarious, heart-beat-skipping and influential outside of Toy Story (except perhaps The Lego Movie) . It will forever change how children and the children inside adults see the inner workings of their head. Sure, it’s all synapses and neurons and science, blah, blah, blah. Inside Out makes it seem more magical, and far less mushy and pink. Though it may sound farfetched, Inside Out is a life-changing tour de force from people who have already made the world so much brighter, teaching us once again how to discover ourselves and learn about how to feel.
In the end, my aforementioned spout of water can perfectly sum up how I left the theater. Of course I didn’t blubber. I’m a grown man with bills and hair where it has no earthly place being. But I also didn’t fight back the initial waterworks saying “Woah, woah, there are chicks around!” Instead I cried the perfect tears. Those tears that gently, coolly roll down the face before you even know what’s happening. The kind that prove your brain knows something you don’t yet, where a nerve has been hit so hard so fast that by the time you wipe it away in astonishment you’re shocked it made it so far down without you realizing. The beauty of Inside Out is that by the time the tears are rushing they’re accompanied by the biggest, belly-busting smile your body can muster, creating a wondrous concoction of joy and sadness, which in itself is something too miraculous to have a name for. Pixar has yet again earned the right to be the captain of our emotions, and Inside Out is easily their flagship.