In the outstanding new Pixar animated film Inside Out, 11-year-old Riley’s life changes abruptly when her parents decide to move from Minnesota to San Francisco to follow a business opportunity. Riley experiences some of the typical losses of a big move—friendships, familiarity, favorite activities, and even her sense of self.
One thing that makes the film different from other coming-of-age films is that Riley is not really the main character. There are several main characters: they are the different emotions and memories that make Riley who she is.
Throughout her childhood, Joy (Amy Poehler) has had the biggest part to play in Riley’s personality. But the events of the move to California throw off her equilibrium, and Joy and Sadness (voiced perfectly by Phyllis Smith) find themselves lost in the recesses of Riley. Along with another ally they find along the way, they must embark on an arduous journey back to “headquarters.”
Meanwhile, other characters—Anger, Disgust, Fear—are left to take a larger role in her emotional life, and their uncertainty makes life much more confusing for Riley. While Joy feels she should be the prominent emotion at all times, it becomes evident that all of our emotions have an important role to play.
As someone who was once an 11-year-old girl moving across the country myself, I can only guess that the directors and writers have some intimate knowledge of what the experience entails. The way the story invokes the sense of loss, anger, fear, and even jealousy of those back home is spot on. My tween and teen children may have been a bit sorry they sat next to their weepy mother, though, really, they should be used to it by now.
This inventive and beautifully animated movie creatively explores memory, imagination, personality, and abstract thought, subtly teaching the wonders of the brain while keeping it fun and meaningful for everyone. Inside Out is an intelligent, playful, and respectful look at the complex creation that is a human being. (Disney)