Inside Out

by Alex Stroup, staff writer

Cranium Command was a film-based attraction at Epcot from 1989 to 2007 in which the audience got to watch a view from inside the brain of a 12-year-old being piloted by an audio-animatronic named Buzzy. Throughout the show, you watched Buzzy interact and instruct various other anotomical and emotional systems.

Take the gimmick of Cranium Command and add the wild anthropomorphic analogizing of TRON, where all the concepts inside a computer are given physical form, and you have a movie that any of the major animation studios could competently make: The Dreamworks Animation version would have lots of crass pop-culture jokes. The Sony Pictures Animation version would have lots of visual puns. The Walt Disney Animation version would have a missing parent. Studio Ghibli would focus on the spiritual connectedness of it all. 

Official "Inside Out" movie trailer. © Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar.

Inside Out is the Pixar version of it, though. And that means light touches of all of the above, but rarely (sadly the days of saying never are behind us) in a way that interferes with creating an emotional connection to the story that works for both adults and children.

Inside Out is Pete Docter's third go as director at Pixar (he co-directs with Ronnie del Carmen, from a script he wrote with Meg LaFauve and Josh Cooley) and continues the structure choices we saw in Monsters, Inc., and Up. Both of those earlier titles have solid elements of both character depth and child-friendly slapstick antics. Slapstick has the upper hand in Monsters, Inc., while the character development in Up is so strong it is almost out of balance with the cartoony action conclusion. Inside Out finds a better balance than either of them, though when updating my rankings of Pixar's 15 titles so far, Up probably still has the Upper hand (sorry, that hurt me more than it hurt you).

"Inside Out" (2015). © Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar.

On the outside, Inside Out is the story of 11-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), a girl who has, up to this point, been a relentlessly happy young lady. Her life is disrupted, however, when her father has to relocate from Minneapolis to San Francisco to help his start-up get off the ground. Riley has to leave behind friends, sports, and the home that she has always known—and move to an unfamiliar (visually and culturally) city with a small rundown home, and having to make new friends. All the while, she continues to put on a happy face for her distracted parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan).

On the inside, though, things are much more complicated. Through a series of flashbacks starting a bit after (thankfully) birth, we are taken into Riley's mind (aka Headquarters) and the five primary emotions that control how everybody interacts with the world around them. For Riley, Joy (Amy Poehler) is the team leader, trying to make sure every memory ends up being a happy one. The others occasionally get to drive (especially during sleep). Anger (Lewis Black) brings a sense of fairness to things, Fear (Bill Hader) protects Riley from all kinds of physical and emotional harm), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) brings a sense of style and protection from broccoli, and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) is mopey and allowed to do as little as possible.

"Inside Out" (2015). © Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar.

As Riley goes about her days, memories form and are presented as little snow globe-type balls. Certain memories become "core memories" and form the basis for Riley's personality (such as goofiness and hockey). Every night, memories are transferred to Long Term Storage. As mentioned earlier, like TRON, much of the movie's cleverness lies in how real-world ephemeral concepts about the structure of the brain and functions of memory are analogized into physical constructs. Much of it will likely go over the heads of children but should be a delight to adults and a source of revelation for children as they return to the film at different ages and education levels.

"Inside Out" (2015). © Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar.

Something strange begins to happen after the move to San Francisco. Whenever Sadness touches a memory, it becomes tainted: a previously happy memory now has sad connotations for Riley. In the struggle to keep Sadness from tainting any further memories, things go wrong, and Riley's core memories are dislodged and sent to Long Term Storage, as are Joy and Sadness. While they try to get everything back to Headquarters, this leaves Fear, Anger, and Disgust as the only emotions in control.

In other words, Riley descends into a deep funk.

The interplay between the struggles within Riley's mind with the external reality of Riley's behavior is innovative and emotionally real. Based on the trailers, I had expected Inside Out to be an exploration of depression, and it isn't that—though how pharmaceutical treatment would have been analogized would be interesting to consider. Riley's is never a medical crisis—ultimately, it is the equally interesting contemplation of the nature of maturing emotionally; the discovery of repression and rejection of it. 

"Inside Out" (2015). © Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar.

That's all very serious, but Inside Out is lighthearted throughout, leavened with humor, slapstick, and Bing Bong (Richard Kind), an imaginary friend from Riley's earlier youth. A 5-year-old is going to react to the colors. A 12-year-old is going to laugh at the jokes and come away perhaps understanding that "bad" emotions are OK, too, but they don't have to control you. A 15-year-old is giong to get more of the subtle stuff and recognize the transformation, and adults are going to be wistful for simpler emotional times and see the movie mirrored in the growing children around them.

Also, it explains the behavior of cats. Any movie that does that has to be good, right?

Attached to Inside Out is the usual Pixar animated short. This time around, it is Lava. Lava is set to the music of a single Polynesian-style song that tells of the eons-long love story of two Pacific island volcanoes. The song was written by director James Ford Murphy and performed by Kuana Torres Kahele and Napua Greig, two Hawaiian musicians. 

There isn't much to say beyond that it is beautifully done and slides nicely into the main attraction.

"Inside Out" (2015). © Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar.

  • Inside Out is a Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar release
  • Wide theatrical release on Friday, June 19, 2015
  • Directed by Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen
  • Screenplay by Pete Docter, Meg LaFauve, and Josh Cooley
  • Starring Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Kaitlyn Dias, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Richard Kind
  • Running time: 94 minutes
  • Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action
  • Alex's rating: 9 out of 10



  1. By Lani

    Let me be the first to warn you -- bring kleenex!!

  2. By olegc

    I will second Lani's comment

    I find it very interesting that so many in the Disney fan community immediately connect Inside Out with Cranium Command. I have visited WDW only 3 times, and Cranium Command only once, and while I know the base premises are the same - that's the only connection I find, CC must have made a huge impact on so many to make it come to mind first, before even discussing the movie outright (Alex is not the only one to do it).

    I have been telling many of my friends with children - of all ages - to go see this movie together. Everyone will get a different perspective. and I will be seeing this again. Its unfortunate that some critics who don't like it say its a kids movie - and that undertow of "animation is for kids" is very prevalent but they're missing the boat on this one. (btw - that;s something I have noticed more in general - OT - that like the CNN video - the premise of why would any adult be so infatuated with Disney when its for kids.)

  3. By bumblebeeonarose

    We took the kids to see Inside Out today. This is a very touching movie. I cried several times. The movie has plenty of funny moments too. This may be my new favorite Pixar film. Pixar really does a good job pulling at your heart strings when it comes to family and growing older (Up, Toy Story 3, and now Inside Out).

  4. By cbarry

    Just saw this with the wife and kids - on Father's Day no less! What a fantastic film. Kleenex for sure. I think even more so if you're a parent of older kids. It hits home in a big way. We all loved it, the 16-year-old, the 12-year-olds and the wife and I. It appeals to everyone. The little little ones behind us seemed to be loving it as well. That's the true test. A Pixar treasure!

  5. By AJDerrick

    The cat thing totally cracked us up.

    I have a 3 year old and a newborn. This was the 3 year old's first trip to the movie theater, and he was completely engrossed the entire time. He loved the Lava short as well. My husband and I loved the film, and it was a really interesting way to look at our kids. Seeing baby Riley with the one-button console cracked us up (it's so true, happy or sad are the only options in baby land), and there were lots of great nods to how our minds seem to work (like the oh-so-catchy gum jingle). Kleenex came in handy a few times, for sure. Great movie, Pixar at its finest.

  6. By cstephens

    It didn't make me cry like I expected it to. I did like it, but I actually wanted to see more of Riley herself.

    Loved the bit with the cats.

  7. By GusMan

    I really enjoyed the film. There were a lot of touching moments with some good laughs, wrapped by a flat out good story.

  8. By Goodnplenty

    I just saw the movie last night. It's pure genius and pure entertainment. I loved every minute of it.

    Here's a simple way to put it:
    There was applause after the short film. (I've never heard applause after the short.)
    There was applause after the the movie by small children, children, preteens, adults, just everyone.

    And most telling of all, I went on "discount night" so there's usually alot of talking. Not a peep. Everyone was engrossed in this movie.

    I hope you will go and enjoy it too!!

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