credit/Disney-Pixar"Inside Out" is something of a crash course in the development and working of the human brain, specifically the evolving brain of a child and, for the sake of simplicity, its focus is limited to only five emotions - joy, sadness, fear, anger and disgust - that may dictate the child's given mood.
It has the soothing feel of one parent (the filmmaker) reassuring other parents (his target audience) that it's perfectly fine for their children to experience sadness - and, by extension, for everyone to feel sad occasionally, children and adults alike. Being sad, in fact, can be constructive. Given the unfortunate societal trend of expected instant gratification, this bit of wisdom is much-needed, if not necessarily new.
But it's a long slog before this message becomes clear. Much of the film is about the custody battle for sole dominion of a child named Riley fought by two emotions, personified as adorable cartoon creatures - Joy, a text-book control freak, and Sadness, a text-book passive aggressive.
Joy, who flat-out states, "I just want Riley to be happy," initially has the audience on her side, but when the two warring emotions are sidelined away from the control panel that motivates Riley's swinging moods and they have to find a way to get back (in road film fashion), it is Sadness who saves the day. Riley's problem, see, is that her parents moved her from her birthplace to San Francisco and she learns it's perfectly fine to mourn the change and cry over her loss. She feels better when she does.
"Inside Out" and its championing of sadness would make more sense if Riley's parents spent most of the film trying to cheer her up and nudge her towards forced fun, insisting on happiness. But they never do that. Her father is preoccupied with work-related problems and her mom is distracted because the truck carrying all their furniture hasn't arrived.
There would be a point to the film if Riley's folks were like other modern parents who are obsessed with their children being happy all the time.
But more problematic is that the movie's concept and its execution don't match. The film is clearly speaking to an adult audience with dialogue that incorporates a veritable glossary of psychological jargon ("core memories," "abstract thought" and more). It's very clever and glib, particularly when Joy comes upon a board game whose individual pieces read either "fact" or "opinion" and she quips, "I don't see the difference."
But, visually, especially the way the control-room emotions are drawn in bright primary and pastel colors (and those emotions do dominate the film), "Inside Out" looks like something packaged for pre-school children.
Much like Joy and Sadness, these two factions are at war with each other.
Note in Passing: "Inside Out" opens with an on-screen introduction by one of its makers, Pete Docter, who lauds the audience for being there and for supporting movies which are so important to life. The conceit is a tad condescending and self-important and I thought to myself, "Uh-oh!"