Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. USA, 2015. Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Pictures. Story by Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen, Screenplay by Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, Pete Docter. Produced by Jonas Rivera. Music by Michael Giacchino. Production Design by Ralph Eggleston. Film Editing by Kevin Nolting. Academy Awards 2015. AFI Film of the Year 2015. Golden Globe Awards 2015. National Board of Review Awards 2015. New York Film Critics Awards 2015. Washington Film Critics Award 2015.
Two decades of anthropomorphizing inanimate objects sees Pixar reaching a little deeper into the ephemeral, creating characters based purely on human emotions. What you think is a singularly-minded human being is actually host to Joy, Anger, Sadness, Disgust and Fear, all of whom work the console on the bridge of the human mind and control a person’s every move and expression. They enter the scene upon the birth of a little girl named Riley, her experiences recorded as pretty coloured spheres that the devoted workers store in her long-term memory. Childhood with loving parents is nothing but success, but the years approaching adolescence begin to see the first rumblings of trouble when Riley’s parents move her from Minnesota to San Francisco and take her away from her friends and her beloved hockey to a new and unfamiliar place. Sadness (terrific voice work by Phyllis Smith) screws with the switches and accidentally releases all of Riley’s core memories, then accidentally gets herself and Joy (Amy Poehler) trapped deep in the girl’s subconscious while the other three are, lamentably, left to be the only ones in control. This, we are told, gives rise to the usual bad attitude and aloof nature that children go through in the tween stage, a clever explanation for what, on the outside, is an impossible situation to deal with. Meanwhile, the journey through the human mind sees Joy and Sadness navigating abstract thought and dream production while trying to catch the Train Of Thought back to headquarters, hoping to restore the young lady’s mental equilibrium while, at the same time, learning that emotional diversity needs to be respected and that joy is not the only emotion we should feel if we are going to be happy. Elegant animation and strongly paced direction provide a solid experience that does a terrific job of never tipping the scales: the smarty-pants premise is sharply worked out without patting itself on the back, the more emotional moments are not a maudlin exercise in indulgence and it is at times genuinely touching. That said, the film works far better when it is being witty (facts and opinions look the same and get mixed up in the wrong boxes), as it relies on plenty of convention (the premise is worked out to the point of being completely almost banal) and is not nearly as profound as it hoping to be, while the landscape design is too reminiscent of the far more tedious Wreck-It Ralph to say that it is a high point in imaginative originality. It makes one wonder what is being said about a little girl who is being guided by a couple of strange dudes and some clearly messed up grown women…do we belong to ourselves or are our emotions a scapegoat for our behavior? Such philosophical inquiries are avoided in place of an easier answer, that hugs from mom and dad fix it all (which truth be told, if you’re lucky, is true), so don’t be surprised if the five people living inside your head go unstimulated while the children you take with you don’t get it at all.