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story.lead_photo.caption Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Joy (Amy Poehler) collaborate to emotionally stabilize a little girl going through traumatic life changes in Pixar’s Inside Out.

The balance of Pixar's best and most storied work has all more or less revolved around a single, supremely significant concept: Simply put, as we grow older, all sorts of changes happen that we are powerless to prevent, even when we desperately don't want them. Our lives are a series of changes and adaptations we're forced to make, for better or worse, and a fight to retain enough of our original selves so we don't feel completely lost to the riptides of our aging. This happens when we move from childhood to adulthood (the Toy Story saga); from vigorous youth to slouching middle age (The Incredibles); and from maturity to senility (Up). The potent emotional power of the best Pixar films all comes from this simple fact of recognition, and the truly brilliant element of this concept is the way it equally affects children and their parents, albeit in notably different ways.

Amy Poehler is the voice of Joy, one of five Emotions who help advise Riley through everyday life in Pixar’s Inside Out.

Pixar's new film, a much welcome return to their previously bulletproof form after an uncharacteristic period of less-than-stellar offerings, follows the trials and tribulations of both Riley (voice of Kaitlyn Dias), an 11-year-old girl from Minnesota, whose father (voice of Kyle MacLachlan) gets a job opportunity in San Francisco and moves along with her and her mother (voice of Diane Lane) out to the Bay Area, and her five core emotions -- Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling), as they desperately try to keep Riley stable through this tumultuous time.

Inside Out

89 Cast: Voices of Kaitlyn Dias, Kyle MacLachlan, Diane Lane, Amy Poehler, Lewis Black, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Paula Poundstone

Directors: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen

Rating: PG, for mild thematic elements and some action

Running time: 94 minutes

The film's intricate conceit is the elaborate nature of its metaphor for Riley's brain. The five core emotions all work out of a central hub with a control panel that each emotion gets to steer, given a specific set of circumstances. Throughout the day, memories in the form of globes of glowing color (representing the influence of the given emotion), come rolling down a track into their control room where the emotions then transfer them to temporary storage, before they make their way into more permanent housing. Surrounding the control tower are "islands" of Riley's key personality traits -- there's goofball island for when she's silly, hockey island for when she's playing her favorite sport, friendship and family islands for those times she spends with those respective groups, and so forth -- which activate depending on her mood.

When we first meet the team, Joy is leading front-and-center, and for good reason. Riley is fun, happy, and largely trouble-free, but as she creeps up on pre-pubescence, Sadness keeps making her presence felt, touching a formerly happy memory here and making it blue, and leading the control panel when the others aren't looking. Joy, ever bubbly, tries her best to steer Sadness away from Riley and off by herself, but when the two of them are accidentally spun out of the tower and into the vast maze of the other parts of her psyche -- leaving Disgust, Fear, and Anger to fend for themselves with Riley's countenance -- Joy slowly comes to realize the significance and importance of Sadness, especially in relation to her influence.

Along the danger-fraught way back to the tower, they meet Bing Bong (voice of Richard Kind), Riley's former imaginary friend, who has fallen on somewhat hard times, desperate to be remembered and treasured as he once was but slowly coming to the miserable realization that he's being completely phased out of Riley's memories and forgotten altogether.

If this sounds a bit heavy for a kids film, that's precisely the point. Bing Bong's gloom is part of the delicate balance writer/co-director Pete Docter (who wrote the screenplay along with a host of others) and his enormously effective animation team constantly teeter upon. At times the film is outright hilarious: Its best moments include a family dinner that goes completely off the rails with the competing sets of emotions in the family's respective consciousnesses wildly careening back and forth among each other, a tour de force of conceptual giddiness and pure comic timing; but also an incredibly poignant scene with the aforementioned Bing Bong, when he realizes and finally accepts his fate with a final act of selfless love and kindness for his childhood partner. As such, it's not an easy film to dismiss, as so much of our dreaded summer fare tends to be; it hangs on you long after the credits roll, in a way that lets you know exactly how moved you were by it.

I had the distinct pleasure of attending this particular press screening with a companion, my 9-year-old daughter, which afforded me the opportunity to get another perspective on the film's relative merits (blessedly, my daughter has not yet developed the jaded, sneering expectation and exactitudes of her father). She greatly enjoyed it, she explained. It was sad in moments (alas, poor Bing Bong really got to her as well), but also vibrant (my word) and hopeful (hers), and she too felt the weight of it long after we left the theater and started driving home. After she gave me her opinion, and we mulled over some of our favorite scenes, the two of us drove home largely in silence, lost in our own thoughts and the emotion the film had stirred in us. We were very much bonded together, but pleasingly lost in our own worlds. I can't guarantee you will enjoy the same sweetly bonding experience with your own kids, and/or loved ones, but I can tell you with some certainty it will be one of the only films in the summer of 2015 that will even try to make the attempt.

MovieStyle on 06/19/2015

Print Headline: Inside Out

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