InsideOutcoverGrade: B+
Entire family: Yes
2015, 94 min., Color
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: English DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Amazon link

How do you jazz up an otherwise common story about a young girl who has a hard time adjusting to her family’s move from Minnesota to San Francisco? If you’re Pixar, you personify her emotions and show them inside a control room interacting with each other as young Riley experiences a range of different and sometimes complex and conflicted feelings. And you give those cartoon-character emotions a save-the-day mission that turns the focus of this film Inside Out.

First-time animated feature director Ronnie Del Carmen is paired with Minnesotan and seasoned director Pete Docter (Up, Monsters, Inc.) for this CGI animated comedy-drama-adventure—the 15th full-length from Pixar and the studio’s first since 2013’s Monsters University.

InsideOutscreenInside Out is a clever film about the inner self, but “clever” is the operative word. As creative as the concept is, for some reason it’s not as easy to become as emotionally involved with the characters as it has been with previous Pixar movies—which is ironic, since the main characters ARE emotions. People familiar with the old Sunday night Disney TV shows may be reminded of the Ludwig von Drake episodes in which Professor Von Drake explained various scientific phenomena and mechanical functions through the use of illustrated cartoons. That’s how Inside Out feels: Here ist how za emotions verk inside za body!

The concept is introduced when Riley is born and we see emotions in a control room looking up at the parents from Riley’s point of view, so we understand instantly that the baby’s first expression of delight is linked to the anthropomorphic character in the control room. Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler) is behind all of Riley’s joyful reactions, the one responsible for her smiles and laughter. Score a goal later in life, as this young hockey player does, and it’s pure Joy! Sit in a new classroom feeling suddenly alienated, and that’s where Sadness (Phyllis Smith) steps in. Other core emotions are Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling).

InsideOutscreen1Memories are represented by different colored balls, some of which are defined as core memories, ones that have a lasting impact. Older children will appreciate Pixar’s attempt to make sense of emotions and the human psyche, creating visuals to explain a complicated terrain that includes various “islands” representing collective memories of family on one and aspects of personality on others. Then there’s a memory dump where memories go to fade and die, a long-term memory repository, and a punning “train of thought.” Younger children may find such details may be too complicated to understand, but they’ll still likely get caught up in the action and the interaction between the emotions and the ways in which they are reflected in the life of Riley (Kaitlyn Dias).

Joy is the one who coordinates things, cheerleads, and generally tries to keep everything together. But when she and Sadness are accidentally vacuumed up by a pneumatic tube that deposits memories in long-term storage, it’s up to Anger, Disgust and Fear to try to “control” Riley’s emotional state until Joy and Sadness return. Along the way we’re introduced to Bing Bong (Richard Kind), Riley’s version of Puff the Magic Dragon—her imaginary childhood friend—and a “recall tube.”

InsideOutscreen2There’s a message here among the memories, and it’s simple: while Joy may be the most desirable, other emotions have their place—especially sadness, whose primary function is to alert Joy when someone needs to be comforted or lifted up out of their funk. Inside Out is an ambitious attempt to make sense of children’s feelings and to help them understand those feelings. How successful is it? That depends on whom you ask. My wife and I enjoyed the film but didn’t think it ranked among the best that Pixar has made. We gave it a B. Our teens—maybe because teens are so aware of their emotions—thought it was an A- because “it was different, it was creative.” And yeah, it’s hard to argue with that.

3D option:  If you have 3D capability, get this title in the 3D combo pack, which includes a Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD. It’s by far one of the best 3D presentations I’ve seen. Things may not fly out at you the way they do at Disney’s 3D theme park shows, but the spatial depth created and the superior edge delineation really adds a lot to the viewing experience. In fact, Inside Out seems the kind of movie that was made for 3D. As of November 23, it’s on sale at Amazon for $25.19, and that’s only three dollars and change more than the standard Blu-ray combo pack. If you want to hedge your bets in case you might decide to get 3D in the future, it’s well worth the upgrade.

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