For countless centuries humankind has strived to unlock the mysteries of the mind, only to discover is that while we can speculate and conclude, we may never truly know what goes makes us all tick. That’s not to say we don’t have an idea of how we work, after all we’re the ones who live this life and somehow we get through just fine without truly knowing how we do it. What we generally find is that, at the end of the day, the cliche is true, “we’re all human”. Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc., Up) takes all these swirling notions, and… emotions and turns them into the beautifully clever movie Inside Out.
In Inside Out, Docter sets out to answer for us that ageless question of, “What’s going on inside that head of yours?” Great effort was made by Docter to take concepts by both Freud and Jung and combine them into something easily digestible by audiences, as their concepts are often quite convoluted, conflicting, and complimentary at the same time. That’s not an easy task, some people spend their entire thesis trying to sort such things out. To do this he reached back to one of his earlier works that many might be familiar with Cranium Command.
To do this the movie is set inside the mind of Riley, an 11 year old girl (based on both Docter himself and his daughter) whose life is drastically changed when her family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco. Much like Cranium Command, Riley’s mind, and similarly those of her parents, dogs, cats, etc. are all controlled from a control room, Headquarters, by her emotions Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. In fact, even the teaser poster for the movie resembles the logo for the closed attraction. Their job is to help define and maintain Riley’s personality. They do this by creating and storing core memories which drive the aspects of that personality.
Unfortunately, after moving, Riley’s once “perfect” world starts to fall apart under her and she has to learn to cope with the changes and learn to incorporate them into who she is, rather than let them ruin her life. As Riley’s world starts to fall apart, so do the core aspects of her personality, depicted as floating island “lands” from a theme park, including a familiar “hub & spoke” design where Headquarters is the Hub. Those lands crumble, and fall into an abyss of lost and forgotten memories.
The emotions look to Joy, their leader and Riley’s first emotion, to solve the problem. From there things start to go wrong as Riley’s core memories are rejected by the system in Headquarters and through a series of mishaps both Joy and Sadness are whisked off with those core memories to long term memory with no way back to Headquarters. Leaving Fear, Anger, and Disgust in control. From there things turn sour for quite a bit for both groups, and this reflects to Riley in the real world. Thankfully with the help of one of Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong things eventually get fixed, and Riley learns to accept, and move on.
Inside Out great, if not fantastic. While I wouldn’t consider it Pixar’s best work it is near the top. It’s extremely clever, with some amazing throw away lines mostly at Jung’s expense. Everyone who has grown up, become a teenager, lived through a life altering change, etc. should relate to this movie. In other words, pretty much everyone on the planet. Something so relatable is really the pinnacle of every artist, and this might come to be known as Docter’s pinnacle work. Go see Inside Out, you’re going to enjoy experiencing these emotions.