Parents need to know that “Inside Out” is an outstandingly original, heartfelt story from Pixar about growing up and learning to handle your biggest emotions. Told primarily from the perspective of the feelings inside 11-year-old Riley’s mind, the plot has many moments of peril/tension — including bridges/islands crumbling, a train tumbling over a precipice, and characters falling into a deep, dark pit (spoiler alert: one key character permanently fades from existence; that and scenes in which it seems Riley is running away could definitely upset kids). Some of Riley’s fears are also on display, including a giant, scary clown.
Parents are likely to get hit hardest by the film’s heart-tugging moments (bring tissues!), but anyone with empathy will feel for Riley as she experiences life’s ups and downs. Ultimately, “Inside Out” has important messages about needing to feel — and express — all of your emotions, whether happy or sad.
Although most of the content is appropriate for elementary schoolers and up, younger kids may need a bit more explanation about what’s going on, since there are references to abstract thought and the subconscious, and it can be a little confusing when other characters’ emotions are shown.
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WHAT’S THE STORY?
When baby Riley is born to her loving parents, so is her first emotion — Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), who’s soon joined by Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). The quintet live and work in Headquarters (aka HQ), the part of Riley’s brain that experiences feelings and makes memories. With Joy as their leader, the group helps their girl through toddlerhood (ick, broccoli!) and childhood (hooray, a hockey goal!) — but everything changes when 11-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) and her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) move from Minnesota to San Francisco after her dad gets a new job. As Riley tries to cope with a new house, a new school, and her parents’ increased stress, things get out of control back at HQ: Sadness and Joy tussle over Riley’s core memories and end up getting sucked into long-term storage. Can they make it back to HQ in time to help Riley get back in touch with all of her feelings?
IS IT ANY GOOD?
Creative, clever, heartfelt, and beautifully animated, “Inside Out” is destined to join the ranks of Pixar’s best movies — the ones that have dazzled us with something we’ve truly never seen before: “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” “WALL-E,” and “Up.” Not only is “Inside Out” an engaging, endlessly inventive adventure with strong themes of friendship and acceptance, but it has real potential to help kids and parents navigate the powerful emotions that come with growing up. Kids who might not be able to put their increasingly complex feelings into words could use Riley’s experiences for context (for instance, Riley doesn’t necessarily intend to be sarcastic to her parents... that’s just what happens when Anger and Disgust are left in charge and can’t quite figure out how Joy manages to make Riley’s words come out nicely). And parents will be reminded that asking kids to put on a happy face when they don’t really feel it can lead to unintended pressure and worry. (Seriously, bring tissues.)
All of that isn’t meant to suggest that “Inside Out” is overly serious or a downer. Absolutely not. It’s filled with moments of hilarity and unbridled imagination (you’ll have a new appreciation for how “earworms” get stuck in your head...), as well as warm nostalgia for childhood innocence and inventiveness. The emotions are all perfectly cast; Joy’s relentless optimism and can-do spirit make her a kindred spirit to Poehler’s beloved Leslie Knope on “Parks and Recreation,” and Smith (who played Phyllis in the U.S. version of “The Office”) is a good counterpoint as Sadness. “Inside Out” is just as much about Joy’s journey as it is Riley’s; it isn’t until Joy truly understands that the other emotions have important roles to play, too, that she becomes the leader that all of them — Riley included — really need. As Joy learns, happiness is all the more meaningful when you’ve also experienced defeat, loss, or loneliness; that truth is a large part of what makes Pixar’s best movies so powerful.
RATING AND CONTENT
Recommended for ages 6 and older
Quality: 5 out of 5
Educational value: 2 out of 5
Positive messages: 5 out of 5
Positive role models: 4 out of 5
Violence and scariness: 2 out of 5
Sexy stuff: 1 out of 5
Language: 1 out of 5
Drinking, drugs, and smoking: 0 out of 5
Consumerism: 3 out of 5 (Are products/advertisements embedded? Is the title part of a broader marketing initiative/empire? Is the intent to sell things to kids?)
Theatrical release date: June 19, 2015
Director: Pete Docter
Studio: Pixar Animation Studios
Genre: Family and kids
Run time: 102 minutes
MPAA rating: PG
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