Inside Out
Directed by Peter Docter and Ronnie del Carmen
With the voices of Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader, Phyllis Smith, Diane Lane, and Kyle MacLachlan 

When 11-year-old Riley must move from Minnesota to San Francisco with her family, the control center in her head (which is guided by the emotions Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust) has a crisis. Joy, who had always led the group, is worried by Sadness’ strange behavior as it threatens to ruin Riley’s most important memories. During yet another quarrel, Joy and Sadness are catapulted into the great storage unit of memory, from which they will need to find a way back. Meanwhile, Riley, who is prey to the emotions she cannot control, could possibly make some very serious decisions…

There are few films that give the impression of changing the prevalent paradigm of cinematic stories when they hit the big screen. If they succeed (perhaps the most recent case of this is Terrence Malick’s masterpiece The Tree of Life, with its grandiose metaphysical ambition), they become great classics and they change our way of viewing stories in cinema forever.

Although it may seem excessive in the face of animation (yet Pixar has made us quite accustomed to great accomplishments with the brilliant exploits of Toy Story, Ratatouille, Up, Wall-e, and The Incredibles), Inside Out is fully a part of this small group of masterpieces.

When word first came out that Pixar would undertake a project set in the mind of a young girl starring her emotions as the protagonists, people were even more puzzled than when they heard of a mouse that cooked, a robot sweeper capable of falling in love, or an old man in flight with his house hanging from a bunch of balloons.

Despite its premises, Inside Out reveals the wonderful, unpredictable, and, at the same time, familiar journey of the inside of the human psyche, its underlying mechanisms, and its unexpected resources. The film takes us on a journey capable of making us rediscover the value and the complexity of memory, the challenges of growth, the sense of pain, and the importance of constitutive relationships for personal growth.

All this might sound a bit abstract and not suitable for an audience of children. Yet, in Inside Out, complex theories of neuroscience are transformed into a cracking plot. There are visually surprising inventions, like the area of abstract thought, which transforms our heroes into increasingly simplified images, resembling works of cubist art.

Another sign of skill that falls between paying semi-serious homage to Hollywood and a bold metaphor, is the “dream factory,” a large movie studio of sorts, made up of desires and memories, while its plots have the anarchic madness of childhood fantasies.

Joy and Sadness, who are initially opposed to each other and become progressively more complementary, move into an unknown but familiar universe. Here, we discover and recognize elements common to childhood—elements ranging from an Imaginary Friend dispersed among the shelves of memory (but destined to have a central role) and a dark prison of the subconscious where unmentionable fears hide.

While the emotions are fighting to regain control of a pounding heart, Riley lives her small, yet big struggle to adapt to her move. She certainly does not face great tragedies; in fact, she faces seemingly minor dramas. However, it is precisely this extraordinary inner odyssey that her emotions undergo that makes us realize just how momentous they may be for the life of a child, and the adult she will become.

Although Inside Out is a complex movie, it is also incredibly simple and direct, in a way that even young children can appreciate, though perhaps they may not grasp all its subtexts. We have no doubt that it is a movie most of us will be eager to watch again and again, always discovering something new.

The film is capable of reminding us of some simple and fundamental truths that our first and elementary experiences first taught us. It does this while staying true to its identity, moving us deeply, but at the same time, giving emotions back their role that today’s ‘culture-of-the-instant’ often deprives them of—to become pieces of a memory, that although are not always just happy, are always part of what we are and what we become.

This film is suitable for all audiences.

Laura Cotta Ramosino is a story editor for Rai Uno, the national Italian broadcaster, and contributes to several magazines and websites about cinema and television. 

Laura Cotta Ramosino works for Cattleya, an Italian production company, as a creative producer and story editor for several television shows. She is also a regular contributor to the website Sentieri...