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Pixar's 'Inside Out' Is A Mind-Opening Masterpiece


This is FRESH AIR. Film critic David Edelstein has a review of "Inside Out," the new movie from Pixar Animation Studios. It's co-written and directed by Pete Docter, who made "Up" and had a hand in the script for "WALL-E." Amy Poehler provides the voice of Joy, who is the actual emotion joy in a young girl's head.

DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: Most of Pixar's new masterpiece "Inside Out" is set inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley who's growing more and more unhappy when her family moves from her beloved Minnesota to a strange city - San Francisco. Director Pete Docter depicts Riley's mind as a luminously-colored, sprawling theme park. It goes on and on with islands of memory, imagination and dream worlds and a train of thought that's an actual train. High in the air in a control tower is headquarters, where, stealing Riley's life, five emotions work in harmony - and not infrequently, disharmony - joy, fear, anger, disgust and sadness. Each is human-shaped, only of different sizes and colors, and each is vital in keeping Riley safe and stable. But with the move to a new city, the blue, bespectacled lump Sadness, voiced by Phyllis Smith, has begun to acquire more influence, to the consternation of golden-hued Joy, who is the movie's heroine. Sadness is fingering Riley's bowling ball-shaped, joyful memories, which regularly roll into headquarters, and turning them a melancholy blue. And Sadness is messing with core memories too, the ones that helped form Riley's identity. Riley is sinking into a swamp of despair.

If that sounds serious for an animated comedy, it is. But then most of Pixar's movies are rooted in the pain of loss - loss of a planet in "WALL-E," a family in "Finding Nemo" and "Up," or just childhood, when the world seemed a simpler and more joyful place, in "Toy Story." Docter, whose last film was "Up," had the idea for this movie a little over five years ago after he saw his own 11-year-old daughter become sad, and tried to imagine how the world looked through her eyes. I think "Inside Out" will help sad girls and boys and the grown-ups who grew up from them and recall those feelings for as long as there are movies. It's going to be a new pop-culture touchstone. Joy is voiced by Amy Poehler, who is brilliant at conveying not just supernatural exuberance, but quavers of doubt that keep Joy from being cloying or cartoonish. Much of "Inside Out" is an odyssey in which Joy and Sadness, having been sucked up a shoot and propelled to the far end of Riley's mindscape, must find their way back to HQ before Riley breaks down entirely.

The verbal and visual gags are dizzying. I can't think of one that doesn't grow out of insights into psychology or pop-culture or architecture. The long-term memory storage facility where Joy and Sadness get lost was inspired by a Jelly Belly candy factory and an egg processing plant. Its walls are towers of balls glowing yellow, blue, green, red and purple.


PHYLLIS SMITH: (As Sadness) Wait - Joy, you could get lost in there.

AMY POEHLER: (As Joy) Think positive.

SMITH: (As Sadness) OK. I'm positive you will get lost in there. That's long-term memory, an endless warren of corridors and shelves. I read about it in the manuals.

POEHLER: (As Joy) The manuals? The manuals - you read the manuals.

SMITH: (As Sadness) Yeah.

POEHLER: (As Joy) So you know the way back to headquarters.

SMITH: (As Sadness) I - I guess.

POEHLER: (As Joy) You are my map. Let's go. Lead on, mind map. Show me where we're going.

SMITH: (As Sadness) OK. Only - I'm too sad to walk. Just give me a few hours?

POEHLER: (As Joy) Which way? Left?

SMITH: (As Sadness) Right. No, I mean go left. I said left was right, like, correct.


SMITH: (As Sadness) This actually feels kind of nice.

POEHLER: (As Joy) OK, here we go. We'll be back to headquarters before morning. We can do it. This'll be easy. This is working.

EDELSTEIN: You often hear the arc of a person's life is determined not by misfortunes but by how he or she responds to them. And that's what Pete Docter is charting, in the weirdest, zaniest way, without clunky therapy- speak, but for therapeutic ends - how haywire contradictory emotions can reassemble themselves into something adaptive. Joy turns out to be stronger and more stable with an awareness of Sadness. Their colors can blend. I won't spoil the surprises which hit you around every bend, except to say Joy and Sadness meet an amiable, dopey clown called Bing Bong, voiced by Richard Kind, who was once Riley's imaginary friend. Bing Bong carries a trace of the melancholy of "Toy Story's" toys, who learn they have no place in a growing child's consciousness. But just knowing he's in there somewhere enlarges our sense of the vastness of the human mind. In all kinds of marvelous ways, "Inside Out" is mind-opening.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.


BIANCULLI: On Monday's FRESH AIR, Terry talks with comic Marc Maron about interviewing President Obama for Maron's WTF podcast, a podcast recorded in Maron's garage. How did that happen? Also, we hear from the director of the new film, "Me And Earl And The Dying Girl," Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. It won the audience award and the grand jury prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Hope you can join us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Edelstein is a film critic for New York magazine and for NPR's Fresh Air, and an occasional commentator on film for CBS Sunday Morning. He has also written film criticism for the Village Voice, The New York Post, and Rolling Stone, and is a frequent contributor to the New York Times' Arts & Leisure section.