Movie review 'Inside Out': Brain processes explained

Published Jun 27, 2015, 3:34 am IST
Updated Mar 28, 2019, 6:15 pm IST
A still from Inside Out film
 A still from Inside Out film
Director: Pete Docter
Voiced by: Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Diane Lane, Phyllis Smith, Kyle MacLachlan
Rating: Three-and-a-half stars
After their 2013 blockbuster Frozen, Disney returns with a new offering, this time from its Pixar stable, that is bound to set box office registers tingling. Inside Out tells the story of a 11-year-old girl Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) and the five emotions that rule her personality from the “headquarters” in her brain — Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black) and Fear (Bill Hader).
Riley is quite the happy-go-lucky girl — she loves her mom (Diane Lane) and dad (Kyle MacLachlan), playing hockey and living in Minnesota. Then, her parents move to San Francisco, and Riley has to leave behind her friends, and life as she knows it, to start afresh. Except — it isn’t the most propitious of starts. The moving van with her possessions is lost, her new room isn’t a patch on her old one, and worst of all, after an accident in “HQ”, Joy and Sadness have been sucked out of the control room and are wandering the far reaches of Riley’s mind — making her behaviour go haywire. No longer is Riley the sweet, happy child — with Anger, Fear and Disgust taking charge in Joy’s absence, she’s prickly, prone to throwing tantrums and wholly miserable. Worse, she’s alienating all the people who love her, breaking apart her most important relationships.
So Joy and Sadness have to get back to the HQ immediately before the damage is irreversible. Along the way, they meet an old imaginary friend of Riley’s called Bing Bong who helps them navigate the maze of Riley’s long-term memory, Imagination Land (you can see this becoming a Disneyland ride some day), dream production, spooky subconscious and the dark nothingness of the “memory dump”, from where there is no return.
Director Pete Docter worked closely with psychologists before developing Inside Out, and the effort shows — there are so many little touches given to the “interiors” of Riley’s mind that explain brain processes, and these are as clever as they are delightful. In one scene for instance, a pair of “memory cleaners” go around sucking up all the faded memories from Riley’s long-term memory that she doesn’t seem to have much use for, like the names of the American Presidents. In another, Joy and Sadness try to board a “train of thought” back to HQ, only to be stymied when Riley falls asleep at night. Never do the “mechanisms” of Riley’s brain, however, feel purely mechanical; it’s always fantastical, magical. The deft characterisations of the Emotions, especially Joy and Sadness, add to that experience.
The clever touches aren’t restricted only to figuring out what’s going on inside Riley’s head — there’s an exchange that sets out just what happens when her mom and dad are trying to analyse her taciturn responses about her first day at her new school, at the dinner table. With mom’s HQ sending out a desperate signal to dad, that his HQ misses (, you know there’s plenty of scope for miscommunication — and laughs.
Inside Out isn’t just about the laughs, however. Just as Joy and Sadness travel together through Riley’s mind, these emotions will affect you in equal measure when watching the film. You may be reminded of your own childhood, or Riley’s predicament or the home truths at the end of the film may touch you, and compel you to shed a tear or two. At other times, you’ll be laughing aloud at the shenanigans of Joy, Sadness and Bing Bong. As a heartwarming tale that lets you slip inside the very complex space that is a child’s mind, Inside Out is a gem indeed.  


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