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Inside Out | Movie Review

The latest confoundingly creative masterpiece from veteran Pixar director Pete Docter (“Up”) is a magnificent achievement. It’s by far the best film Pixar has made since “Toy Story 3”: for the sheer scope of its vision and the genius of its execution, “Inside Out” is unmatched in Pixar’s pantheon.

Ostensibly centered on 11-year-old girl Riley Anderson’s psychological turmoil after moving from Minnesota to San Francisco, “Inside Out” emphasizes the reciprocal relationships between her anthropomorphized emotions. While remaining rooted throughout in an incredibly straightforward narrative, “Inside Out” focuses on the interactions between Joy (a superbly cast Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). The interplay between these characters is much more sophisticated than a simple “good feeling/bad feeling” split: Docter stresses the importance of each emotion to a well-ordered personality (Joy motivates; Anger energizes; Disgust and Fear protect against potential harm; and Sadness infuses joy with nuance).

“Inside Out” is a extremely intelligent, clever film that will likely please adult audiences even more than children: it’s shot through with witty depictions of the subconscious, abstract thought, core memory processing, and the process of psycho-emotional maturation. This last is a melancholy yet beautiful element of the film that propels its most emotional moments – what older viewer, after all, hasn’t experienced the pain of leaving behind the un-self-conscious imaginary adventures of early childhood? Where tearjerking is concerned, “Inside Out” doesn’t go for the jugular nearly as overtly as past Pixar flicks; the resonance here is far subtler but just as affecting.

Naturally, I found myself seeking to parse the film’s stance on certain seminal philosophy-of-mind questions. I submit that “Inside Out” suggests neither a materialistic nor a Cartesian view of consciousness, but rather leans toward a Thomistic understanding of personhood. To wit, the movie makes clear that a holistic “Riley”-self exists as an integrated mind-body entity, capable of exercising independent volition that impacts how her emotions respond. This “Riley” is neither a construct blindly controlled by her emotions (which are here easily analogized to brain chemicals); nor does “Inside Out” depict an extrinsic “ghost in the machine” that drives Riley’s actions. In short, “Inside Out” suggests a nonmaterialistic (perhaps an emergentist) account of human consciousness, but does so without slipping toward a neo-gnostic mind/body dichotomy. This is also consistent with the film’s Aristotelian approach to emotional balance: all emotions are necessary and must harmonize in order to constitute a complete person.

Visually, “Inside Out” is breathtaking. Dreams, “memory dumps,” encoding of new memories, evocation of fantasies, and countless other aspects of the human mental experience are depicted onscreen with Pixar’s trademark razor-sharp animation; beyond its mere technical proficiency, though, the movie’s art design is a marvel…at once both familiar and phantasmagorical.

“Inside Out” is definitively worth seeing, and the best Pixar movie in a very long time. Highly recommended.

VERDICT: 10/10 A cerebral (no pun intended) and yet utterly heartfelt parable, encompassing the vastness of human experience. Pixar at its absolute best.

John Ehrett

John Ehrett

John currently resides in Arlington, Virginia, where he works as an attorney and writer. He holds an M.A.R. from the Institute of Lutheran Theology and a J.D. from Yale Law School.

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