Sometimes the critical world generates a negative consensus around a show, or production company that can get quite annoying in it's unwarrented persistance. I'll probably rant about this a bit when I come to write up True Detective, but it also swirls around the idea of "peak Marvel", or the Doctor Who, or countless other examples. Another recent recipient of the old "oh it's lost the plot now!" cliches has been Pixar, who have been written for a while now. Sure, Cars 2 is a pretty weak sequal to the weakest of their original features, but there has been a generally downbeat reaction to everything after 2009s Up. And yes, Brave is flawed, and Monsters University is fun but forgettable, and even Toy Story 3 can be written off as "not as good as Toy Story 2" if you really want, but dropping from such an insanely high standard is hardly terminal decline. Even so, Inside Out has been billed by many critics as Pixars comeback picture, and boy is it a thundering broadside from a studio that still knows how to reduce grown adults to quivering emotional wrecks.
Most of the action of Inside Out occurs in the mind of 11-year-old Riley, who is facing her first great crisis as her family moves to San Francisco, cutting her off from the happy life she's known back home. Riley's mental state is controlled by 5 emotions - Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger and Fear, and she's mostly dominated by Joy, who is perky and upbeat and generally in charge of the control room that stores memories, and overlooks Riley's "personality islands", which represent her dominant character traits. The move distrupts the smooth running in her head, and soon Joy and Sadness are marooned away from the Control Room, trying to get back as the others try to hold the fort, and Riley's personality shifts around them.
In a lot of ways this is all very low stakes until the final act. Riley has a bad day at school, she has a bad try out for a new Hockey Team. The move is messed up. Her parents are worried about work, and the move, and her. But in the mind these are huge, earthquake causing dilemmas, threatening to turn a happy-go-lucky child into a withdrawn, sullen teenager. In amongst the staggering inventive visual and clever jokes, this is a movie that is fiercely and unashamedly about "stuff". Huge, important stuff too, about how memories aren't a single thing, but a mix dependant on context. About how Joy can also be denial, and Sadness can be an important recognition of reality that lets you move forward. About how growing up is hard - I've never been an 11-year-old girl but the there is a universality about Riley's experience that shines through.
It would be a poor movie about the nature of emotions if it didn't manage to evoke an emotional response in it's viewers. So yes, you can add this to the list of movies out of Pixar Studios that made me cry, several times, through the course of the film. The core relationship of the film between Joy and Sadness, makes for both some very joyous moments, and some very sad ones, most notably focused on Riley's former imaginary freind Bing Bong, who manages to represent both, right to the end. He's been completely kept out of the advertising for film - sensibly so, actually - but he's a wonderful character, right at the movies heart.
As for the kids, well Robert (5) is very taken with the idea that people live in his head and make him do things, and Ewan (13) was taken with the films wider themes. If you add the grown ups, I think its fair to say that this is a film with something in it for everyone, and a film that benefits from, and rewards, some proper unpacking. It's both heartwarming and bittersweet, breezy comedy and emotional drama, all within the bright confines of a childs mind. But it's story is for everyone, and it's a film everyone should see.