Four stars (out of four)
PG (mild thematic elements, some action)
I have a confession to make.
I cry watching most Pixar movies.
And not the ones everyone cries at, like “Up” and “Toy Story 3.”
I wept for joy during “Ratatouille,” and teared up during the scene in which jaded critic Anton Ego melts as Remy’s signature dish calls back warm childhood memories.
I cried at the site of WALL-E, that perky, little, good-hearted robot, all alone on a desolate wasteland of a planet.
I sniffled when I saw the short film “Feast,” because I’m a dog lover and it was just so darn sweet.
So of course I cried what felt like buckets during Pixar’s newest, “Inside Out,” but I was relieved to discover I wasn’t the only one.
My husband was sobbing quietly next to me. The teenage girl to my right was blubbering. And the boy across the aisle, just a wee thing on his daddy’s lap, cried out at a pivotal moment: “Bing Bong gone!”
We were all feeling it.
“Inside Out” doesn’t rival the first 20 minutes of “Up” in terms of emotional impact, but it is Pixar’s most heart-rending film yet, especially if you happen to be a parent (bonus points if you’re the parent of a girl) or a grown-up grappling with the inevitable diminishing of delight that seems to accompany adulthood.
(Like “Feast” and the prologue to “Up,” the Hawaiian-themed short film that precedes “Inside Out,” titled “Lava,” is a charming love story in miniature. You just might cry some more.)
I suppose it was only a matter of time before the animation studio that loves to make us weep like babies created an entire film about emotions.
“Inside Out” is, improbably, an adventure inside a young girl’s mercurial brain. As strange as this concept seems, it’s incredibly clever, inventive, original, bordering on experimental even. It’s like nothing Pixar has done before.
It may sound cheesy, but the film contains profound insights into feelings, about the way humans are wired, about the death of joy and the hope that it can be resurrected.
But it’s not just a psychology lesson. Did I mention it’s incredibly entertaining with a superb voice cast that bounces lines off each other in sly, hilarious rhythms?
The movie takes place largely inside the head of Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias), a contented young girl from Minnesota with a nurturing mom (Diane Lane) and dad (Kyle MachLachlan), a best friend, and a passion for hockey.
At the controls of her burgeoning mind are a quintet of emotions, including Sadness (Phyllis Smith of “The Office”), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling).
Chief among them, though, is Joy, an ephemeral, blue-haired, barefoot pixie, voiced by the excellent Amy Poehler, who has loved Riley since birth and wants only happiness for her young charge.
Joy, who is a bit of a well-meaning control freak, and her colleagues are tasked with regulating Riley’s responses to various situations and safekeeping the core memories that shape her personality, depicted as gleaming marbles racing through the cog-and-wheel clockwork of her mental synapses.
Everything’s running smoothly until Riley’s parents abruptly pick up and move to San Francisco, uprooting their daughter from the home, friends and hobbies she adores. Joy and the team are flummoxed by the challenge of helping the girl adapt to a gloomy Victorian, a stressed out dad, a missing moving truck and an intimidating new school.
While other animation studios might have been content to scratch the surface of Riley’s emotional upheaval, writer-directors Pete Docter (“Up”) and Ronnie del Carmen (a storyboard artist on “Up” and “Ratatouille”) dive deep into a vibrant world of the mind, replete with hilarious archetypes and familiar symbols.
We travel into abstract thought, the subconscious, the imagination and the Hollywood-like headquarters of Dream Production, encountering rainbow unicorns, imaginary friends, scary birthday clowns and faded memories.
It’s all so marvelous, so relatable, so recognizable, a brilliantly realized showcase for Pixar’s sharp writing, buoyant, beautiful animation, and bittersweet brand of intensely personal, authentic storytelling.
In a cynical Hollywood, these filmmakers are among the very few who remain genuinely in touch with their sense of wonder.