When it comes to animation, entertaining children is not that tough of a challenge. Make the action, colors or characters bigger than life and the images will keep a young mind dazzled.
It’s the adults that take more work.
Pixar Studios has found the formula for making movies that are both entertaining for children and adults. There was the wash of nostalgia and sentimentality that carried the “Toy Story” movies, while “WALL-E” offered a smart commentary on the downside of an excessive life. Other films from the animation company have looked at family, friendship and faith while maintaining the glitz and giggles that keep kids happy.
“Inside Out” continues that trend. The view from a child’s level is an energetic tale of what happens when we can see inside the brain of Riley, an 11-year-old girl dealing with family issues.
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Emotions of Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Joy (Amy Poehler) live in a Headquarters (or is it the Head quarters?) where they provide the reactions for what is going on in Riley’s life. From the infectious happiness of Joy to the fiery reactions of Anger, the movie is a beautiful blend of fun and fantasy.
The idea to personify emotions is not new. The ’90s TV series “Herman’s Head” offered the same approach with live actors. Animated characters make it easier for the emotions to be ramped up — and there’s some major ramping up in “Inside Out.”
Poehler’s work gives the movie a high-energy jolt because Joy is so positive and optimistic. Joy’s the kind of character who could have become annoying with her constant upbeat attitude up, but Poehler gives Joy such pure emotion it’s impossible not to love her.
Black doesn’t have as many scenes, but he was born to be Anger. His entire stand-up act is built around rants. Not since Gene Wilder has an actor been able to go from calm to crazy so quickly.
At the same time, “Inside Out” deals with some very adult issues: imaginary friends, the subconscious and abstract thinking. It’s a level of intelligence that makes the movie hold the attention of adults.
The Pixar team — under the guidance of directors Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen — has created amazing worlds for the characters. How the inside of the child’s brain looks from the “train of thought” to “core memories” is logical and lush.
Smart writing and the deeper elements fill “Inside Out” with numerous emotional moments. This is particularly true when memories of the young girl as a child and her family are shown. It will evoke core memories for a lot of people.
Be warned. There is a very emotional moment with Riley’s imaginary friend, Bing Bong, who is brought lovingly to life through the voice work of Richard Kind. Be prepared to have a conversation with young moviegoers after seeing the movie.
That’s the only concern with “Inside Out,” Pixar’s latest successful blend of fun elements for kids and smarts for adults. If you have mixed emotions about seeing “Inside Out,” don’t feel any fear. It’s a joy to watch.
The only weakness is the animated short — “Lava” — that accompanies the feature. Pixar shorts like “The Blue Umbrella,” “For the Birds” and “Presto” quickly engaged the audience. “Lava” is a gimmicky cartoon that comes across more creepy than clever.