It’s easy to entertain kids, but not many movies can get them talking in detail about their emotions. Inside Out is a rare movie that connects with the under-12 set in the same way art-house Oscar-bait movies connect with adults — by engaging their hearts and minds in deep and unexpected ways.
On its surface, Inside Out is an adventure story with an unlikely setting. It takes place inside the mind of a 12-year-old girl named Riley. Her five personified emotions — Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust — have to help guide her through a difficult move from Minnesota to San Francisco. And when her “Core Memories” get knocked out of place, Joy and Sadness have to team up to retrieve them. The magic of that unlikely setting is that it opens up all these ways for the story to talk about things you’d normally never get into a kids’ movie: existential angst, social pressures, and even the end of childhood.
This is a movie that works on so many levels it’ll grow with the kids who see it this weekend. What they get out of it now is different than what they’ll get out of it in two years, and two years after that, and two years after that. Some adult critics will scoff at the pop psychology aspects and the occasional cliché employed in the movie, but we are still working within the confines of a 2-hour kids' film. Within those limits I don’t think anything could equal the depth of the connection kids will get out of Inside Out.
It's not surprising, but it is reassuring to see Pixar knock this concept out of the park. This is their best movie since Up, and one of their top five of all time, maybe better. All Pixar's best movies get kids to think and talk about things parents might have a hard time prompting them to think and talk about — things like growing up, responsibility, grief, and the meaning of family. My favorite movies are the ones that spark long discussions, preferably over a few drinks. This is one that'll have you opening up over a bowl of post-movie ice cream.