I, like most people born in the 90s, grew up with Pixar's body of work, and there is definitely a level of nostalgia that I feel just from seeing their name pop up. From the ode to childlike imagination that is the Toy Story franchise to the celebration of family in Finding Nemo, from the joy in creativity and self-discovery in Ratatouille to the optimism of WALL-E, there's something universal in their films that never seems to go away. With Inside Out, they continue this trend, crafting what will likely be remembered as one of their masterpieces.
The film centers around the five primary emotions of Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust operating a young girl named Riley. Every time Riley experiences something, a new memory appears in the form of a small orb in the color of one of the five emotions, and, for her life so far, Joy has been the one predominantly controlling Riley. However, when her family moves from a small town in Minnesota to San Francisco, her life changes with too much rapidity for her emotions to know what to do, with the added issue of Sadness beginning to accidentally change key memories' feelings making the five just as tense and confused as Riley. When an accident leads to Joy and Sadness being separated from the others, they have to find their way back while Anger, Fear, and Disgust struggle to control Riley themselves.
Inside Out ultimately feels like Pixar in their most self-aware form, as the concept of the film implies. Joy and Sadness are ultimately the stars of the show, as they are in any Pixar film, notorious for making people laugh and cry, as the film's director mentions to the audience in a brief speech before it begins. It all sounds like winking at the camera initially, having a basic coming-of-age story that everyone can predict the outcome of from the beginning being controlled by people who are, for all intents and purposes, office workers. However, just as Sadness becomes more important in the narrative as the movie progresses, so too does the humor begin to take the backseat to sorrow. It's frankly beautiful in its post-modernity, managing to uniquely blend sincerity with irony in a wonderfully risky move from Pixar, somehow managing to make it work to perfection.
Outside of storytelling, however, Pixar is primarily known for their visuals. They've always had a charming blend of forward-thinking, detailed animation and rusticity in their work, and Inside Out epitomizes this rather well. Joy in particular is a gorgeous design, made from rich, bright colors arranged in very simple shapes but oozing subtle details, such as the small dots of light that radiate from her constantly in the glow that surrounds her, the complex shading of her metallic blue hair, and the soft look of her wide smile that almost makes her look as though she was made from clay. Every character and setting in this film carries something approaching that level of detailed simplicity, and it all feels incredible to look at in every frame. Pixar's level of detail has possibly topped itself in this film, something that becomes progressively more impressive with each film.
As a whole, Inside Out is exactly what I expected it to be going into it, and I think that might have been what made it work as well as it did. It shows Pixar working to make the quintessential Pixar film, and it might have been impressive purely in how far it went with it. Between its deftly written character arcs and subtle wit and its unique energy, I'm at a loss for how to truly criticize it.