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Inside Out

(2015) *** 1/2 Pg
102 min. Disney/Pixar. Directors: Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen. Cast: Amy Poehler, Diane Lane, Rashida Jones, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kyle MacLachlan, Phyllis Smith, Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, Richard Kind.


The narrative device of "voices in the head" has been a resilient one in film, TV, and theater. Most often, the voices serve to represent mental illness, namely schizophrenia or one of the three dissociative disorders. Occasionally, though, the voices answer the question posed at the beginning of Pixar's Inside Out: "Do you ever look at someone and wonder, 'What is going on inside their head?'"

Like the low-rated 1991-1994 live-action FOX sitcom Herman's Head, the CGI-animated Inside Out personifies character traits that make up a person's psyche. In a screenplay credited to director Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley—with a story by Docter and co-director Ronnie del Carmen, earlier draft work by Michael Arndt, and additional dialogue from Amy Poehler and Bill Hader, among others—these traits are Joy (Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith of The Office), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Smith's Office mate Kaling), and Fear (Hader), who take turns at the control console in the brain of twelve-year-old girl Riley (Kaitlyn Dias). An expository prologue gives us the lay of the mental landscape: marbles of memory wend their way around: into daily short-term shelving, a place of honor as "core memories," or long-term storage. Rising up outside headquarters are the "islands of personality" Family Island, Friendship Island, Goofball Island, Honesty Island, and Hockey Island, the last marking Riley's chief extra-curricular pursuit.

Business as usual gets thrown for a loop when Riley's parents (Kyle MacLachlan and Diane Lane) move the family from Minnesota to California—specifically, San Francisco (lovingly rendered by neighboring Emeryville's pride and joy Pixar). Sadness starts acting oddly, thoughts begin dislodging, and soon Joy and Sadness get sucked out of the control center. And so begins a daunting challenge for the splintered psyche: Joy and Sadness must struggle their way back to HQ while Anger, Disgust and Fear must do their best to hold down the fort without Joy, who's presumed to have the most important leadership role. There's a Wizard of Oz influence to the geography and the odyssey, as the plot acquires fascinating settings and fun characters along the way. Riley's headspace includes a Train of Thought, Dream Productions studio, a shortcut through "Abstract Thought," and "The Subconscious...where they take all the troublemakers." Joy finds an ally and kindred spirit in Bing Bong (Richard Kind), Riley's mostly forgotten imaginary friend.

Like most Pixar films, Inside Out comes crammed with invention and highly receptive to emotion, appealing to younger and older audiences in both areas. Visually resplendent, the magical, colorful artistic interpretation of the brain also offers endless opportunities for gags about brain function (earworms, how facts and opinions get mixed up, universal coulrophobia...). The story is also, by its nature, an emotional experience: kids will recognize the roller coasters of mood around family, friends, school, and the dread of moving, while adults will remember all of the above, recognize it in their own children, and fear the threats facing childhood's precious senses of family and unconditional "goofball" fun (some parts of us being destined to fade out forever, while we can tenaciously cling to others). Like a cross between Wreck-It Ralph and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, Inside Out dazzles while taking care to send positive messages about the roles of feelings and the value of recognizing and embracing them (and the help of others in dealing with them). In particular, Docter and company remind us that it's okay, nay necessary, to be sad sometimes.

That Inside Out is so cluttered perhaps makes it a bit more psychology-wonky than purely effective as a story. In one sense, we get the deepest character development imaginable for protagonist Riley, though her "outside in" story is by necessity awfully thin, as her "inside out" one has an awful lot of ground to cover. As such, Inside Out doesn't quite reach the heights of Pixar's very best (the high-water mark remaining the Toy Story films). But exceptional voice casting doesn't hurt (Pohler is "positively" ideal for Joy and Black "negatively" ideal for Anger), and the film can boast thematic importance that rises to the level of public service: making kids and perhaps even adults just a bit more likely to listen to—not merely hear—those voices in their heads.

[Preceding the film is the new Pixar short "Lava," a very creative and very sweet ode to Hawaii, the musical stylings of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, volcanos, and love(-a).]

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 4

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1

Street date: 11/3/2015

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Disney means business when they term a release an Ultimate Collector's Edition (Disney always means business), and that's no exception with the Blu-ray + Blu-ray 3D + DVD + Digital HD Ultimate Collector's Edition of Disney Pixar's Inside Out. The A/V quality here is second-to-none for all of the included formats, and especially impressive in Blu-ray 3D, with lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound. Until we can get these specs on streaming, with a guarantee the film won't disappear when the next month rolls around, Blu-ray packages like this one will remain precious to movie fans. With blazing color and immersive depth (in the 2D image but of course, considerably more so in the 3D image), the picture here will send home theater nuts out of their minds. Pinpoint detail and delightfully palpable textures help to create the overall sense of immersion, and while there's some traditional 3D excitement exploiting depth when memory balls (or characters) fling or fall or bounce, mostly the image concerns itself with creating an internal-logical reality that fools us into thinking we could step right into it. The sound mix is nothing short of state of the art, with astonishing dynamism in the range from delicate to bombastic, with full-bodied music, discrete and precisely placed sound effects, and clear, crisp, well-prioritized dialogue with an overall you-are-there effect putting the viewer, again, in the middle of the film's active world.

This package includes extensive bonus features, starting with a 3D presentation of the above-mentioned Pixar short "Lava" (7:12, HD) on the 3D disc. That short reappears in 2D on the regular Blu-ray disc housing the feature film and a selection of extras: an audio commentary with director Pete Docter and co-director Ronnie Del Carmen, the new Inside Out-themed short "Riley's First Date?" (4:40, HD), the interview-laden inside-Pixar featurette "Paths to Pixar: The Women of Inside Out" (11:22, HD), and "Mixed Emotions" (7:17, HD), an overview of character designs.

A separate bonus Blu-ray disc includes another suite of extras: the story-development-centric making-of "Story of the Story" (10:30, HD), with comments from cast and crew; the concept and design-focused "Mapping the Mind" (8:24, HD); "Our Dads, the Filmmakers" (7:25, HD) with Elie Docter and Gracie Giacchino; the self-explanatory "Into the Unknown: The Sound of Inside Out" (7:09, HD) and "The Misunderstood Art of Animation Film Editing" (4:43, HD); and "Mind Candy" (14:26, HD), compiling a selection of trimmed character bits. Rounding out the bonuses are "Deleted Scenes" that come with "A Pete Docter General Introduction" (0:55, HD) and brief individual introductions to each specific scene—"Riley Grows Up" (4:45, HD), "Joy's Decline" (3:42, HD), "Misdirection" (4:12, HD), and "Construction" (3:17, HD)—as well as three Trailers: "Remember" (1:38, HD), "Experience" (2:19, HD), and "Japan Trailer" (2:30, HD).


Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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