Inside Out’ packs an emotional journey for kids and adults

Head cases: Cute characters represent a young girl’s emotions.

Three and a half stars

Inside Out Voices of Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind. Directed by Pete Docter. Rated PG. Opens Friday.

Pixar’s latest movie, Inside Out, should arguably carry a unique MPAA rating: PT-13. The T here stands for “tissue,” because no parent of a child 13 or under should dream of seeing Inside Out without plenty of ’em. Small children will be totally fine—they’ll see a fun, colorful movie chock-full of wacky characters and zany antics. The adults who accompany them, however, will soon realize that they’re watching something not unlike The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, except with adolescence itself standing in for good ol’ Leatherface.

Recalling the ’90s sitcom Herman’s Head—a comparison that probably doesn’t sound appealing, but fret not—Inside Out takes place almost entirely inside the brain of an 11-year-old girl named Riley (voice of Kaitlyn Dias), who’s just moved with her mom (Diane Lane) and dad (Kyle MacLachlan) to San Francisco. Riley’s emotions are represented, in avatar form, by Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Anger (Lewis Black), who take turns running a control panel inside her head. Their collective goal involves keeping Joy at the helm as much as possible, ensuring that each of Riley’s core memories—which take the visual form of little colored spheres—is a happy one. When Joy and Sadness are accidentally removed from the control room and have to find their way back, however, the other, less pleasant emotions have no choice but to hold down the fort. While they do, Riley’s parents are alarmed to observe their beloved daughter transform from a fun-loving, unfailingly sweet little girl into a sullen, uncommunicative, sometimes downright hostile teenager-in-training.

The ways in which director Pete Docter (Up) and the Pixar animation team literalize parents’ worst fears regarding their child’s loss of innocence may well be genuinely distressing for some viewers—there are objects in this film that threaten to take your heart with them when they suddenly crumble and fall into a void. At the same time, though, Inside Out manages to remain nimble and funny in the best Pixar tradition, even if some of the squabbling amongst the emotions (each of which is one-dimensional by definition, with Disgust and Fear in particular having little to do) gets a little cutesy. What’s most remarkable, and will surely not be lost on older kids, is the movie’s very adult message, which asserts that sadness is a necessary part of life, rather than something to be avoided and ignored at all costs. In the context of animated movies, which tend to repeat “being different is okay” ad nauseam, that counts as revolutionary.

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