When Mom, Dad and daughter are having a quiet dinner just by themselves, are they really alone? No, they aren’t, this Pixar movie is here to tell you. There is a team of little guys inside each one’s head, sitting there to psycho-analyse your every move, controlling what you are supposed to be feeling at every moment. In Inside Out‘s animation language, your emotions are five miniature humans with character prototypes (Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger) who sit in your head in what looks like a control ship out of Star Wars. The control panel is run by emotions that make their subjects, the human beings, behave the way they do. Disgust’s (Mindy Kaling) job is to save Riley, the 11-year-old protagonist of Inside Out, from being poisoned, socially and physically. With a green crop of hair, sharp green skeptical eyes and a swagger, Disgust could easily have been a part of the Mean Girls. Sadness, in contrast, is your nerdy big girl with a turtle neck jumper and big glasses, staring at you with her sad globes of eyes. Joy is perhaps best described as Anne Hathaway from Princess Diaries, jumping around with some new scheme, aggressive in her pursuit of happiness. Fear is the dorky uncle with a meek voice and a long face, and anger the suited up and pot-bellied game-watcher. In a non-Pixar movie, he would have been swearing constantly. In Mom, Dad and Riley’s life there is one individual leading the controls at one time. Dad has anger ruling his ship, Riley the child has Joy at the helm, while her mother has the practical Sadness, now with practical glasses and a sober haircut (oh god, you are killing me, is this what grown-ups are supposed to be like?), reminiscing about the hot Brazilian helicopter pilot she let go for her regular, white husband.
Meanwhile, as the film progresses, we learn how memory making happens in Riley’s head. Each day, memories are collected in the shape of glass balls, which are the colour of the emotion that the memory evokes for Riley. (These memories are mostly happy at the point Riley starts out with her Citizen Kane-ish perfect childhood in Minnesota, with friends, family and hockey, a game that she loves.) Trouble starts brewing when the family moves from suburban bliss right into the middle of big-town discontent, and the memory balls start changing colour from yellow to red and green quite fast to everyone’s consternation. Suddenly, nothing remains the same — Riley has to sleep on a mattress on the floor in their new house where nothing is in place, her mother and father look worried and tired, and she ends up crying on her first day at the new school weary of all the change in her life. Meanwhile, inside Riley’s head, Joy (Amy Poehler), trying to control the onslaught of negative memories that are now pouring in, ends up stuck in a suction tube at the panel that takes her down “long-term memory” section, a Lego land full of neatly compartmentalised tall glass containers of stored memories. This is her bid to save the “core memory” globes that Riley has made, memories that define parts of her personality in her head. The animation here is quite novel — facets of Riley’s personality are depicted as installations (ones that would find place in an amusement park), visible from the control room where Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger and Fear reside in Riley’s mind-universe. These personality islands include a goofball island (Riley is quite the happy clown), a friends island, an honesty island and a family island. As Riley sinks further, ruled by fear, anger and disgust, (along with Joy and Sadness who are stuck in long-term memory land) these personality islands come crashing down one-by-one and it is Joy and Sadness’ job to get things back to what they used to be, before things started falling apart. Joy’s Alice in Wonderland/Wizard of Oz adventure makes her meet characters from Riley’s past — her imaginary friend Bing Bong, made of cotton candy and part elephant, part cat and part dolphin. When Bing Bong is sad, he cries candy tears and has a rocket that is fuelled by “soul power”.
The film’s animators are so wide-eyed and idealistic in this film, the kids coming to watch this may feel ashamed of their little cynical selves. While I cannot promise this is going to reach the cult status that Finding Nemo has, Inside Out is quite enjoyable and has some filmmaking aces up its sleeve.