Your emotions…hilariously personified.
After Joy (Amy Poehler) appears in the mind of a newborn named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), it isn’t long before another emotion appears: Sadness (Phyllis Smith). As little Riley grows up, more emotions appear: Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Anger (Lewis Black). The emotions guide Riley’s personality one memory at a time as she grows up, including a few special core memories that create “islands” of key personality traits. While Fear, Disgust, and Anger all challenge Joy from time to time, Sadness seems to infect everything she touches, even memories made by other emotions. At a critical time in Riley’s life enduring a move from her childhood midwestern home to a coastal city, Sadness begins to assert herself. When Joy attempts to stop her, they are both ejected from central control along with all of Riley’s core memories…leaving Fear, Disgust, and Anger in charge. What could go wrong?
From the people who made you cry when you watched Pixar’s Up…well, they’re going to make you cry again – TWICE. Writers have known about those little voices for a while now, but for the rest of the population, this may be a bit of a revelation. The voice cast is pitch perfect, especially Lewis Black as Anger…although it could possibly been better if comedian Sam Kinison was still alive. There have been similar ideas before – anyone remember Chris Rock voicing Osmosis Jones? – but instead of germ warfare, this is all about feelings, and Disney/Pixar has no qualms about manipulating yours.
After the spot-on voice cast and story, the production design needs mentioning. From up close, memories are stored, recalled, and moved about like color-coded bowling balls, but when viewed at a distance, long-term storage more closely resembles a DIY candy store. Step back farther and every thing starts looking more like the world of Tron. There’s more – much more – but those details give away too much of the story. It’s interesting how this film portrays danger as a matter of circumstance or misunderstanding, not as the plan of any kind of villain; it’s just the way things are in a world where no one was really told any of the rules (sound familiar?) A detail that is only touched upon is which emotion is in charge of other people other than Riley; in fact, one of the funniest bits is during the beginning of the credits where the audience is treated to a montage of emotions from many different characters throughout the film.
Additional voices for mom and dad were supplied by Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan (when did Paul Atreides suddenly become the perfect dad character for everything from Pixar to “Agents of SHIELD”?) The only bad thing here is this concept could easily continue into additional films and properties until they run it into the ground (we’re looking at YOU, Cars). But would that be such a bad thing? You can tell the high concept films from the fillers (sorry, there are more things wrong with the animated short film “Lava” stuck in front of this movie than you can count), but after muddled misfires like Brave, it’s great to see Pixar still has their story telling machine fully operational.
(a four skull recommendation out of four)