Joy is a charming sprite who is the most intelligent and flexible of the emotions, and the de facto leader. Her mission is to ensure that Riley leads a happy life and to keep her existing mental structure (visualized literally as an internal landscape) functioning smoothly. That all of Riley’s “personality islands”, Family, Friends, Honesty, Hockey (her sport), and “Goofball” (her sense of fun), are positive, shows that Joy has been relatively successful so far, or anyway that Riley has had a very good life.
The unanticipated participation of Sadness into Riley’s new situation throws Joy for a loop, and a substantial monkey wrench into the functioning of Riley’s mind. This tends to be taken rather more seriously than intended by adult critics, who see memory loss, personality disintegration, and emotional flatness as indicative of serious mental illness, rather than the transitory loss of balance the movie shows us. However, the metabrain we see in the film is a virtual mindscape optimized for storytelling, and not intended to represent reality.
Pixar continues to delight and amaze with its animations. The visualization of “Inside” is quite creative and interesting, but the most fascinating constructs are the emotions themselves, which get more detailed the more closely you see them. It takes a good close up to see that Joy and the others don’t have smooth “skin” or even a textured integument, but that their borders are a zone of fine pixelations, almost as though suggesting the emotions were fractal in nature—as, indeed perhaps they are.
It also took me a while, and some of the darker scenes, to realize that Joy, is—well—radiant. The subtlety of this effect, and the modelling of her light on the environment around her is a triumph of the new art of animation, and one of the few things I think I have seen that absolutely could not have been done by more conventional means.
“Outside,” the Pixar artists have done an excellent job of balancing cartoonishness and the “uncanny valley,” so that it’s easy to emphasize with and accept the human characters. Ms. Dias as Riley does a good job characterizing a troubled pre-teen, and Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan do good jobs as Riley’s loving parents who are also distracted by the big move.
The film is not without its flaws, but they are minor. At points we see inside other people’s heads, where all five emotions are represented as the same sex as the outward person, as opposed to Riley, where Fear and Anger present as male. Perhaps this is something that changes during “Puberty”—which has had a big red alarm signal installed during the latest upgrade?
Highly recommended for fans of animation mature enough to understand the somewhat complex and esoteric storyline.
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