Not everyone could dream up a pink elephant with a cats tail and some dolphin parts whos mostly made of cotton candy and whose tears take the form of sugary treats.
But getting grown-ups to feel emotionally invested in that creature, named Bing Bong (voiced by Richard Kind), to the point where they may form some tears of their own? Thats something only Disney/Pixar could do.
Pete Docter has written and/or directed some truly remarkable films, including Up, WALL-E and the first two Toy Story adventures. By directing and co-writing Inside Out, along with Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley, Docter has delivered one of the brainiest movies youll ever see. And not just because the majority of it takes place inside an 11-year-old girls noggin.
Inside Out focuses on the emotions that govern Riley Andersons (Kaitlyn Dias) behavior via the knobs, buttons and levers on a control panel in that part of her brain referred to as Headquarters.
Think the 90s Fox sitcom Hermans Head only, you know, good.
When Riley is born, theres only Joy (Amy Poehler), a yellow, pixie-ish bundle of positivity. Shes quickly joined by Sadness (The Offices Phyllis Smith), a blue blob of despair who mopes about as though shes always on the lookout for an oven to stick her head inside. Crying helps me slow down and obsess about the weight of lifes problems, she sighs.
Fear (Bill Hader), a purple, nervous nerd, shows up a few years later to keep Riley safe. Disgust (Mindy Kaling), a fashionable green diva, arrives the first time Rileys parents (Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan) offer her broccoli. And Anger (Lewis Black), a fiery, red, hot head, shows up moments later when shes threatened with missing dessert if she doesnt eat that broccoli.
They all want whats best for Riley, but their work is just that: Its a job, as the emotions huddle around that control panel as though theyd just sent Alan B. Shepard into space. Each of Rileys memories is delivered to Headquarters via a glowing sphere colored to match the emotion they evoke. Every night after quitting time, those globes are shipped off to Long-Term Memory.
Shortly after Rileys family leaves the idylls of Minnesota, with its frozen lakes seemingly made for playing hockey, and moves to a gloomy neighborhood in San Francisco, Joy and Sadness are accidentally sucked into Long-Term leaving Anger, Fear and Disgust to try to run Rileys life. To get back to Headquarters and provide Riley with the balance she needs, Joy and Sadness must journey through the dark recesses of Rileys mind.
Inside Out is only the second original movie from Pixar since 2009s Up as the company found itself stuck in a rash of sequels. The wait, though, was certainly worth it. You can go months at the multiplex, especially during the summer, without encountering the sheer tonnage of creativity thats on display here.
During their trek back to Headquarters, Joy and Sadness venture through everything from Abstract Thought the longer they stay, the more they begin to resemble a Picasso sketch to Dream Productions, the Hollywood-style back lot where writers, directors and actors, including Rainbow Unicorn, the biggest star of them all, toil to keep Riley entertained while she sleeps.
The Forgetters (Paula Poundstone, Bobby Moynihan) decide which recollections Riley keeps and which are sent to the Memory Dump. Of her piano lessons, they conclude, Save Chopsticks and Heart and Soul, and forget the rest.
And deep in the back of her mind is Bing Bong, Rileys imaginary friend who used to accompany her everywhere and desperately longs to be remembered one last time.
Its all pretty heady stuff. Literally.
The emotions are expertly cast. When you think anger, Black already comes to mind. Disgust is an extension of that trendy-shallow thing Kaling does on The Mindy Project. And Sadness isnt that far removed from what Smith was cranking out each week on The Office although Phyllis never had to be dragged from place to place as Sadness is. Theres plenty of Joy and joy in Inside Out, but Sadness is its breakout star. Shes gloomily hilarious at every turn.
Alongside the positive messages about individuality, growing up and the acknowledgment that its not only OK but important to be sad at times, theres plenty of silliness, madcap adventures and bright colors to keep the little ones entertained.
Like most Pixar efforts, theres also quite a bit of Inside Out thats just for adults especially the gags about deja vu, Chinatown and what comes across as a very grown-up joke about bears living in San Francisco.
The result is vibrant, deeply funny and breathtakingly original.
If you havent seen a Pixar movie in a while, Inside Out just may blow your mind.

Review: Inside Out, 102 minutes. Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action. Grade: A.