The new Pixar film, “Inside Out,” is about the life of Riley. She is an only child...who, aged eleven, moves with her parents ... from Minnesota to San Francisco. Not much happens...The bulk of the movie takes place out of sight, within the confines of Riley’s mind, where primary feelings affect her every move. There are five in all: Joy (Amy Poehler), who is butter-yellow and fuzzy at the edges; Anger (Lewis Black), who looks like SpongeBob soaked in blood; Fear (Bill Hader), a writhing dweeb with a bow tie; Disgust (Mindy Kaling), who has frosted green hair and lashes; and Sadness (Phyllis Smith), a bespectacled blob of blue. Now and then, they contend for supremacy, but mostly they join forces and react to the world beyond. They behold it through Riley’s eyes, from a spiffy control center, like Kirk, Spock, and the gang on the bridge of the Enterprise...Dreams are produced in—where else?—a dream factory, with soundstages and camera crews. It closes down when she wakes. Experiences are delivered to the control room as if they were bowling balls, colored according to their mood; some are stored away, others dropped into a pit of forgetfulness, where they darken and crumble like spent coals, and a few are enthroned as core memories. And that, we are told, is how a personality is made.
So brisk is the defining of all this...that we barely pause to consider the assumptions behind it. Pixar...has no time for old-school habits, like lodging the emotions in the heart...They are located squarely in the brain, presumably displacing Reason, whom we never meet, but whom I picture as French, bald, and wearing an English suit. ... Neurologists and therapists will examine the movie and pronounce themselves largely satisfied. ... I sensed..., that I was following the transcription, by very clever adults, of their own theorizing—literate, frantic, and endlessly chewed over—on the subject of human development, rather than the story of a growing girl.
...the biggest laughs, without exception, come when we exit Riley’s head and take a quick vacation to the crania—and the mania—of others. During an argument at dinner, for instance, her father’s emotions are miles away; all of them are watching a hockey game. And, as the closing credits approach, Docter, realizing that he has a pack of wild gags that have been kept leashed for too long, releases the lot in a flurry. We peek inside the mind of a dog, a cat, a prepubescent boy (“Girl! Girl!” the alarms sing out), and, best of all, the cool chick with eyeshadow at Riley’s school, voiced by Rashida Jones. ...You start to wonder what a grownup sequel to “Inside Out” would look like, with a host of new feelings barging into central command and wrenching the controls away from Joy. Would Lust be spoken by Rupert Everett, or would it sound more like Chico Marx, working his way through a chorus line? How about Love of Money, or black-browed Mortal Terror? There are places, I guess, where even Pixar cannot go.