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Perry’s Previews Movie Review: ‘Inside Out’

Pixar’s new film is the best animation film this year so far, and their best release since ‘Toy Story 3.’ 

Ever wondered why people act and feel the way they do? Meet the emotions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust, five emotions that everyone has, determining each individual’s unique personality and behavior. In particular, the plot of Pixar’s new release Inside Out takes place in the brain of the 11-year-old girl Riley Anderson. Each of her five emotions plays a role in her life by reacting appropriately to circumstances and producing multi-colored marble-shaped memories. The most important memories are the bright, golden “core memories,” all of which are made by the happy-go-lucky ringleader of the Riley’s emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler). Different aspects of Riley’s personality rely on the safety of these memories, making them the most important memories of all.

Each of the emotions has its own reasons for acting the way it does. The twitchy Fear is tasked with ensuring Riley’s safety, often by reacting with exaggerated panic at the most negligible of threats. Disgust uses avoidance tactics to avoid being poisoned, both physically and socially. The short, blocky Anger is always the loudest voice in the room when things don’t go his way. Guiding the group and keeping the others in check is the sunshine-yellow Joy, who makes sure that Riley stays happy overall. However, none of the other four emotions quite understand the role of the buck-toothed, mopey blue emotion of Sadness. To the rest of the group, it seems like all sadness does is complain and weep, and her ability to permanently transform joyful memories into sad ones requires her to be isolated in her “circle of sadness.”

Everything in Riley’s young life seems to be great; she has friends, hockey, ice- skating, and a loving family. Things couldn’t be better, until her family abruptly decides to move all the way from Minnesota to San Francisco, California. On the first day of her new school, Sadness meddles with Joy’s memories, inadvertently creating a core memory imbued with grief. In her panic, Joy attempts to dispose of the memory, but accidentally gets sucked into the endless labyrinth of Riley’s long-term memory storage, along with Sadness and all of Riley’s core memories. The two emotions must form an unlikely partnership in order to return to headquarters before Riley’s personality is destroyed forever.

Inside Out may not have been Pixar’s most visually stunning work, but its animated aspects were still pretty exceptional. The character designs of this film were rather simplistic, but also charming and expressive of their personalities. Every emotion emanates tiny glowing particles, making them appear to be made of energy upon close inspection. Joy glows bright with a sunshine-like radiance. The majority of Anger’s facial expressions display discontent or irritability, and when he gets fired up, his head bursts into red hot flames! Fear’s disproportionately large eyes make him appear constantly nervous, and his bushy eyebrows easily convey terrified looks. Disgust is as green as the broccoli she detests, wearing a sickened sneer and abnormally large eyelashes. Finally, Sadness is a deep blue, with a teardrop shaped hairstyle and a constant frown.

Even in the fabricated setting of an animated motion picture, a film should be true to life wherever suits it best. Inside Out did remarkably well in staying scientifically accurate. Neuroscientists and child psychologists were consulted to make the setting believable. One example of this is how short-term memories are turned into long-term memories during REM sleep in real life, and in the movie. Psychology recognizes 6 distinct emotions: joy, sadness, fear, anger, disgust, and surprise. Surprise is not one of the emotions in the film, presumably because it could fit into both the category of fear and joy.

It is often difficult for films to get viewers with their own experiences personally involved with the stories. Many films often stop at getting the audience involved in someone else’s story. Inside Out is one of few films that gets the audience so involved that just about anyone can identify personally with what Riley experiences.

Perry Chen with Director Pete Docter (R) and Producer Jonas Rivera (L) at “Up” press tour, May 2009 (photo by Zhu Shen)

Personally, I can relate to Inside Out because I was born in San Francisco, before moving with my parents to San Diego at age three. In fact, I interviewed three key people in person who were involved in the making of this film: Director Pete Docter and Producer Jonas Rivera during their 2009 San Diego press tour for “Up”, and the main voice talent, Amy Poehler for her voice work on the 2013 animation “Free Birds.”

(Watch my 2010 interview of “Up” Director Pete Docter at the Annie Awards for Animation in Hollywood)

Perry Chen with Amy Poehler at “Free Bird” Press Junket, Hollywood, October 2013 (photo by Zhu Shen)

(Watch my 2013 interview of Amy Poehler at “Free Bird” press junket)

Inside Out has been the best animation film this year so far, and the best Pixar release since “Toy Story 3” in 2010.  However, there are still things that could be improved. “Imagination Land,” as it was portrayed in the film, is the mental manifestation of Riley’s imagination. Full of glittery castles, French fry forests, and other magical elements, it seemed less like the imagination of a real human being this is the 11-year-old Riley, and more of a lazy, superficial excuse for what could have been a fantastic scene in the story. Imagination is about creating new things in the mind, instead of the depth-less, glittery, and girly stereotype offered in the film that is anything but original.

Other little details about the film are puzzling as well. Sadness is able to conjure up a rain cloud of tears when she cries, and she was floating on it at one point. Most of the film is about Joy and Sadness struggling to find a way back to headquarters from the other side of a giant chasm of forgetfulness, so why couldn’t Joy just hitch a ride on the cloud of tears? I suppose that’s because her name is Joy, not Intuition!

Inside Out is an inventive, emotional, fun-filled film that will be enjoyable for adults and kids alike.  It is the 15th animation from Pixar studio.  Which one is your favorite of all?  I will reveal mine on my Facebook page by the end of June 2015:


Perry S. Chen is a 15-year-old award-winning child critic, artist, animator, TEDx speaker, and entertainment personality, currently in 9th grade from San Diego.  He started reviewing movies at age 8 in 3rd grade using a kid-friendly starfish rating system, and has been featured in CBS, NPR, NBC, CNN, CCTV (China Central Television), Variety, Animation Magazine, The Young Icons, The Guardian, The China Press, etc.  He was a presenter at the 2010 Annie Awards for Animation, and has written movie reviews for Animation World Network, San Diego Union Tribune, Amazing Kids! Magazine, and his own Perry’s Previews blog, as well as restaurant reviews for DiningOut San Diego Magazine and San Diego Entertainer. He won the San Diego Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards in 2010, 2011, and 2013 for his movie and restaurant reviews.

Perry is currently writing, animating, and directing his most personal film to date, “Changyou’s Journey,” produced by his mom Dr. Zhu Shen, about his beloved father Dr. Changyou Chen, a cancer researcher who passed away in July 2012 from terminal cancer after a long, brave battle, please watch trailer and donate to support Perry’s animation film: