In its previous 14 animated movies, Pixar has explored many imaginative worlds: one populated by anthropomorphic automobiles, another where a rat cooks haute cuisine, yet another where humans have trashed the planet and retreated into mindless consumption. But the studio's latest feature, "Inside Out," has perhaps the most head-spinning setting yet: the mind of an 11-year-old girl.
Directed by Pete Docter ("Up," "Monsters Inc."), "Inside Out" chronicles the inner workings of an ordinary adolescent's emotions, as personified by Amy Poehler (Joy), Phyllis Smith (Sadness) and others. According to movie critics, the result is an entertaining, thought-provoking journey suitable for moviegoers of any age.
The Times' Kenneth Turan writes, "Pixar stands alone, and 'Inside Out' shows you why. At once sophisticated and simple, made with visual magic and emotional sensitivity, casually probing deeper questions about what matters in life, 'Inside Out' typifies the best of that cartoon colossus. It goes not only to places other animation houses don't dare, but also to places the rest of the pack doesn't even know exist."
Like "Up," Turan says, Docter's latest movie "manages to be honest and unafraid but never cheaply sentimental where emotion is concerned, evoking a largeness of spirit whose ability to be moving sneaks up and takes us by surprise."
Entertainment Weekly's Chris Nashawaty calls "Inside Out" "transcendent and touching" and says Pixar has "made a movie that's so smart and psychologically clever, it may leave little ones scratching their heads wondering why their parents are laughing so hard and getting so choked up. It's the first film I know of that's been marketed to kids, but is in actuality made for grown-ups."
There is, Nashawaty says, "enough slapstick and silliness to keep kids entertained. … But the film also has a bittersweet streak about the loss of innocence and the fleetingness of childhood."
The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy similarly writes, "This latest conceptually out-there creation from Pete Docter … serves up some abstractions and flights of deconstructive fancy that will most likely go over the heads of viewers with ages in the single digits. But this adventurous outing manages the great Pixar trick of operating on two levels — captivating fun for kids, disarming smarts for adults — that sets the studio apart."
Audacious as the film's concept is, McCarthy says, "Docter's imagination, along with those of his numerous collaborators, is adventurous and genially daft enough to put it over."
The Boston Globe's Ty Burr says "Inside Out" is "Pixar's strongest work in ages" and adds, "It is a joy for audiences seeking entertainment, an ingenious work of craft for those paying close attention, and a wallop of feeling that's still too rare coming from a cartoon." As for the cast, "The voice acting is inspired, Poehler fraying with exasperation as Joy is backed bit by bit into doubt and Smith giving lovely comic shadings to what could be a one-note Debbie Downer."
In sum, Burr says, "'Inside Out' is a Compleat Work that seems calculated to re-establish [Pixar's] ambition and creative dominance."
Variety's Peter Debruge gives a rave review, writing, "Pixar's 15th feature proves to be the greatest idea the toon studio has ever had: a stunningly original concept that will not only delight and entertain the company's massive worldwide audience, but also promises to forever change the way people think about the way people think, delivering creative fireworks grounded by a wonderfully relatable family story."
Debruge continues, "Concepts like this come around maybe once a decade, but linger for centuries, and even if others (like early-'90s TV show 'Herman's Head') got there first, you've gotta hand it to Pixar for making it endure. At the risk of hyperbole, people will still be thinking in terms of these anthropomorphized Emotions long after movies as we know them are gone."
In a slightly more measured appraisal, the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips writes, "Saying 'Inside Out' is the best Disney-Pixar picture since 'Up' in 2009 says less than it should, considering the distressing if profitable recent mediocrities 'Cars 2' and 'Monsters University.'" But even if "some of 'Inside Out's' internal complications are more fruitful than others," ultimately the film "finds its way home."
Phillips continues, "There's a truly lovely resolution, completely trackable even for preteens, resting on the notion of mixed emotions, and the value of acknowledging life's hardships, rather than papering them over with false good cheer. This is why 'Inside Out' works. We feel for the girl at its center, and when things go right after going wrong, the swell of emotion is neither cheap nor bombastic."