An inventive and quite psychologically sophisticated animated film from Pixar Studios. We are introduced to Riley, a girl born to a Midwest couple who is a spunky 11 year old tomboy by the time the movie’s plot has the small professional family move to San Francisco for Dad’s work. But this plot in the larger world is merely the backdrop for what is going on in Riley’s mind. Her mind’s Control Centre is inhabited by five emotions: Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), Sadness (the excellent Phyllis Smith, of The Office fame), Fear, Anger and Disgust. As events in the external world happen, these five comment on and interpret them, guiding her behavior and processing the events into memories. Riley’s self is further represented by terrain: islands of personality that correspond to important features of her life: family, friendship and (clearly there was a Canadian writer) hockey, among others.
The move to San Francisco brings challenges to Riley and her quintet of feelings. Joy has clearly been the leader of the five and is the most protective of Riley, but her efforts to maintain control when Sadness starts to assert herself lead to both of them being accidentally ejected from the Control Centre, landing on the outskirts of Riley’s psychological topography. As the pair make their way back, adventuring through a variety of psychical areas such as Imagination, Abstract Thinking, and the Memory Dump, Riley is not doing so well with Anger, Fear and Disgust in charge. Frighteningly, her personality starts to crumble, with the islands tumbling into a void.
This kind of representation of the mind has been tried before (the underrated nineties TV comedy Herman’s Head comes to mind), but rarely so successfully. This will be a movie that will have legs not only as one of Pixar’s best, but as an educational tool for kids about conflictual feelings. Bravo!