I wasn't quite as dazzled as A.O. Scott, but for a cartoon movie "almost entirely populated by abstract concepts moving through theoretical space" it's impressively entertaining.
This world is both radically new — you’ve never seen anything like it — and instantly recognizable, as familiar aspects of consciousness are given shape and voice. Remember your imaginary childhood friend? Your earliest phobias? Your strangest dreams? You will, and you will also have a newly inspired understanding of how and why you remember those things. You will look at the screen and know yourself.Well, it didn't pack so heavily Socratic a punch for me. But I did look at the screen and think about myself, and other selves, and briefly reconsidered my usual peremptory dismissal of the homunculus idea. It's literally false, but imaginatively useful. And again, hugely entertaining.
"Have you ever wondered what's going on inside someone else's head?" Or your own? The whimsical answer from Pixar is: an ongoing collaborative conversation and unfolding drama with a bunch of little homunculi emotions questing for control and an integrated personality for their person, within each of us.
As a manager, Joy is focused above all on controlling and containing Sadness. She thinks she needs to keep her gloomy co-worker’s hands off Riley’s core memories. These golden, shiny orbs will be ruined if they turn blue. At one point, Joy draws a small chalk circle on the floor and instructs Sadness to stand inside it, not touching anything lest she wreck the upbeat mood.
That’s a pretty powerful metaphor for repression, of course, and “Inside Out” turns a critical eye on the way the duty to be cheerful is imposed on children, by well-intentioned adults and by the psychological mechanisms those grown-up authorities help to install. “Where’s my happy girl?” Riley’s parents are fond of saying when she seems down, and the forced smile that results is quietly heartbreaking.The palette of players was a bit limited (even the richest film studio must answer to its accountants) but I thought it did a nice job of illustrating the emotional/rational balance without which real happiness cannot be had. Joy and Sadness, in particular, learn how much they need each other. Or rather, we do. Anger, disgust, and fear round out the cast working to integrate young Riley's psyche.
Joy is Riley's inner crew chief (Sadness, surprisingly - or perhaps not - is her Mom's). Who is Nietzsche's? Anger, I'd say, with fear (social and metaphysical) constantly provoking an overcompensating bluster. Freud's? Disgust?
But there are so many other emotions and emotion hybrids the movie didn't bring to life. Not just contempt and surprise but, also in my Basic List, pity, hope, and resolve - the kinds of shaded, mutually-in-tension feelings that bubbled to the surface Friday after the latest terror in Paris. I felt so much more than sadness when I saw the viral video of the piano man on Saturday morning. Add imagination to the list.
I hope someone's thinking of a sequel. The point still needs making: happiness is more about balance than control.
Joy: All these facts and opinions look the same. I can't tell them apart.
Bing Bong: Happens to me all the time. Don't worry about it.