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A still from animation movie ‘Inside Out’
A still from animation movie ‘Inside Out’

Film Review: Inside Out

A clumsy search-and-rescue mission inside the brain

Our one-line take on Pixar’s latest animated comedy, filled with more dumbed-down philosophy than a convent-school moral science class, is this: Rent your tots the DVD box set for Canadian-American 1990s TV series The Magic School Bus while you and your partner watch the year’s most touchy-feely, sentimental tear-jerker. Inside Out unfolds like a parody of that Saturday morning cartoon series that took half-a-dozen elementary school students on fantastical field trips—to outer space, earth’s core, coral reefs, the human digestive system, molecules…you get the idea.

The only difference is that Magic School Bus directors conducted harmless probes into unknown realms whereas director Pete Docter turns a trip into Riley’s brain into a search-and-rescue mission, losing sleep, murdering imaginary friends and destroying “personality islands" of honesty, family, friendship, goofiness and love for sports along the way. While it’s easy to explain to children that there are no monsters living under their beds (skip Docter’s Monsters, Inc. if this is one of your parenting goals), there is no return to innocence once you’ve seen joy disappear from the life of 11-year-old Riley Anderson (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias).

There are many reasons to buy multiplex tickets for Inside Out. These include impeccably detailed landscapes with “soft nervous tissue" all around, the long-term and short-term memory libraries and archival systems, the choo-choo “train of thought" and the headquarters of the “conscious mind" where the sleepless primary characters control Riley’s every move like ventriloquists. The stellar cast includes Saturday Night Live stars Amy Poehler, who voices the Tinker Bell-like Joy, and Bill Hader as Fear, Mindy Kalling as the sassy Disgust as well as (TV series) The Office party pooper Phyllis Smith as Sadness and stark raving mad stand-up comic Lewis Black as Anger.

The film (like any other from the Pixar catalogue) has its moments: the endearing producers, directors and actors at the Hollywood studio-like “Dream Productions", the subtle breakdown of complex psychological concepts like abstract thought and “fading" memories. But at the heart of it all, this is one of Docter’s most callous attempts at demystifying the inner workings of children’s brains when they are suffering mood swings and short (thankfully) but clichéd peeks into mind of the married parental unit.

There is such a thing as learning too much and too soon when it comes to picking movies for your children. There is no reason for most children under the age of 13 to sit through serious lessons on moral conscience, psychology and neurology. Does my child need to know that there are little voices in all our heads controlling every move of ours? Does my child really need to know that thoughts don’t always control emotions? Should I tell him that mental illnesses can occur to anyone, at any age and under any circumstances? Does my child need to know that there is no joy in life without sadness?

In our opinion, Docter ought to be more like the parents in his movies: always meaning well but overbearing when required.

Inside Out released in theatres on Friday.

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