Its vivid conceit is that five personified emotions live inside 11-year-old Riley’s head – Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), who is wide-eyed, fairy-like and permanently buoyant; Fear (Bill Hader), a bow-tie wearing nervous nellie with startled eyebrows that levitate above his head; Anger (Lewis Black), squat, pugnacious, his fuse as short as his sleeves; Disgust (Mindy Kaling), chic and fastidious with a particular antipathy for broccoli; and Sadness (Phyllis Smith), droopy and blue beneath owlish spectacles and a chunky white turtleneck.
They guide Riley’s feelings from a knob-laden control desk right out of the USS Enterprise, processing her new memories as they arrive at Headquarters, each memory looking like a glowing bowling ball and coloured according to mood. In the idyll of childhood, it’s ever ebullient Joy, naturally, who takes the lead at the console. But childhood bliss cannot last forever. Riley is uprooted from Minnesota to San Francisco when her father takes another job and the turmoil of the move to a new home and school triggers a crisis that ejects Joy and Sadness from HQ and leaves them stranded in the outer reaches of Riley’s mindscape.
Their struggle to make it back to their colleagues and prevent further disaster is enormously inventive, simultaneously an engaging adventure packed with colour and incident and also a humorous mapping of the workings of the brain. The duo pass through the alarmingly surreal zone of Abstract Thought, enter the Dream Factory, a Hollywood soundstage complete with bustling camera crews, try to hitch a ride on the wandering Train of Thought and encounter Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong, a goofy clown who is part-elephant, part-cat, part dolphin. Amid the craziness, however, is an important lesson, deftly told, that sadness, as well as joy, has a crucial part to play in the creation of a healthy psyche.
Certificate U. Runtime 102 mins. Director Pete Docter.