There's obviously a lot of care that went into Inside Out. Pete Docter drew particularly from his own experiences, either in his childhood, or with his daughter. Production Designer Ralph Eggleston worked for five and half years on this film alone, and the barely contained pure energy forms of all emotions are innovative. Pixar is constantly pushing forward the animation envelope, and this movie marks the first of their animations to incorporate real lenswork that they then translated into virtual data. As far as mechanics, psychologists were consulted to make the workings of Riley's mind as accurate as possible. I doubt we have a colorful trove of spheres in our mind, but the storage and creation of them are accurate to a T (as far as we know).
If we were going for concept alone, Inside Out would be near perfection. Docter encapsulates and respects what it means to be a growing child, and he has a reverence for the importance of all emotions in our lives. It's a beautiful idea and one that deserves to be heard. It's a subject near and dear to many, and Pixar of course doesn't shy from packing an emotional punch to the message.
However, I struggle to lavish it with the same unadulterated praise that everyone else is giving it. I remember Pixar's old mantra of "story is king" and find it lacking in Inside Out. The animation appears made of elaborate (and don't get me wrong, wonderful) set pieces inside Riley's mind, which are delightful to explore but often are awkwardly introduced and shoehorned into the plot. Riley's outward turmoil is explained by a conflict and eventual absence of both Joy and Sadness, but does little to explain if any disruptions in our lives are merely a result of the mysterious disappearance of any of these emotions at one time or another. Most of the movie struggles with frustrating meandering, and although the emotions appear to be protecting Riley in the beginning, at one point they appear to be manipulating her to their own ends. The windings of Riley's mind are indeed candy-coated and nice to look at, but they lack the cohesive explanations and sense of Monsters Inc's Scream Factory mechanics.
It's not fair or true to say Inside Out lacks heart. It's overflowing full of it. Its poignant moments ring true, even in an animation generation where the emotional buttons seem more and more to follow some sort of formula. The decision to narrow the core emotions to five (rather than the original 27 planned) was a wise choice, but it also unfortunately simplifies a lot of what could use depth. The look at each mind control panel for all the family members sitting around the dining table was amusing, but also made me cringe at some points at the generalization of particular points between the mother and father. It's fine for a movie to be humorous and to get down to the bare bones of these ideas, but not while claiming to be inherently complex. Sometimes the movie is conflicted with this duality. Inside Out comes together in the last act in a catharsis that makes us realize that the first three quarters of the movie aren't necessarily a vehicle for gags, but rather a series of challenging points in a coming of age story. Pixar has always done an even keel of appealing to both adults and children, but I'd venture to say here that although the message is for children, most of the jokes are for adults.
Another high point for the movie are the stellar voice actors -- Amy Poehler as Joy and Mindy Kaling as Disgust are pitch perfect. Phyllis Smith as Sadness had to be my absolute favorite though.
Inside Out is the first Pixar movie to not have any input from former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, and also lacked any heavy input from John Lasseter who was working on other projects. This may have been a reason behind the story cohesion, which honestly could have used a little tightening. Although I'd love to peruse Inside Out further and I have nothing but the utmost respect for its message, craft, and delivery, I find myself feeling about it as I do Up, another of Pete Docter's Pixar films. It has some graceful emotional themes, and some genuinely important and lovely moments, but sometimes he resorts to easy jokes, which feels cheap for the Pixar caliber. Overall, Inside Out felt lacking to this small reviewer who is admittedly going against the crowd.