Inside Out at El Capitan: Parent Review of Pixar Movie & Live Light Show

Pixar's brand-new adventure, Inside Out, hits theaters this weekend, and once again audiences in Los Angeles have the edge on the rest of the country, because we have the option of seeing the film with El Capitan's live stage show. Neither the movie nor the show disappoints; Inside Out harks back to the studio's best work, reminiscent of Toy Story's perfectly balanced blend of wistfulness and whimsy; and the 3D LED light dance spectacle that precedes it is, frankly, out of this world. Ready to laugh, cry, and bathe yourself in a psychedelic glow? More to the point, are your kids ready? The film is rated PG for a reason, so here's what you need to know before taking young children to experience the Disney/Pixar summer blockbuster.

Inside Out Pixar
The ever-optimistic Joy voiced by Amy Poehler.

Inside Out focuses on the feelings living inside Riley, a happy, hockey-playing 11-year-old. Just as we see the world through the toys' eyes in Toy Story, in Inside Out everything is filtered through Riley's emotions—Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust—who help her navigate the ups and downs of life from an Apple Store-style control room in her brain. When Riley starts going through some major growing pains, the gang can't maintain her equilibrium, and Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) are accidentally cast out into the unfamiliar outer reaches of her mind. Perpetually at odds, the pair must find a way to work together to get back to headquarters as they navigate the labyrinthine halls of Long-Term Memory, hitch a ride on the Train of Thought, and try to avoid falling into the Memory Dump.

The issue is, what ages is it good for? While preschoolers can certainly see the film, Inside Out is definitely aimed at school-age children. There's nothing super inappropriate for young children, but the movie deals with complicated feelings, abstract thoughts, and even the subconscious, and it could be a little scary or, more likely, confusing for the youngest tots. Since Riley's roiling emotions are physicalized, structures in her brain constantly crumble and fall; there are scenes of destruction and moments when Joy and her cohorts are in grave danger. In fact, one cute and cuddly character doesn't make it through to the end, which sparked a few audible tears in our row (although maybe that was just me). Riley also fights with her parents and does something drastic at the climax (no spoilers!). There's a seriously scary clown, too.

Inside Out PixarRiley and her parents having a tense dinner.

Disclaimers aside, El Capitan makes the film an event as only El Capitan can. The show is preceded by the usual live organ concert of Disney classics (be sure to wave the organist goodbye when you hear him strike up "Be Our Guest"), and the previews include the new Star Wars movie, which for some parents is worth the price of admission on its own. After the previews, on go the 3D glasses; the production quality on the eye-popping LED light stage show is astronomical. Special effects, break-dancing, aerial acrobatics, psychedelic colors, and an all-out audience party fill the room with joy before Amy Poehler's character ever hits the screen.

But wait—there's more! After the stage show, the sweet, feel-good Pixar short Lava plays. All told, there is a good half hour of entertainment before Inside Out begins, and that's not counting the photo ops with Riley's brain console in the lobby.

With all this pre-show hype, one might fear that the movie could be a letdown, but Inside Out takes the baton and runs with it, rounding off a full afternoon or evening of entertainment for the whole family. Inside Out may be especially meaningful to tweens poised to board the puberty roller coaster, since it's about growing up, dealing with change, and learning that sometimes you have to let go of the old and embrace the new. It also reinforces a valuable lesson for all ages: never stifle your emotions. It's important to experience and express them all, even the "bad" ones.

Inside Out opens nationwide on Friday, June 19.

Read more of our parent reviews of popular movies and stage shows.

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