Note: This is not a spoiler free article. Sussing out your emotions can be a incredibly difficult thing to do. So often our instinct is to suppress our sadness, fear, anger and disgust because our lives are busy and it’s more convenient to deal with unpleasant emotions later on. We tell ourselves and other to “just be happy,” “suck it up,” or “be a man!” Children especially are told so often to “stop crying” rather than really accept their feelings. This might save some time, but the damage we’re doing by pushing these emotions to the side takes a major toll on us. What Pixar’s newest film “Inside Out” does is bring this damage to the forefront and advocates for being emotionally honest with ourselves and others. “Inside Out” takes place primarily inside the mind of 11 year old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), a girl who has just moved to San Francisco with her family and is grappling with the major change in her life. Riley is controlled by her five major emotions, Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). Each emotion operates Riley’s reactions through a control board and Joy tends to lead the group’s decisions. This usually means Sadness doesn’t get much time at the wheel, as Joy loves Riley so much she just wants her to be happy. Up until the move, Riley has had a pretty good life. She loves hockey, has a strong relationship with her friends and family, has an honest but goofy disposition and is described by her mother (Diane Lane) as their “happy girl.” Most of Riley’s memories are happy and represented by yellow orbs, yellow standing for joy rather than blue (sadness), red (anger), purple (fear), or green (disgust). Joy is very proud of this fact. However, once Riley starts to realize how much her life is changing because of the move, things get a little hectic for the emotions inside her head. After a scuffle over Riley’s long term memories, Joy and Sadness are accidentally sucked out of Headquarters and into Riley’s long term memory bank along with all of Riley’s core memories, the ones that make Riley, Riley. With Riley in major distress, Joy and Sadness must find a way back to headquarters or she may never be happy again. What makes “Inside Out” such an important film is that it shows just how important actually talking about one’s emotions is. There is such a huge stigma on mental health that we often don’t want to talk about or listen to anything but what makes us joyful. We see Riley’s mother compliment her daughter on being so happy despite the difficult time their family is going through, and while the sentiment is well intentioned, it ends up making Riley feel like she can’t be sad around them. With Joy and Sadness stuck in long term memory, guiding Riley’s actions falls to Anger, Fear and Disgust, showing how children so often lash out during difficult times and how depression isn’t just about being sad. The longer Riley isn’t able to feel Joy or Sadness, the harder her life becomes. Unable to express what she’s truly feeling, she starts to lose her favorite parts of herself. She drops Hockey. She dumps her best friend back home. The strong bond she has with her family starts to crumble and she begins to lie to get what she wants. By the end of the movie, Riley is about to run away.
What’s more interesting than what’s happening to Riley on the outside, is what’s going on between Joy and Sadness inside the young girl’s head. While Joy is a kindhearted character at first, it slowly becomes apparent that she isn’t the greatest leader when it comes to Riley’s best interest. She is constantly pushing Sadness out of the way, determined to make only happy memories for Riley. She even draws a circle on the floor and tells Sadness to stay inside it on Riley’s first day of school to keep her from ruining things for the little girl. What Joy doesn’t realize is that sadness is just as important in life. When Joy and Sadness run into Riley’s old imaginary friend Bing Bong (Richard Kind), he leads them to Riley’s Imagination, which is under demolition. When Bing Bong’s rocket is tossed into the forgotten memories pit, he is incredibly upset. As one of Riley’s less used memories, he feels as though he’s becoming obsolete and the loss of the rocket just further drives in that idea. Joy tries to cheer him up by acting goofy and telling jokes, but Bing Bong isn’t hearing any of it. He continues to be upset until Sadness walks over and sits next to him. “I’m sorry about your rocket,” she tells him and finally Bing Bong opens up about his fears and grief; how he misses being a part of Riley’s life and all the memories they used to have together. Instead of trying to force Bing Bong to be happy, Sadness validates his feelings. “That must of been really hard,” she tells him and after a good cry, the imaginary friend is able to pick himself up and continue to lead them back to Headquarters. Joy is baffled by Sadness’ success.
The biggest message in this film is, “Embrace your emotions.” It’s great to feel joyful, but it’s also okay to feel sad, angry, fearful or disgusted. What’s wonderful about “Inside Out” is that it isn’t until Sadness is accepted by the other characters that any of them really find any solace. When Joy finally gives up being the leader and gives Sadness free reign over the control board, Riley is able to leave what would have been a dangerous run-away and goes back to her family. Once there, she opens up to her parents about how she wants to be happy for their sake but misses her life back home. The memories that used to bring her joy are now just sad. When she finally allows herself to be upset and her parents are there for her, a new core memory rolls into headquarters. Instead of being one color, it’s part blue and yellow; equal parts sad and joyful. It’s this new memory that fixes “Family Island,” the part of Riley’s personality that stands for her supportive familial bond. It isn’t until Riley accepts the fact that her life is complicated with a mix of different emotions, that she’s able to feel okay again. Afterwards, we see Riley thriving in her new environment. She’s playing Hockey again with her parents cheering her on. Inside of Riley’s head, we see the five emotions working together to help Riley score a goal. Along the walls are dozens of multicolored memories. The emotions have finally learned that each of them have value in Riley’s life. With the major stigma on mental health, this film might be Pixar’s most important project to date. It can be hard to open up a dialogue about our emotions and for children, being emotionally honest is an incredibly important message to instill. “Inside Out” serves as a good example and spring board for parents to talk to their children about the importance of letting yourself feel. Not to mention, it’s an incredibly well crafted story that both kids and adults will enjoy. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much during a children’s film. Films like “Inside Out” spread the message that it’s okay to feel what you’re feeling. Depression isn’t something anyone should be ashamed of. Emotions are something we should be talking in depth about, even at a young age. “Inside Out” provides the resources to do that, making it an incredibly profound and important film in today’s society.
Photos by Disney Pixar.