Inside Out is not a kid’s film. By all appearances it looks like a kids film, the colourful design; the energetic characterisation; the sheer marketablity, but there are concepts that are play here which kids might not be able to grasp. It’s very cerebral film, no pun intended, that wants to explore change and sadness in an eleven year old’s life. The film asks the question ‘why be sad’ and it does an admirable job of answering it, but there are some very subtle emotions that I’m not sure all children will pick up on. But maybe I’m underestimating eleven year old’s.
Disney-Pixar’s latest film follows Riley Anderson, an eleven year old girl who is forced to leave her home in Minnesota and relocate to San Francisco when her father acquires a new job. This transition is explored through quintet of emotions in Riley’s head which control her feelings with the control panel. As riley experiences new things, she gains memories. Some of these are core memories which power her personality, such as her love of hockey or being silly. The emotions, Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger, do not understand Sadness role in the group and routinely ostracise her with the intent of keeping Riley as happy as possible.
On the first day in the new school, Riley cries in class. Internally this is because Sadness keeps touching memories, making Riley view them negatively. This experience produces a sad core memory for the first time ever, but Joy is determined not to allow it to reach it’s destination. Sadness, of course, wants her contribution to be included. A struggle ensues and both Joy and Sadness, along with the core memories are sucked through into the memory bank. As the two emotions journey back to the main brain centre, Riley becomes increasingly despondent without the core memories to power her personality.
By the end of the film, Joy has learned that Sadness has her place, just like the rest of them. She is able to emphasise with Riley’s imaginary friend, which gets him to point out the directions faster that Joy’s insistence to simply think happy thoughts. She is also correct about abstract thought being a dangerous short cut, but works out the solution. Sadness also rightfully advises Joy that scaring Riley will wake her faster than excitement. But it isn’t until Joy falls into the memory dump that she understands that every memory is good and bad.
The lesson is that sadness has its place in any well balanced emotional state. But there are implications which may not be caught by all audiences. For instance, Riley becomes distant after she cries at school because the sad core memory did not reach the hub in headquarters. The suggestion there is that Riley’s emotional state crumbles because she did not deal with her sadness. By trying to avoid it and think happy thoughts or pretend to smile, Riley ignores the sadness inside. It isn’t until the end when Joy allows Sadness to operate the control panel that Riley confronts her feelings about the move. Her sadness brings her family together and creates a new core memory, one that is a mixture of joy and sadness. Maybe it could be called bitter-sweet.
Our emotions are much more psychologically complex than the film makes them out to be but the film does touch on some heavy issues by showing Riley becoming borderline depressed and being forced to accept her sad feelings in order to move on and adjust. And it is an important lesson to many children, who at eleven are certainly starting to experience more change and responsibility in their lives. But I’m not sure the film does a good job of really indicating how necessary all the emotions are. People want to be happy, but, even though certain situations call for other emotions, no one really wants to be sad, afraid, disgusted or angry.
What is interesting are the little forays into the mind space of other characters. For Riley, Joy is her dominant emotion. Her mother on the other hand has Sadness at the helm of her control panel. Anger rules in the Dad’s head space. Is that something that changes as they get older? That’s a really unnerving idea if we all start out with Joy managing our minds but other emotions take control as we get older. As if happiness isn’t a priority for adults. On the other hand, it might just indicate that everyone has different emotional formations. It’s still rather unfair to think that one person might be managed by Sadness their entire life but it is a rather intriguing concept. If Pixar did make a sequel to Inside Out I wouldn’t mind exploring how someone with a different emotional leader might think and react.
This isn’t Pixar’s best film. Not by a long shot. It doesn’t have the same emotional nuances as Up or Toy Story and it isn’t as funny. I did laugh through the film but more so for the subtle brain jokes, such as the train falling into the memory dump indicating that Riley lost her train of thought. In another scene, the brain workers keep sending up a memory of a catchy jingle so that it repeatedly plays in Riley’s head. That was a clever nod to the way tunes can get stuck in our heads. There is a lot of more simple humour so I’d expect the kids to laugh more than their parents.
Inside Out is a film that kids will enjoy but there’s a lot of depth here that an eleven year old just might not get. On top of that, this was a really interesting concept and premise but Pixar only scratched the surface. But it is a fun film that kids will enjoy with a very positive message. By embracing her sadness and accepting the change, Riley is able to restore her core memories and her personality islands. It’s good to know that friendships can be rebuilt and old passions can be refound. Except for imaginary friends. They must be sacrificed for the greater good.