Published on June 29th, 2015 | by Sarah Stefanson0
Disney Pixar’s Inside Out proves once again that the venerable storytellers aren’t afraid to tackle some heavy themes and emotions with creativity, wit, and warmth.
In a theatre packed with kids and reeking of old baby spit-up, I saw Disney Pixar’s Inside Out with my boyfriend and his 11-year-old daughter. She is the same age as Riley, the protagonist of the story, and dealing with a lot of the same feelings. I hoped that watching Riley handle her family’s move from her comfortable hockey-filled life in Minnesota to the new, weird surroundings of San Francisco where pizza comes topped with broccoli might help the tween in my life express her emotions about her parents’ divorce and my presence in a newly restructured family. The first line of the movie is, “Do you ever look at someone and think, ‘What is going on in their head?’” I have asked myself this many, many times when my pseudo-stepdaughter transitions inexplicably from happy and giggly to quiet and sullen.
The genius of Inside Out is that is takes the entire emotional process and anthropomorphizes each of the major feelings into characters: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. We see the five working out of ‘headquarters’ inside Riley’s brain where they use their individual gifts (and by the end we learn that, yes, even the icky feelings are valuable) to help her navigate her life. Memories are made and coloured with whichever feeling was prominent at the time. Most are sent to long-term memory for storage, while some fade and end up in the dump. A few precious ones become part of her core memory, supporting her personality islands: Family, Friendship, Hockey, Honesty, and Goofball. Most of Riley’s memories are happy — a fact that irrepressibly perky Joy is not afraid to brag about — but when her family moves across the country, the five feelings find themselves with extra challenges and in the chaos, Joy and Sadness get sucked into storage along with Riley’s core memories. Riley begins acting differently and concerning her parents with only Fear, Disgust and Anger at the helm, as Joy literally drags Sadness along trying to return to headquarters and set things straight.
Like all of Pixar’s offerings, Inside Out provides plenty of genuine laughs for both child and adult mixed with a healthy dose of sniffle-inducing sad scenes. The emotions are the real stars of the movie and excellently voiced by Amy Poehler as eternally positive Joy, Phyllis Smith as despairing Sadness, Bill Hader as high strung Fear, Lewis Black as explosive Anger, and Mindy Kaling as haughty Disgust. Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan served their parts as the parents well, but the humans don’t have much to do in this story, which takes place mostly inside Riley’s head. Writers and Directors Peter Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen obviously did their homework on child psychology and managed to incorporate concepts like abstract thought and the feel-nothing nature of clinical depression into a story full of flashy, brightly coloured scenery and the kind of straight-forward, simple characters to which kids can relate.
There are big concepts at work here. The movie touches on the trouble with how we raise girls in our society and the way people who have never experienced depression treat those that struggle with it. Inside Out’s youngest viewers are probably not going to get much more out of it than some giggles at the goofy characters, but as they grow and watch it again and again, it is easy to see how a young person’s understanding of their own emotions could be re-shaped by this movie. I heard an interview with Pete Docter on CBC radio in which he related the story of a young boy who, after seeing the movie, finally took the plunge off the high diving board that he had been too afraid to try on numerous occasions in the past. “I just realized that Fear was driving,” he said, “and I asked him to step aside.”
I’m not sure how much the intricacies of the concept sunk in for the 11-year-old girl I was with in the theatre, but the 37-year-old man we both love sat beside us sobbing through most of the picture. The idea that all our emotions are valid and important is one that we adults need to be reminded of too. In the brief peeks into the heads of the people and animals surrounding Riley that we’re given, we see that everyone is dealing with Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust to varying degrees and each of us handles them differently.