In persistently difficult times, like we are experiencing due to the ongoing pandemic, finding entertainment that can lift us emotionally and spiritually proves to be especially worthwhile. This article will review the Pixar movie Inside Out, which came out in 2015.
Inside Out is an ambitious film because it deals with the emotional struggles of the lead character, 11-year-old Riley, by looking at her experiences through the lenses of five emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. Each emotion is color-coded and personified in the film, and voiced by an impressive ensemble cast.
- Joy/Amy Poehler
- Sadness/Phyllis Smith
- Anger/Lewis Black
- Fear/Bill Hader
- Disgust/Mindy Kaling
The critical thrust of the movie involves Riley’s family move to San Francisco for her father’s new job, which significantly upsets her life, leading her into a state of depression. The view of the experience through her “inner world” is an amazing act of storytelling, brilliantly delivered through stunning animation.
As the plot progress, Riley falls further into a depressed state and the “adventure” aspect of the story has Joy pursuing Sadness in an effort to heal Riley and put her back on a healthy emotional path. Through a series of predictable, but well-navigated twists and turns, Joy succeeds in getting Sadness to reintegrate with the emotional group and build a new “island” of emotional experiences connected with the new life in San Francisco.
Additionally, at the end of the movie, we begin to see the shift from pre-adolescence into the more complex emotional range of oncoming full adolescence, which is also a brilliant shift for the character development that could easily become a second movie, should one ever be done.
Why this Movie Now
There is no doubt that the pandemic is causing tremendous psychological distress for all age groups. Each level of psychological development deals with stress and crisis differently and according to their level of development. Watching this movie provides a type of insight that is enlightening and penetrating in a way that a book on child psychology will not be.
Keeping in mind that the matrix of emotion shown in the movie only involves five emotions, it does help us realize how “mixed up” we can all feel in various situations, but especially one that creates significant stress, like a movie.
For many children, the pandemic brought a full stop to their daily lives, forcing them to attend school from home and over the internet. This abrupt and persistent change is very akin to the type of shift encountered by the character Riley in the movie. In fact, the pattern of emotional distress from a state of “normalcy” – Riley’s life in Minnesota, to one of dramatic “newness”, living in California – would match the break with normalcy – going to school in person to the hard shift into a very different new normal, doing school from home.
It is very likely that many of the children the same age as the character in the movie are having to process and have been processing similar emotional shifts. By the end of the movie, we see what is hopeful about the human spirit, its resilience and adaptability.
We also see the value of various levels of support, both familial and professional. There are few challenges harder, for everyone, parent and child, than, as an adult, being caught in the pandemic along with your children, but still needing to be their anchor while you, yourself, may feel equally adrift.
I do highly recommend this film, both as a spiritual advisor and a parent. I, myself, strongly connected with the film because of my many moves over the course of my lifetime, several of which occurred when I was nearly the same age as Riley. When I was nine our family moved from North Carolina to Massachusetts because of a job change for my father. It was as much a culture shock as what Riley experienced moving from Minnesota to California.
In fact, four years later, we moved back from Massachusetts to North Carolina, when I was 13, and the emotional shift was just as jarring and more complex due to my age. In truth, I think Inside Out is a timely movie any time. The psychological representations are well developed and expertly delivered, and the reminder that entertainment can be one of the best vehicles for delivering deeply important ideas to people in a highly digestible and useful way.