Pixar’s most recent creation, Inside Out, is not a children’s movie as it is advertised to be. The animation and young protagonist, Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), may suggest that the movie is for the ten and under crowd, but it most certainly is a movie that is better suited for an older audience. Now, this is not just a long-winded attempt at justifying the fact that I sat in a theater crowded with six-year olds to see this movie; it is a credit to Pixar for their ability to disguise an emotionally complex and subtly humorous film as a children’s movie. They have wisely used this model several times over, which has led to their vast success. Inside Out, even more so than other Pixar films, is able to not only entertain kids, parents, and everyone in between (or just me in between), but also provide a powerful message about the power and role of emotions.
It is no coincidence that Inside Out is a movie entirely about emotions, mostly centered on Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) because throughout the movie, at least the older portion of the audience goes on a journey of emotion as well, mostly between joy and sadness. As the protagonist Riley tries to adjust to her new life after moving from the comfort of her Minnesota home to San Francisco, we see how she and her emotions (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust) handle the transition.
In the beginning it is Joy who, in true Leslie Knope fashion, takes control of the situation and tries to ensure that Riley be happy in her new environment. Soon thereafter, things go awry when Sadness jumps into the picture. However, as we learn later in the film and as we have learned later in life, emotion, no matter how negative, can always produce positive results.
The result of the crisis at the emotion headquarters is Joy and Sadness stranded off in Riley’s brain with her core memories. It is up to them to somehow return to HQ and restore balance back to Riley’s life before she runs away and everything falls apart completely. The bulk of the film is a Lord of the Rings-esque journey for Joy and Sadness. Meanwhile, at headquarters, everything slowly does fall apart. Without Joy and Sadness, Riley can’t control her emotions leading to an outburst at the dinner table, which comically displays both her Mom (Diane Lane) and Dad’s (Kyle MacLachlan) emotions react to the situation — the Dad considers the situation a big success after “taking it to DEFCON 2” and demanding Riley go to her room, the Mom wonders why she didn’t marry a Brazilian helicopter pilot instead. Also, in one of the more uncomfortable scenes in the movie, her inability to keep her emotions in check leads her to cry in front of her class on the first day of school. While uncomfortable to watch, the scene is important because, really, who that age can hold all of their emotions in check during such a transitory period?
This idea ties back with the theme of the movie which develops as Joy slowly realizes that she is not the only emotion necessary for Riley’s well-being. In fact, her partner Sadness has an equally important role in Riley’s life which Joy only realizes after she tries to abandon her to save Riley. Riley’s last “personality island” falls and leaves Joy and Bing Bong alone in the inescapable memory dump. Once there, Joy finds an old memory of Riley sad after she missed a game-winning goal. The memory turns happy when Riley’s parents and friends all come to cheer her up. In that moment, Joy realizes that Sadness is just as necessary as she is, for when Riley is sad, people know to come help. Joy’s mission takes on a whole new meaning at this point as she must not only get back escape memory dump and get back to HQ, but also find and take Sadness with her.
In one of the more poignant scenes of the movie, Joy is able to escape memory dump when imaginary friend Bing Bong (Richard Kind) sacrifices himself. It is a scene that probably could have brought a tear to my eye, if it wasn’t met with a chorus of six year-olds asking their parents “what happened to Bing Bong?” followed by chants of “do it for Bing Bong!”. Yes, that actually happened which did admittedly bring more humor to the whole movie-watching experience. It would be like seeing Fellowship of the Ring in theaters and having the audience yell “do it for Gandalf!” after he “sacrifices” himself.
Anyways, I digress. In the end, after making it back to HQ together, it is Sadness, not Joy who saves the day by fixing the center console which in turn, prompts Riley not to run away, but rather to be honest with her parents about how she is feeling about the move. The movie concludes with a flash-forward to a year later in which Riley is completely settled in in San Francisco and a shameless preview for a sequel when the emotions wonder what “puberty” is.
Pixar hasn’t announced any plans for a sequel quite yet, but I hope that they wait some time before releasing another one, for the sake of all the kids who couldn’t possibly have gotten the full Inside Out experience. At the very least, I hope that in the future every kid yelling “do it for Bing Bong!” gives Inside Out another watch so they can see just how powerful that scene, or just how funny certain parts are, such as Fear’s constant worrying, Anger’s infatuation with “that curse word” they know, or the emotions of a teenage boy freaking out when he sees Riley, or absorb some of the messages of the movie such as the necessity and power of all emotions—positive and negative.
And that is the beauty of Pixar classics: Inside Out will only get better year by year for every kid who saw it in theaters.