by Sandra Kraisirideja
Inside Out, the new Disney Pixar movie featuring the voice talent of Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, Lewis Black and Phyllis Smith, deals with concepts and emotions that will resonate strongly with pre-teens and their parents.
The ideas in the movie reflect the new parental challenges being faced director Pete Docter as his daughter, Elie, grew up. He wrote the screenplay with Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley from an original story by Docter and co-director Ronnie Del Carmen.
While Pixar movies have always appealed to adults as much as kids, the emotions and concepts dealt with in Inside Out are particularly relevant for parents who have kids that are entering the first stages of young adulthood. It’s no surprise that the movie’s main character, Riley, is 11 years old. It’s that age where kids seems to be straddling the disparate worlds of their childhood and being a teenager. It can be a difficult time emotionally and Inside Out does a beautiful job imagining how that journey works in our minds.
Most of the movie takes place in Riley’s mind, where five emotions—Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust, help Riley navigate her world from Headquarters, the control center of the mind.
Lighthearted optimist Joy (Poehler), is determined to make sure Riley stays happy. Fear (Hader) heads up safety, Anger (Black) ensures all is fair and Disgust (Kaling) prevents Riley from getting poisoned—both physically and socially. Sadness (Smith) isn’t exactly sure what her role is, and frankly, neither is anyone else. Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan play Riley’s parents.
Smith, who is best known to audiences from her role on The Office, is perfectly cast as the mopey and easily depressed Sadness. The character comes across as very sweet and well-meaning, despite her lack of enthusiasm.
When Riley’s family relocates to a scary new city, the Emotions are on the job, eager to help guide her through the difficult transition. But when Joy and Sadness are inadvertently swept into the far reaches of Riley’s mind—taking some of her core memories with them—Fear, Anger and Disgust are left reluctantly in charge.
Joy and Sadness must venture through unfamiliar places—Long Term Memory, Imagination Land, Abstract Thought and Dream Productions—in a desperate effort to get back to Headquarters, and Riley. Along the way, they meet some colorful characters—from the Forgetters, who are Mind Workers in charge of sorting Riley’s memories, to Riley’s imaginary friend named Bing Bong, who is searching for a way to make Riley remember him.
Docter should be commended for taking the very abstract concepts of the human mind and emotions, and figuring out a way to convey how these things effect our actions and reactions in the physical universe. All of the concepts introduced in the movie—from core memories and how they help shape our personality, to the physical renderings of Long Term Memory and Imagination Land—all make perfect sense. This will be an invaluable tool for parents who have teenagers or pre-teens and need help navigating the treacherous emotional waters of that time period.
The way memories are represented, as clear glass marbles filled with a particular incident, is very insightful. What’s particularly interesting is seeing those memories go from solid emotional colors, such as sunlight yellow for Joy and blue for Sadness, to a mixture of colors as Riley gets older.
I thought this was a great way to show how emotions can and do blend as we get older. When we’re kids emotions are experienced separately. We’re happy one minute, then angry or sad the next. As we get older, our emotional experiences become more complex. A happy moment can also have a tinge of sadness.
Of course the movie also has a lot of fun in the world of the mind and there is plenty for kids to enjoy in Inside Out. The humor is not as subversive as other Pixar movies, but there is still plenty for parents to laugh at.