Inside Out, the latest creation from Pixar, enters the mind of eleven-year-old Riley, and personifies her five dominant emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust.
The five characters in Riley’s head, led by Joy, man a control panel that guides her through life, forming memories, the strongest of which form islands of personality that define Riley (silliness, hockey, friendship, and family).
The movie entertains and inspires in fresh and thoughtful ways. It seeks to engage us all — young and old, children and parents, and everyone else — in a way that will change us. After watching, you likely will not witness (or unleash) a temper tantrum or tear-filled meltdown in the same way again. The writers and animators do an excellent job exposing and making us all feel the absurd, but real tensions inside the human heart.
A Joy to Believe In
The hallmark of Inside Out is the grounding of happiness. In a society that seeks joy in comfort, silliness, and diversion, Pixar presents a different picture of the full life. Being happy is not about eliminating or even minimizing emotions not named Joy. No one in history has ever succeeded with that approach. Inside Out refreshingly declares that the good life — at least the one that really happens on this planet — is not free from sadness or anger, but allows joy to live in a harmony with those other less comfortable emotions.
The film fearlessly enters the dark, detached mind of a preteen whose life has been disrupted by a cross-country move. The film’s brilliance is in embracing the brokenness we all face. We all experience it, and yet so few stories in television and at the theaters help us process and endure it. In Inside Out, life is hard, but not hopeless. Grief and sadness are meaningful, even valuable experiences.
Joy in comfort, in silliness, in sports can be truly happy for a time, but there are no roots, at least not strong ones. It’s fragile. One embarrassing moment in front of the class and it all comes crashing down. If life is about preserving that simple, child-like, playful happiness, then we’re all lost and helpless. Eventually — and sometimes very early on — life removes its kiddie gloves — the unexpected move, betrayal, divorce, sickness, failure, loss. Life will steal a child’s happiness at age seven or seventeen or thirty-seven, and if we don’t have a plan for joy after sadness comes, we’ll be left frustrated, confused, and bitter. The film displays the futility of shortsighted, over-protective happiness.