Caution: The following contains some spoilers to Inside Out!!
Of all of Pixar’s films, their most recent release, Inside Out, is the studio’s most beautiful creation. Pixar has had a knack for bringing out emotions in their audiences, so it’s only fitting that their most profound creation is one that’s all about emotions themselves.
As eleven-year old Riley and her family move from their Minnesota home to San Francisco, Riley has a difficult time adapting to her new life, and her emotions are unsure how to handle the situation.
Riley’s emotions of Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger all work at a control panel inside of her mind. They all try to make sure Joy is in control, unless it is necessary for one of the other emotions to take over. But Riley is growing up, and going through a drastic change like moving effects the stability of things.
This is where Inside Out shows the genius of its concept, as it has a deep understanding of people’s emotions, particularly those of children.
When Riley and her parents are playing a game of makeshift hockey in their new living room, the moment is interrupted when her father gets a business call. Riley’s mother understands the situation, but Riley is upset that that moment of happiness was cut short, and Fear and Sadness take over the control panel. Another thoughtful moment occurs when Riley asks her parents for a goodnight kiss, but they are preoccupied with news that the moving van is running late, and her father is further stressed by another business call, leading Riley to become stressed herself.
Riley and her emotions both influence one another, and as Riley tries her best to stay happy for the sake of her parents, Joy similarly tries to ensure that the changes in Riley’s life don’t bring her down. But both Riley and Joy come to learn the value of the other emotions throughout the course of the film.
One of Inside Out’s most poignant moments occurs when Joy and Sadness – who are lost and trying to get back to the headquarters of Riley’s mind – run into Riley’s old imaginary friend, Bing Bong, who serves as their guide. Bing Bong was created when Riley was three-years old, and shares a similar simplicity and naivety that Riley had when she created him. Bing Bong acknowledges that he doesn’t have too much to do now that Riley is older, but he still believes that one day Riley will remember him and they can share more adventures.
When Bing Bong comes to the realization that Riley no longer needs an imaginary friend, he becomes despondent. Joy tries her best to cheer Bing Bong up, to no avail. It’s only after Sadness gives him a shoulder to cry on that Bing Bong is able to pick himself up and continue their journey.
Whereas a lot of children’s films preach mantras like “everything is awesome” (which is, of course, complete BS), Inside Out instead admits that we can’t be happy all the time. Not only do we need sadness, as well as fear, disgust and anger, but there’s even beauty to be found in them. Because without them, joy couldn’t exist.
Riley is facing a difficult time in her life. To her parents, the move is a hassle. But to a kid like Riley, it can be devastating. Her old friends, the home she knew, and the life she had are now in the past. Sadness is compelled to tamper with Riley’s happy memories and make them sad, which reflects Riley’s happy childhood becoming more distant, melancholic memories.
Inside Out isn’t a story about Riley finding happiness in the midst of sadness, as would be the case with most animated films. Nor is it about her dwelling in sadness, like an Oscar-bait live action picture surely would be. Inside Out is about facing your emotions and accepting them, instead of hiding from them and pretending that everything is okay even when you’re hurting. It teaches children (and everyone, really) that growing up is hard, and that it’s okay to cry about it.
These are just a few of the examples of Inside Out’s depth. Pixar is often regarded for the quality of their films and the emotional strengths and intelligence of their stories. These attributes have never been on display as beautifully, creatively, or weirdly as they are in Inside Out.