Hey everyone, today is Friday! Yay! Speaking of which, last weekend Aaron and I watched the kid’s movie ‘Inside Out’. When I need something comforting we sometimes turn to a kid’s movie. Usually it’s a personal favourite from when I was a kid, like Nemo, Shrek, Ratatouille, etc. but this time it was a newer movie. I’ve got to say…’Inside Out’ impresses me! The concept is different and I think it’s a good film for kids to watch. But one thing that’s great about going back to animation when you’re an adult is that you pick up things a kid wouldn’t necessarily grasp. I’m not talking about the inside jokes to keep adults from going crazy although it’s so much fun to catch them! But that’s not my point…today I want to talk about what an adult can get out of a kids’ movie, because they can be surprisingly insightful sometimes.
I see a problem here. If you haven’t seen the movie nothing I write will make any sense. Hmmm. Ok…time for a movie summary I suppose. I’ll try to keep it short.
‘Inside Out’ follows the story of a girl (Riley) who moves from her childhood home full of happy memories to another city because her father is trying to start a new business. The family is struggling financially and their new home is a big downgrade from what she was used to; everything seems to be going wrong. The action however takes place mostly in Riley’s mind where the emotions of joy, sadness, fear, anger and disgust are personified as their own characters who maintain Riley’s mental state and memories. Depending on which emotion is at the ‘controls’, a memory will be tinted with that emotion. If Joy orchestrates a scene by planting an idea, the memory is golden yellow. Repeat for blue/sadness, red/anger, purple/fear and green/disgust. Joy is the boss and her goal is to make all the memories yellow and therefore happy. There are also core memories which keep up Riley’s main personality. Each core memory with her family powers a different ‘personality island’.
With the move however, sadness ends up touching a core memory and turns it blue. It can’t be turned back which means whenever Riley thinks about it she’ll feel sad instead of happy. One thing leads to another and Sadness comes close to touching the other core memories which are falling out of their special container. Joy and Sadness get sucked into a tube that goes to long-term memory. Without her core memories Riley is unable to be happy and things become worse and worse for her. She cries in class, she has no friends and she quits at Hockey tryouts because she can’t concentrate. The emotions left in charge don’t know what to do. Joy, very frustrated with Sadness, is determined to get back to ‘headquarters’ but it’s a long journey through Riley’s mind and memories. Riley’s islands of personality have also gone dark and things are happening to make them crumble entirely.
Sadness knows the way out of long-term memory so Joy drags her depressed companion who doesn’t want to move. They come across an old imaginary friend, BingBong, who is eager to be remembered by Riley again and says he’ll get them back. Many things get in their way and BingBong sees his magic wagon/rocket thrown into the memory dump. He’s devastated and can’t continue despite Joy trying to push him on with her ever positive attitude. Sadness sits with him and listens to his feelings, which enables him to continue. Joy finally realizes that Sadness is actually a useful part of Riley’s mind but Joy and BingBong end up in the memory dump while Sadness is alone. The two think of BingBong’s rocket that’s powered by song and try to fly over the steep edge of the pit. It almost works but the weight is too much. Without telling Joy, BingBong gets in the cart again and sings with her but jumps out of the cart halfway so she can make it over the edge. Things in the dump fade away forever, and it’s a sad and touching moment as Joy makes it up top but watches BingBong fade away. He asks that she take care of Riley for him and then vanishes. (We teared up.)
Joy gets creative and manages to land on an imaginary cloud where Sadness is crying and blaming herself for ruining everything. They make it back to headquarters just on time to get Riley off the bus she’s using to run away. Her parents are very worried but she returns. Having learned something, Joy allows Sadness the honour of managing the controls and holding the core memories. Instead of turning blue, they’re a mix of yellow and blue. While this happens, Riley experiences the return of her happy memories which have now turned temporarily nostalgic at the touch of Sadness. Her parents console her and they have the first real conversation about their feelings.
Up in headquarters things are functioning again like Riley’s islands of personality. The movie ends with Joy narrating and realizing that Sadness is part of the reason why Riley can be happy…Sadness is honest and is what cues Riley’s parents to support her. In other words, Riley can’t be happy without either of them. The last thing we see is that Riley’s new memories are now tinted with more than one colour/emotion at once, she made it on the new Hockey team and her family is strong again.
Wow! It was pretty impactful, I’ve gotta say. I saw many parallels and I feel that my experiences allowed me to understand so much more. The concepts apply to life in general but experiencing depression and other turbulent emotions has given me a certain view. The movie hit close to home and here are some of the truths and messages I picked up.
Joy & the Others
Joy is a very likeable character with her bouncy and effervescent attitude. However like the other emotions, she’s limited in her capabilities. Joy loves Riley and this is the reason why she always takes over from the others. Her main goal is to keep every memory in the yellow and at the beginning of the movie she is proud of her success rate to date. That is, until everything changes.
Sadness, as you can expect, is always depressed and pessimistic, while Anger has a hair trigger. Fear is depicted as highly neurotic to be entertaining and comical, and disgust sounds like the stereotype of a popular teenage girl. The dynamic is interesting though because even though Joy is ‘in your face’, the other emotions love Riley too. Anger isn’t trying to get her in trouble, he just wants Riley to get what she needs. If something is annoying or wrong to him, he’ll make sure Riley speaks up. Fear is also working in Riley’s best interest to keep her from harm, and even disgust seems to watch Riley’s social image and looks out for things that just ‘won’t do.’ My point is that whatever their background, Joy isn’t the only one who cares about Riley. The problem I noticed is that they’re supposed to be a team, but they don’t work together super well. They all share their input, but there’s a lack of balance. This is key for later.
Something I found both funny and interesting were the quick scenes in the heads of Riley’s parents. They were definitely adult oriented, but the most important part was probably that the emotions did know how to work together. The emotions themselves were older, worked as a strong team and orchestrated things together. Anger for example really keeps his emotion in check, and Joy and Sadness are both in the centre of the control table. Another interesting observation is that the console in the adults’ minds are much larger and have far more buttons. This indicates maturity and how greater age and life experience allow for a greater nuance of emotions. When Riley’s console in headquarters expands at the end of the film I find it symbolic of her having gone through something complex and now earning a more refined and varied array of reactions and feelings.
The move from Riley’s old home can be replaced by any large life change and still mean the same thing. It was the ‘élement déclensheur’, the trigger for Riley’s intense emotional upheaval. What makes this important is that these events are part of life. We face many challenges, but we learn and grow from them as Riley did.
The ‘Meat’ of the Film
The most significant aspect of this movie for me is probably when Joy hands the core memories to Sadness in the end and she’s the one who begins to repair things between Riley and her family. Joy’s evolution of character and thinking is what allows a large truth to be understood. Bad things will inevitably happen in life but keeping everything forcibly ‘joyful’ is not the solution. When Riley’s core memories fall out of the container and they impact her ‘personality islands’, this perhaps imbues the reality of identity confusion and the fragile hold we have on our most prominent and character forming experiences/memories. In addition, our minds are sensitive and delicate which is maybe why the memories turn blue when Sadness touches them. When thinking of happiness in the past, our memories can become tinged with Sadness if things are no longer the same. That brings us to when Sadness holds the core memories at the end and they become a mix of a Joy and Sadness instead of all Joy or all Sadness. That’s really the turning point, because Riley then feels the Joy of the past along with the nostalgia that comes with it. She is both happy and crying, and Riley discusses her true feelings with her parents for the first time.
Throughout the movie we hear that without Joy Riley can’t be happy, but at the end we realize that Sadness being gone is just as harmful for her. Sadness is depicted as a useless emotion but in reality she’s an emotion that can’t be left behind or contained in a circle in which she can’t get out. (Joy asks Sadness to stay in a circle and read manuals without touching anything, but Sadness leaves the circle and ends up turning memories blue.) Joy is exasperated and Sadness doesn’t know why she disobeyed her, but I have the feeling that her ‘pull’ to move out of the circle was a natural mechanism because certain situations truly are sad and can’t be made glossy and perfectly happy. In other words, Sadness cannot be contained. Joy pushing her away is like being in denial of sadness, but there’s always a rebound! Force against force, as I always say. Joy in a sense was denying the existence of Riley’s problems and thought she could do everything herself. The impact is that Riley doesn’t turn to the support of her parents. Forcing Joy upon Sadness is not something that works, and in their struggle of not working together they both end up out of headquarters. Instead of blaming Sadness (Aaron was really annoyed by Sadness by the way), I find that Joy was the one responsible for the unbalance that ensued.
Whether we like it or not, sadness is one of our strongest emotions as human beings. Our capacity to feel so deeply is both beauty and curse. A gift at a price. In feeling everything, not everything will feel good. Sadness is the only realistic reaction to many situations and it demands to be felt. It’s far from an evil or deliberately unhelpful emotion, and a perfect example of this is when BingBong loses his prized rocket-wagon and despairs. Joy, as I mentioned earlier, ignores his feelings and only cares about pushing on. Her efforts are futile however, and Sadness sits down with BingBong instead. She truly empathizes and lets him cry it out. Joy is astonished that Sadness is able to get BingBong moving again, but it’s actually not surprising. I think it’s our vulnerability and not our bravado that allows for compassion and empathy. Again, this is a situation that must be addressed with the appropriate emotion and Sadness is the only one for the job. She has an important and rightful place among the others.
It’s a powerful scene when Joy places her faith in Sadness and when we see Riley flash on other moments of sadness and how she felt better because she shared her feelings with her parents. When she lost a big Hockey game years ago, it was sadness that alerted her parents to the problem and their support resulted in sadness becoming happiness. In the end most memories are tinged with multiple colours, revealing the crucial truth that nothing is one dimensional. A wide range of emotions exist and they all come together. Achieving balance is a lifelong pursuit…think, feel, express…but don’t repress!
I’d be sad if I let him be forgotten the way he feared, so here’s a bonus opinion. Despite his small role, the scenes were poignant and heart-wrenching because of their inherent truth. BingBong himself is an embodiment of nostalgia. It really reminds me of Puff the Magic Dragon which never fails to make my eyes well up. He was Riley’s favourite imaginary friend, removed from prominence as years went by. Such is life…we are young, full of imagination and excitement. I had many imaginary friends so I understand. They gradually fade away like the memories in the dump Joy and BingBong find themselves trapped in. He is representative perhaps of all long and distant childhood memories; the ones we forget as adult life takes over. You don’t notice it happening…I didn’t anyway. My pegasus for example was with me every day until she simply wasn’t. But unlike poor, forgotten BingBong, I choose to remember her now. Because you know what? She’s still part of my islands of personality, which faded as Riley’s did these past years. I’m building them back up, and ‘imagination island’ will always be with me and run strong. BingBong’s song-powered rocket-wagon will always work if there’s someone to remember the song. So don’t forget the silly fiction and boundless imagination / creativity. After all, who we are now, began then.
And one last thing: Can hope exist without imagination?