I’m already a fan of Pixar Animation Studios (I used their films as the basis for my Master’s thesis) so I didn’t need any pushing to go see Inside Out, the latest offering from the imaginations responsible for Up and Monster’s Inc. A long-time proponent that Toy Story (1995) is Pixar’s best film, I might have to re-look at that conviction in light of the absolute delight that is Inside Out.
11-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) moves with her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) from the open spaces of Minnesota to the row houses of San Francisco. Okay, a common enough experience, right? But Inside Out tells the story from the perspective of Riley’s emotions. Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) are all inside Riley’s head, the guardians of her memories and the impetus behind her personality.
Joy rules the roost, known as “headquarters” (pun definitely intended), so Riley’s a happy kid. Then Sadness reaches out and touches one of Riley’s core memories, the experiences that have shaped her personality. Joy tries to fix it and ends up being sucked up a tube to long-term memory with Sadness, leaving Fear, Anger, and Disgust at headquarters to be with Riley. Craziness ensues as Joy and Sadness try to get back to HQ.
Inside Out delivers the silliness attractive to kids and the whimsy, wit, and gags that will make the adults laugh out loud, a true family film. The really little ones won’t understand that the characters are emotions but the adults, who (ideally) have a better grasp of what goes on inside their own heads, may shed a tear or two at the way Sadness and Joy have to work together for Riley to be whole.
I think Inside Out would be a great film to use for a retreat, youth ministry, or for those preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation. It would also be beneficial for family counseling or those doing grief ministry, especially with children.
Why? The film does a great job of showing that sorrow (as well as the other emotions) is a normal part of life. Sure, we want to have joy in charge most of the time but without sorrow and grief, there is no growth. The reviewer from the New York Times, A.O. Scott, put it this way, “Sadness, it turns out, is not Joy’s rival but her partner. Our ability to feel sad is what stirs compassion in others and empathy in ourselves. There is no growth without loss, and no art without longing.” In Christian terms, this is living the Paschal Mystery, the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Because of Jesus we believe that after death comes life, out of darkness comes light. After all, there would be no Easter without Good Friday.