I was as stoked about the new Disney/Pixar film Inside Out coming out on Friday, June 19 as any 6-year-old in America. A movie, starring Amy Poehler, about feelings going on inside a preteen girl’s head? What could be better?
When I saw the movie with a few high school friends on Friday night (at 9:30, past the little-kid rush) I wasn’t disappointed. Inside Out follows the star-studded cast of emotions that live in 11-year-old Riley’s head, preserve her memories, and inform all of her decisions: Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Joy (Amy Poehler), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith, of The Office fame).
Riley is a happy-go-lucky, ice-hockey-loving Minnesota kid with a great relationship with her parents, but when she suddenly has to move to San Francisco for her father’s job, things go sour. She suddenly lashes out at her parents, gets upset at her new school, and becomes super jealous of her friends back home. Her parents think it’s just the move, the viewer knows that it’s because both Joy and Sadness got separated from Riley’s brain’s “headquarters,” which is a HUGE problem, because Joy is who informs almost all of Riley’s decisions.
I don’t want to give any significant spoilers, but the reason they got separated was because Joy refused to admit that any of Riley’s “core memories” could be sad. According to the not-quite-science of the film, the core memories are the few that are held in the center of your brain that form different aspects of your personality. Joy isn’t unlike Poehler’s Leslie Knope in her endless optimism and stick-to-it-ive-ness; it’s admired by her more cynical and wary peers, but she refuses to admit that there is a place for sadness too. Joy has the biggest character arc in the film: She must realize that she can’t always be in control.
NPR’s Linda Holmes made an astute observation in her review: “There is no villain in Pixar’s new film Inside Out… Even in [Riley’s brain], where her Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust stand and argue and sometimes fumble at the controls, there is no villain.” Anger and Disgust and Fear and even Sadness belong in this little girl’s mind.
I think that, even at the age of 6 or 7, I would have absorbed and appreciated this message. Not all kids are happy; some are sad and quieter and more pensive naturally, and some are more angry. Some are affected by mental illnesses or situations that spark them at a terribly young age. They deserve to know that their lack of Joy, so to speak, doesn’t make their mind the enemy.
“Meet Disgust” promo
It’s also great to hear so many awesome and funny ladies playing a role in Riley’s brain. Mindy Kaling gives Disgust a Kelly Kapoor-esque level of sass in her embarrassment for things big and small. Riley’s brain contains male voices, as well—Bill Hader as Fear is especially cool, since although it’s a man’s voice, fear isn’t considered a traditionally masculine emotion.
The occasional peeks we took inside Riley’s parents’ minds left a bit more to be desired; both were very based on mom-and-dad gender roles. It was cool, though, how much Riley’s love of hockey was encouraged by both of her parents and emphasized in the film. I wonder if more girls will become interested in ice hockey after watching it. (I hope so!)
At the beginning of the movie, right after they’ve moved, Riley’s mom thanks her for remaining the family’s “happy girl” through all of the stress. We know that things will get better once Joy returns, but Riley’s also 11 years old. She’s been blessed with a wonderful childhood, but it’s natural that her emotions will shift too. And we leave the movie knowing that there’s nothing wrong with Riley because of that.
I highly recommend this movie whether you have kids in your life or not. We could all always use more healthy discussion of our emotions in our lives, and no age is too early to start. (If you do see the movie with little ones, check out this great discussion guide provided by Girls Leadership to encourage positive and productive conversation!)
Images via Disney/Pixar