Pixar has a lovely talent for taking simple ideas and turning them into well laid out systems. Much of the inner workings of Inside Out are a bit like Monsters Inc; a simple idea, be it monsters in the closet or your feelings, are fleshed out, given goals and personalities. We see the system and how it works, affecting both the inside and outside of a young girl. Then something happens to shake it up, shut it down and only our heroes on the inside can not only fix it, but make it evolve.
Riley (voice of Kaitlyn Dias) is a normal eleven year old girl. She has a mom, a dad, friends, loves hockey and can be a total goofball. Her family is moving from Minnesota to San Francisco and the sudden change is causing an emotional stir.
Inside Riley are her emotions, like we have inside all of us. Joy (Amy Poehler) is the leader and is proud that most of Riley’s memories are happy ones. Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) are alongside Joy within Riley. Sadness (Phyllis Smith) seems to linger meekly in the control room, and scolded when she starts interfering.
When the first day at a new school starts going badly, thanks to Sadness, an accident sends Joy, Sadness and all of Riley’s core memories (that power her personality) out of the control room. With only Anger, Disgust and Fear guiding Riley, she begins to spiral downhill and make bad choices. Joy and Sadness must make a long and dangerous journey back to the control room, and quickly for Riley’s sake.
There are so many complex, fascinating and fun things happening inside Riley’s head, I don’t have time to discuss even half of them. There are islands of personality, a sprawling labyrinth of long term memories, a pit where old memories are forgotten forever and a literal Train of Thought. Imagination Land seems to be under continual construction, demolishing Princess Dream world to make room for things like the imaginary boyfriend generator. One of my favorite parts of Riley’s mind is where her dreams are made. It looks like a Hollywood studio, complete with stars like Rainbow Unicorn.
My favorite character is Riley’s old imaginary friend, Bing Bong (Richard Kind), who wanders around in her long term memory like a shabby hobo. Riley doesn’t think of him much anymore, but he helps Joy and Sadness on their journey, since he knows his way around pretty well. He quickly steals our hearts and helps save the day in a tragically heroic way.
Lately, I’ve been watching this movie a lot with my toddler son. He requests it frequently, “Bing Bong, Bing Bong, hockey!” While many of the larger ideas in this movie are probably lost on a young child, it can be very entertaining for them. There’s nothing, or very little that can scare young ones. The emotions, Bing Bong and everything moving through Riley’s head can bring so much delight. My son especially likes the Train of Thought and when Fear is stuck against the window. And I’m proud that he enjoys a film currently Oscar nominated for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Screenplay.
Too often in our society, we teach kids to hide their feelings and not be true to themselves. Inside Out can be a great tool to help kids better understand their emotions. We need all of them to function and think straight. Shutting any one of them out can unhinge us and make us do terrible things. Kids need to be reminded that it’s okay to be sad and as we mature we experience a more complex blend of emotions. Growing up is hard and can be scary. It’s supposed to be and it will be okay.
“Who’s your friend that likes to play?”