Minor complaint: when I first saw Inside Out (2015), there was a short film before it about a volcano. It was a lesson about growing old, finding new purpose, and renewal. It was cute, too, because there was another island with which it was in love. Yet, when I re-watched the same film recently, the short did not appear. I guess that was something attached only to the theatrical release? Please comment below if you remember what I am talking about, and if you have seen it elsewhere, maybe on Disney +? I cannot say whether or not I will view it if it can be found. I was just slightly disappointed when my recent viewing of Inside Out did not also include it.
Inside Out starts right at the beginning, literally. Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) is born, and the event is told from the perspective of what is going on in her brain. What is going on is her emotional development, and the first one she feels is Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler). Others come along as well in her early years, like Anger (voiced by Lewis Black), Fear (voiced by Bill Hader), Disgust (voiced by Mindy Kaling), and Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith). Joy seems to be the one to take the most control of the sort of command center where they reside, pushing the button most often to make Riley feel Joy’s namesake emotion. At first, it is as simple as pushing a button. If any of the emotions press it, that is what Riley feels. As one might expect, things get trickier as Riley ages. Of note are the memories that she begins to store up, and the most important ones, the core memories, are all tied to Joy. They are intrinsic to who Riley is, and Joy jealously guards them. These recollections roll into the command center as Riley produces them, shaded with the emotion to which they are attached. The core memories stay there, but the rest are put into a sort of memory bank at the end of the day when Riley falls asleep. Things are operating like clockwork, and several aspects of Riley’s personality begin to emerge that are also tied to Joy. And then the family moves to San Francisco. Though Riley is initially excited about their new surroundings, there are some difficulties to overcome that disrupt the normal smoothness of the command center’s workings. This is when Sadness begins to inadvertently assert herself, and it comes out in the middle of Riley introducing herself to her new class. Sadness touches one of the core memories, and it starts being tinged with her trademark blue. Panicked, Joy begins fumbling with the core along with Sadness, and together they are sucked into the tube that normally sends the day’s activities down to the banks. Without Joy running the show, or Sadness being there, Fear, Anger, and Disgust are left at the controls, and they only serve to alienate Riley from all she loves. Joy and Sadness come to in the banks, and at first they think they can get back to the command center by balancing on the long, then rails that connect it to the personality islands. However, the trauma that Riley is currently going through begins severing the lines to her personality. Feeling like there is nothing else to do, Joy and Sadness wander through the memory banks trying to find a way back. Along the way, they encounter Bing Bong (voiced by Richard Kind), Riley’s apparently barely remembered imaginary friend. He is part elephant, part cotton candy, and a few other fantastic elements, but he seems to know his way around Riley’s brain. He agrees to help get Joy and Sadness back to the command center in exchange for Joy’s promise to make sure Riley remembers him. His plan is for them to hop the train of thought that mostly brings up stored memories for the command center’s use. Yet, when Riley falls asleep the train is stopped, and their plan to wake her up backfires and derails the train. On top of this, Bing Bong and Joy end up falling into the great chasm of forgetfulness (I forget its official name) where unused memories are disposed of and eventually disappear. There is no coming back from this pit, either. In the meantime, Riley has become fed up with her new surroundings, and when Anger gives her the idea to run away, she steals her parents’ credit card and purchases a ticket back to her former home in Minnesota. Luckily, Joy and Sadness arrive back at the command center just in time. Joy has a newfound appreciation for Sadness, and lets Sadness touch one of the core memories of Riley’s parents. This is what brings Riley to her senses, and she goes home to a tearful reunion with her worried parents. With all the emotions now restored to their rightful place, it is now time for Riley to enter a new emotional stage, but that is a subject for another movie.
So, how did Joy learn the importance of Sadness in Inside Out? It is a strange phrase to type out because who would think there would be any gravitas to such a character, but she gets it from Bing Bong. Joy looked at Bing Bong as a celebrity when they first met because of all the happiness he once brought Riley. His willingness to help cemented her feelings, thus it is natural that she promised him that he would be remembered. As they struggle to find a way out of the massive hole, they chance upon the magical rocket wagon with which Riley and Bing Bong used to play. Unfortunately, their attempts to use it to affect their escape all end in failure, and it becomes evident to Bing Bong that the reason is their combined weight. The obvious metaphor here is the weight our memories and emotions carry, and sometimes that can hold us back from moving ahead. Thus, Bing Bong encourages Joy to give it one last try, and in doing so he jumps off as it takes flight allowing her to make it out. When she realizes what has happened, she turns back to see Bing Bong waving goodbye as he fades away into nothing. This is how Joy comes to feel Sadness. When we are younger, what we feel is less complicated. The emotions that go with our memories are usually all one or another. From then on, things become more complicated, but the lesson here is that complicated is good.
Still, emotions are tricky, and from a Faith perspective I am not sure how I feel about how Inside Out handles them. A mental health professional who reads this and has seen the movie might feel otherwise, and that is fine. Nonetheless, I believe that God made us masters of our own minds. In the film, Riley seems to be subject to the whims of the anthropomorphicized emotions. And it is true that when we are less mature people, we are more ruled by our emotions than when we are older. 1 Corinthians 13:11 says, “When I was child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.” Such sentiments seemingly conflict with the notion stated elsewhere in the Bible that we should approach the Kingdom as children. I would say that there is a difference in being child-like and acting like an actual child. Take anger, for example. If Jesus had behaved like a child, in His anger He probably would not have gone through with His Passion, Death, and Rising. But as a man with a knowledge of a higher purpose, He allowed it to happen for our benefit. Being child-like, though, is letting your joy shine through as often as possible, being filled with the joy that comes with a relationship with God. That does not mean all the emotions are going to go away, but neither can they be allowed to rule you. Then again, the film is about development, so I suppose it is okay.
Do not get me wrong, I like Inside Out just fine. It is cute, and clever in the way it goes about handling not only Riley, but other people and even animals in how their emotions control them. With the insights into Mom’s (voiced by Diane Lane) and Dad’s (voiced by Kyle MacLachlan) minds, you get to see how Disney envisions these emotions developing over time. I may not agree with the model, but it still makes for a perfectly acceptable family film.