Saturday, November 7, 2015

Disney Movies- Inside Out: Feeeeeeeelings. Nothing more than feeeeelings....

Where do our emotions come from, anyway? Well, I suppose it depends on whom you ask. If you were to ask a biologist, they'd say something about the complex hormones racing through your body. A psychologist might suggest that your subconscious has something to do with it all. But if you were to ask the folks at Pixar, they'd tell you that your feelings come from tiny people that live in your head.

Meet Joy. Joy lives inside the head of Riley, an 11 year old girl from Minnesota. Riley is a pretty happy girl, all things considered. Joy largely takes credit for that. Since the day Riley was born, Joy has been doing everything in her power to keep Riley perky and positive. Yeah, the other emotions help sometimes. Anger takes over when Riley doesn't get her way. Fear keeps Riley safe. Disgust is responsible for Riley's aversion to broccoli. But they never get to spend much time at the controls because Joy always pops up with a happy thought. And then, there's Sadness. She has a nasty habit of doing horrible things to Riley, like making her cry. Not that she does it on puprpose. It just sort of happens. Joy can't stand for that. So she delegates Sadness to something reading the manuals for memory storage protocol.

Ah, yes. Riley's memories. Memorieeeeeeees light the corners of my mind. Misty water-colored memorieeeeees... Oh. Erm. Sorry. Where was I? Oh. Right. Riley's memories. Well, whenever something memorable happens in Riley's life, it takes the form of a memory- a brightly colored ball that get stored away in Riley's mind. The color of the ball relates to the emotion connected with it. And the majority of them are "Joy yellow". When a particularly important memory is made, it becomes a core memory, stored in the vaults of Headquarters. These core memories are responsible for the Personality Islands that make Riley, well, Riley. Hockey Island, Goofball Island, Friendship Island, Honesty Island, and Family Island are all key parts of who Riley is. And nothing can ever change that.

Or not. How about moving 2,000 miles away to San Francisco? Riley's dad has taken a new job there.  But it's cool. Joy can deal with it. She skillfully navigates Riley through making the most of her dingy new house, her tiny new bedroom, the fact that their moving van got lost, and the local pizza place selling only broccoli pizza (yech!) with a positive attitude. But something's wrong. Sadness just can't seem to keep her hands to herself. Quite by accident, she touches one of Riley's newly formed core memories of her first day at her new school. The ball turns blue. And try as she might, Joy can't seem to change it. But it's not just new memories. Riley's old core memories seem to be succumbing to Sadness's touch, too. In her effort to preserve Riley's happiness, Joy accidentally gets herself, Sadness, and all of Riley's core memories sucked up a pipeline and deposited in the long term storage center of Riley's brain, far away from Headquarters. Without Joy there to man the controls, will Riley ever be happy again?

OK, can I just say... I LOVE this movie. I about near cried like 3 times. Once again, Pixar presents an absurd-sounding premise for a film (a gourmet chef rat, a fish lost in the ocean, no less than three separate movies about toys, and now, feelings), and not only make it work, they make it excellent. There is so much going on that's right with this movie that I hardly know where to begin. I'm sure psych majors would have a veritable field day with it.

Joy's quest to make Riley perpetually happy is, on the surface, a noble one. After all, it falls perfectly in line with the Disney philosophy. "Happiest place on earth." "Dreams come true." "Happily ever after." But for Riley herself, or anyone for that matter, that approach is unhealthy. Yes, it's good to look on the bright side of things. But it's also important to realize that God created us as fully human, with a wide range of emotions. And all of them need to be dealt with. Including sadness. But we'll come back to that.

While Joy and Sadness are trying to navigate their way back to Headquarters, Disgust, Anger, and Fear are trying to hold down the fort. And they're failing miserably. Riley's inability to work through her emotions has begun to render her unable to feel anything at all. Apathy takes over. And apathy is a dangerous, dangerous thing. Without her core memories, Riley's islands of personality begin to collapse. So Anger decides to give Riley an idea. Since all her happy core memories were made in Minnesota, maybe it's time for Riley to go back there. But since mom and dad likely wouldn't be willing to pack up and move back again, Riley's going back alone. She steals her mother's credit card and buys a one way bus ticket home. It's certainly a situation that warrants a parent/child discussion if you're watching this movie with your little ones.

When Joy is forced to make a choice between Riley's happiness and abandoning Sadness, she chooses unwisely. That choice causes Sadness to spiral into all out depression and leaves Joy stranded in the memory dump, soon to be erased forever. Stuck in there with her is Bing Bong, Riley's childhood imaginary friend.

Since Riley has grown beyond the need for such things, Bing Bong is something of a hobo, wandering around the recesses of Riley's mind. He occasionally visits her memories, probably to relive all the fun times they had. In some ways, he was kind of like Joy on steroids. All he ever wanted was to make Riley happy. To "take her to the moon". And while his saccharine Prozac-like happiness is almost grating, it's a reminder of what people who force themselves into a state of denial can be like. They're exuberantly joyful to the point that even they no longer believe it. But beneath his cotton candy exterior (and yes, I mean that literally), Bing Bong has a good heart. And when he realizes that the only way for Joy to save Riley is to sacrifice himself, he cheerfully accepts his fate. As long as Riley is happy, that's all that matters. It's one of the scenes that pushed me to tears.

Ah, Bing Bong. We hardly knew ye.
Down in the dumps (quite literally), Joy revisits one of Riley's core memories: her being cheered by her parents and hockey team. It's perhaps one of her most cherished memories. But as Joy rewinds the memory back even further, the ball changes from gold to blue. Seems Riley's team lost that game. It was only after the defeat that her parents and team rallied to cheer her up. And so Joy learns, often times the memories we hold most dear have a twinge of sadness to them. Indeed, one cannot truly appreciate joy unless one has also experienced pain. And as we mature, we recognize that emotions aren't quite so solitary. Many of our life experiences are filled with multiple emotions at once.

From a personal standpoint, I can tell you this is true. The day I became a mother was one of great joy. But it was also tainted with fear. The moment that child was placed in my arms, my whole world changed. And that can be a very frightening thing. The day my grandmother died was certainly one of sadness. But there were also hints of joy. I knew that she was no longer suffering and was in the arms of Jesus. Our lives are too complex to only experience one emotion all the time, or even one emotion at a time.

When Joy finally reunites with Sadness and manages to get them both back to Headquarters, you'd expect Joy to be the one to save the day. But you'd be wrong. Joy knows that this time, she needs to hang back. Sadness needs to take the controls. When she finally does, it wakes Riley up from her apathy. She begs the bus driver to stop and races home to her parents, who have been searching frantically for her. As they embrace their daughter, she confesses everything. She misses her home. Her friends. Her old life. And then, she breaks down. All the pain and sadness that Joy had been repressing comes flooding out as if from a broken dam. Mom and Dad confess that they, too, miss home. That this whole situation has been difficult on them all. And that feeling sad when we lose a part of our lives is ok. Better than ok. It's good. Losses, changes, disappointments can and should be grieved.

Wow. Wow, wow, wow. Disney is actually telling kids that being happy all the time isn't healthy. I never thought I would say those words. But there they are. In an era where we medicate ourselves en masse to avoid feeling sad, Inside Out is telling us that we should embrace sadness. That we should embrace all of our feelings. It's very validating in a way. As a matter of fact, it's downright biblical.

Most parents have heard the 60s folk song by The Byrds called "Turn, Turn, Turn". If you haven't, I've included a video.

But this isn't just some hippie protest song. It's scripture. It's pulled almost verbatim from Ecclesiastes 3:

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.
(Emphasis added)

God made us human. He made us in His image. And as God has a full range of emotions, so do we. They make us a complete person, and we need to experience all of them in moderation.

After Riley's breakdown and talk with her parents, a new core memory is formed. And this little ball is multicolored. A little sadness. A little joy. Her emotions are maturing. And so is she. Eventually, she adjusts to the move, finds her joy again, even joins the local hockey team. It seems everything has changed for the better. Everyone gets an equal chance at the controls. A new console gets installed at Headquarters that helps create these multifaceted feelings. And Joy? Well, she's living the life of Riley. (See what I did there?) Yes. It seems that once again, all is right with the world.

Oh. I wonder what happens when you press that shiny new button marked "puberty"...


  1. Loved you review. My kids looked at me when it was over and said "You're right." Through the movie I was mumbling, "But she needs sadness too." I thought the movie was well done and I will probably be purchasing it for my little ones for Christmas.

    1. Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it! I'll probably get it when we get some spare cash, maybe for Josh's birthday next year. ^_^