Review: Inside Out

Inside Out, Movie: 2015


The central premise of Inside Out is trite – inside our brains are tiny homunculi who control our mind, or specifically in the case of Inside Out, our emotions, memory and personality. Throw in a tale about a girl moving to a new town and trying to fit in and the potential awfulness of this movie is clear.

…but this is Pixar and putting Cars aside, Pixar doesn’t do awful. Instead the movie uses a simple metaphor to  portray emotion, memory and personality in a complex and sometimes subtle way. Also this movie probably will make you cry. Not me of course, I’m far to stoical to be caught up by the obvious sentimental and nostalgia fueled tricks of Pixar and I it was simply that I’d had a long day and my eyes were tired from watching the screen that they started watering uncontrollably near the end – and hugging ones family is a perfectly reasonable thing to do and not in anyway connected to watching this movie. [sniff]

The specific emotions are those of an eleven year old girl called Riley, who has recently moved home from Minnesota to San Fransisco. In the external world Riley finds the move and the tension in her family emotionally confronting. She becomes withdrawn and even hostile to her parents and eventually plans to run away.

Inside her head this situation is played out as an adventure story in which her chief emotion (Joy played by Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) find themselves accidentally exiled from the headquarters of Riley’s mind. The simple message of the film is that sadness whom Joy keeps attempting to marginalize) is not a negative emotion but an important part of Riley’s personality. In particular  Sadness is shown to be more empathetic than Joy and when we are given brief views into Riley’s parent’s head it is notable that they show the leader of her mother’s emotional HQ to be a variant of Sadness but one which is in control and considered.

The notion of sadness as empathy is not underscored but rather a simpler take-home message that sadness is how people around Riley can know when she needs help. So the empathy message is flipped around to the idea that sadness in ourselves (or the expression of it) is why it is important as an emotion.

Is this sound psychological guidance? I don’t know but it is a sophisticated one for a mainstream film and even more so for a children’s film.

Throw in some sight gags about abstract reasoning, an explanation of why ear-worm tunes keep repeating on us and a candy-floss elephant and really this is a brilliant Pixar movie. Yes it has the same sentimental obsessions about the passage of childhood and growing up and nostalgia that worked so well in each of the Toy Story movies and Up but it works.

Brilliant. Not that it touched me at all – I’m just assuming that is how people will feel about it…

2 responses to “Review: Inside Out”

  1. Whereas I was a little disappointed. Not because it’s a bad film – Pixar can’t make a bad film, even when they try (Cars 2, cough) – but because it was too much of a retread of their earlier stuff. It feels to me as though they are badly in need of someone with radical new ideas to shake them out of their complacency – they need a new John Lasseter maybe? 🙂
    I have no doubt that it will be used as a set-text in Psych101 courses at universities in the not-too-distant future, because it articulates a popular theory of mind in a very accessible fashion. (I happen to think that it also makes a good case for the existence of the soul as distinct from the mind, but that’s just me.)
    But I just didn’t click with the girl at all, so that half of the story didn’t work at all for me – whereas I found myself invested in the plight of Nemo and even Russell in Up.
    Having said that, the credits gag is perhaps the finest Pixar have ever done. I’m just not sure they had quite earned it.


    • There is a great essay to be written by somebody on mind-soul dualism in Pixar movies 🙂
      I agree that it was tread over familiar ground – indeed it was almost distilling regular themes in Pixar movies and serving them up straight without the usual surrounds.


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