As someone who does not watch too many animated movies, I did not know what to expect from Inside Out. However, what I definitely did not anticipate, was that the word “genius” would come to mind. Another thing which I never would have imagined, would be how beautifully they explore and explain the depth and complexity of human emotions and our ability to process and react to them. And how much they simplify this feeling. Inside Out is a must watch for all pre-teens, but also for people of all ages.
As the five emotions (Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger) inside the headquarters of Riley’s mind function, memories and personalities keep forming, which make Riley who she is. With “Joy” and “Sadness” getting lost, Riley soon starts loosing her personality for she is no longer able to process either of those two emotions. This creates a ripple effect of problems. First, she stops being the goofy self she was back in Minnesota when everything was good in her life. Next, she lets jealousy ruin her friendship and her love for hockey dies soon after. Ultimately we see she is only left with her family in her life to provide something even close to resembling a comfort, which too, is starting to come undone. She starts going numb and looks lifeless and depressed. Like there is no light left in her anymore.
The movie provides a few key learnings through its plot and elements. First is when as situations become more and more desperate for Riley, “Anger” puts the idea in motion that Riley should run away from her family and house in San Francisco and go back to Minnesota, her happy place. At the same time, we see “Joy” and “Sadness” trying to wake Riley up in an attempt to get back to the headquarter faster. As the two events are happening simultaneously, we find that it is due to “Sadness” and “Joy’s” effort to get Riley to wake up by showing her a scary memory, that Riley gets up feeling scared and tense and therefore so easily accepts “Anger’s” idea. To put simply, the idea that was set in motion by anger, was exacerbated by her other emotions and it was the situations, and not the idea itself, that made her accept this extreme idea. Riley is even willing to steal money from her mother’s purse to pay for the bus ticket to get back to Minnesota. That, out of anger, we make rash decisions, which have the capacity to change us from our very core and create strangers out of ourselves.
Second comes as when “Joy” and “Sadness” continue struggling to find their way back to the headquarters, “Joy” comes across a memory, which brings her to realise that it was actually “Sadness”, the very being she disregarded every so often, that pushed for the people around her to gather around and encourage her. “Sadness” motivated Riley to become better. That is was because of “Sadness”, that Riley found “Joy”. The movie even goes on to show us a moment when “Joy” is about to fall down to the bottom of the pit, when “Sadness” keeps her from succumbing to the grey depths. It drives home the message that you can most value something good in life, only once you realise what things are like when you lose them.
Third comes when “Joy” and “Sadness” catapult themselves towards the Headquarters and are clinging by the windows to be able to come in. In that moment, “Disgust” uses “Anger” to melt the glass down to get the two back inside the headquarters. What this represents here, is that when you are angry, you cannot think straight and you aren’t able to help anyone, let alone yourself. Therefore, we should never let our rash decisions taken out of anger run our life. That is not beneficial to anyone, including and especially ourselves.
Finally, our fourth learning from the film comes after their long journey (metaphor for self-introspection), when “Joy” and “Sadness” are able to get their hands on the panel, during the crucial moment when Riley has already boarded the bus back to Minnesota, to everyone’s shock, that “Joy” asks “Sadness” to run the reactions. “Sadness”, is the only one who is able to pull the idea light bulb out and she is successful in getting Riley off the bus. Together, “Sadness” and “Joy” play back all the core memories of Riley’s (which up till this moment, had only been happy memories), causing some of them to become a mixed emotion of the two as Riley feels the extent of her actions and runs up to her parents. Riley is finally feeling pain. It shows she is not numb anymore. She is alive. Her pain represents her nostalgia with the core memories replaying in her head. Her pain represents her guilt, for choosing to run away from her family without thinking of the hurt it would bring all three of them. And finally, her pain representing her shame in making such a rash decision and being so selfish and self-centred. She finally resigns to the totality of her emotions, rather than letting one over power the other. She learns to open up to her parents rather than internalising her emotions and thoughts. They understand, her parents. They share her pain and her wishes too. When the scene shows us Riley exhaling after she finally lets go of her guilt and shame, we see a metaphorical burden lift off her shoulders.
Riley is finally both happy and sad. At the same time. It’s a new feeling, but it’s not as bad as everyone imagined it to be. In fact, it’s better. Than just feeling one of them, I mean. Emotions aren’t mutually exclusive. As Riley finally accepts this, she starts getting her old personality back. But more than that, she is also able to open up a whole new world for herself, where things are not just either-or, but they’re mixed. They’re more real. New islands come up as her personality expands. She is able to accept the happy with the sad. The nostalgia with the pain. She is bigger now. And smarter. And so is the audience.