Pixar, already the leading name in the field, has really stretched the boundaries of the animated genre with the 2015 release Inside Out. Pete Docter (Director of Monsters Inc, Up and Toy Story) and Ronnie Del Carmen (storyboard artist for Up and Ratatouille) come together to create this bold meeting of psychological science and pop culture. Moving away from loveable monsters, cooking rodents and robots who find love, this film focuses instead on animating the emotions themselves.
This truly unprecedented film sees eleven-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) uprooted from her home and friends in Minnesota to start afresh with her parents in a new city. The action in the dim and grey reality of San Francisco, however, is secondary to the parallel adventures of Riley’s emotions inside her head. The vibrant landscape of the young girls mind is home to the effervescent Joy (Amy Poehler), the exasperating Sadness (Phyllis Smith) and their colleagues Anger, Fear and Disgust.
These personified emotions grapple (sometimes physically) for the control panel in Riley’s ‘Head’ Quarters. Comedic and charmingly stereotypical, the emotions rival the minions themselves for their endearing and novel characterisation, and are a lot more bearable for adult viewers. Though unknown to Riley, these core emotions are ruling her thoughts, colouring her memories and each trying their best to help her deal with the move.
More unusual than the inside out perspective promised by the title, however, is the film’s absence of a villain. The plot is kindled by an accident at Head Quarters, resulting in Joy and Sadness roaming the reaches of Riley’s mind and leaving the other emotions in charge. The problems in Inside Out are therefore rooted, not in the meddling’s of a classic villain, but in an imbalance of emotions. Riley’s physical act of running away is overshadowed by the audience’s genuine fear when watching the collapse of her “Personality Islands” or considering the consequences of Joy being lost forever in the “Memory Dump”.
True to it’s Pixar origin, the film maintains a light hearted tone. The child’s play of “Imagination Land”, complete with an imaginary friend “Bing-Bong” flying to the moon, is melded seamlessly with the more humorous and adult elements of the film. The relentless appearances of the jingle from a gum advert, for example, and the decision made by the “Forgetters” that, from years of piano lessons they should “Save ‘Chopsticks’ and ‘Heart and Soul,’ and forget the rest” provide a comic relief to the sacrifice of the imaginary friend and distressing collapse of Riley’s mind. Pulling at the heartstrings in traditional Pixar fashion, Inside Out is undeniably appealing to all generations; a real family classic.
Not only able to make you laugh and cry, however, the film promises to change the way people think about emotions and mental health for the better. Although simplified to just five emotions and altered for the sake of plot, the model of the human brain presented is founded on the studies of psychological researchers Dacher Keltner and Paul Ekman. The presentation of personality “islands” being based on “core memories”, the storage of long term memory, and the notion of present emotions being able to colour memory, are all representative of leading theories on the human mind.
Unlike the existing representations of emotions as negative, this stunning CGI renders each emotion in a positive light. Though at the initial introductions Joy sees the value of all of the emotions except Sadness, she later comes to realise her value for Riley’s wellbeing. The story cumulates in the realisation that it is okay to be sad, as sadness allows you to move on or draw people in to help. This progressive normalisation of emotion and rejection of western culture’s occupation with happiness is a cultural breakthrough. It is when Joy constricts a natural emotion to the “circle of Sadness” that everything begins to fall apart. Docter and his team therefore underline the importance of acknowledging and accepting all of your emotions.
The domino effect caused by denying your emotions is a lesson taught by characters you truly root for, in a story littered with jokes that you’d be proud to call your own. Go and see this film.