Why Inside Out Is the Smartest Movie Pixar Ever Made (So Far): A Night At The Movies

I was a fan of Pixar ever since I was a kid. Toy Story was the first movie my brother ever saw and we can both say with pride that we saw all three Toy Story movies in theatres. One thing I love about most of the Pixar movies is that they have a lot of heart. They have a way of making you cry over things like toys and robots and clownfish. Inside Out has officially become my favorite Pixar movie so far because on top of having a lot of heart, it’s also the smartest movie that the studio ever made.

There are many familiar themes in this movie that are seen in other Pixar films: growing up, the importance of family, and how two seemingly opposing forces actually need to work together. Not to mention that almost every other movie reviewer has brought up the fact that the premise of personified emotions was first done in a show called Herman’s Head, but given that I was probably too young to watch it at the time, I am just gonna quote Ecclesiastes and remind the whiners: “There is nothing new under the sun.” What makes Inside Out unique isn’t the premise or even the themes, but the way that it told the story.

SPOILERS ENSUE FROM THIS POINT ON. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Right out of the gate, I love the animation and detail the movie puts into the birth of Riley. She actually looks like a real newborn baby. The love that Joy (played by Amy Pohler) has for Riley is genuine and real and I love how the movie portrays the creation of memories: as little glass balls with the memory of the moment inside of them playing like video clips. It makes the appearance of Sadness (played by Phyllis Smith) a few seconds later all the more hilarious.

The first ten minutes of the movie are spent introducing the other characters as well as showing Riley growing up from infancy through her early childhood. It also establishes how Riley’s mind develops as she grows up: her memories are sent to headquarters and then sent to storage in long term memory at the end of each day. Core memories stay in headquarters and power different islands that reflect different aspects of Riley’s personality: Goofball Island represents her sense of humor, Hockey Island treasures the tomboy’s love for the sport, Friendship Island centers on Riley’s relationships with her friends, Honesty Island could be argued as representing Riley’s moral center, and Family Island is centered on Riley’s relationship with her family.

Joy works together with Anger, Fear, and Disgust to make sure that Riley is happy and safe. Anger (played by Lewis Black) makes sure things are fair for Riley. Disgust (played by Mindy Kaling) keeps Riley from being poisoned, physically and socially, and Fear (played by Bill Hader) protects Riley and analyzes risks. However, nobody is really sure what Sadness does.

When Joy asks “Riley’s 11 now. What’s the worst that could happen?” The movie abruptly shifts into Riley moving from Minnesota to San Francisco after her father gets transferred there by his job. At first, Joy makes sure that Riley makes the best of the bad situation, made all the more urgent when Riley’s mother tells Riley that they need to put on a good face for her father’s sake. However, at Riley’s first day of school, Sadness turns a happy memory into a sad one, causing Riley to cry in front of her class as she introduces herself. The struggle between Joy and Sadness causes the other core memories to be knocked out of the central hub and shuts down the islands of personality. Before Joy can return the core memories, she and Sadness get sucked with the core memories into the maze of long-term memories.

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This is where the movie starts getting interesting because the way that Anger, Disgust, and Fear try to take control of Riley reminds me a lot of what I learned from my “Stress and Coping Psychology” class in college. In this case, Riley is unable to cope in a healthy manner due to the unfamiliarity of San Francisco. Without the ability to put on a good face or feeling sad because she misses home, she starts acting out, which is shown in the conversation she has with her parents.

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It was hilarious to see the parents’ own emotions playing off of each other, with Riley’s mother being concerned and Riley’s dad giving a well-intentioned, but half-hearted effort. His emotions treat Riley’s talking back as the equivalent of Defcon Two and the mother’s emotions are understandably disappointed, leading to the scene shown in the trailers with a memory of the Brazilian helicopter pilot. (The UK trailer here shows a soccer game as opposed to a hockey game in the American version)

(TBH, I rolled my eyes at the whole Brazilian helicopter pilot joke because it’s about one step above the other romance novel cliche of a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist.)

 

Sadness, having read the mind manuals, helps Joy navigate around the maze of long term memory. Along the way,  they come across memory workers who dispose memories into the memory dump, a chasm between Headquarters and the land of long-term memory. They also bring a memory of a gum commercial jingle to headquarters but are completely unhelpful to Joy and Sadness. So now you know why you can’t get certain songs out of your head.

Joy and Sadness also come across Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong, who leads them through a “shortcut” into Riley’s abstract thinking on the way of getting to Riley’s train of thought. (A literal train.) The scene inside the chamber of abstract thought is amazing animation in and of itself as well as a very informative way of showing how abstract thought works. (My mom was convinced that the writer or director studied psychology. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one of the writers did.) They miss the train and go through Imagination Land, which is slowly being destroyed. Bing Bong breaks down and cries. Joy tries cheering up Bing Bong, but it actually takes Sadness to get him back into happy mode again. Sadness does so by empathizing with Bing Bong and recalling the times he and Riley shared together.

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In the outside world, Riley’s inability to cope with the move leads her to giving up at her hockey tryouts. At this point, she’s lost her goofball sense of humor and her loss of interest in hockey leads to the loss of hockey island. Friendship Island also takes a nosedive when Riley chooses not to talk to one of her old friends in Minnesota out of anger and jealousy that her old friend has seemingly moved on, making friends with the other players of the hockey team who are on their way to success without her.

As Riley sleeps, Joy, Sadness, and Bing Bong explore Dream Productions and try to wake Riley up in the hopes of activating the Train of Thought. At first, Joy thinks of making Riley dream of dogs, but Sadness’s idea of scaring Riley starts working better. The two of them then go on to rescue Bing Bong from the Subconscious and wake up an old nightmare in the form of a clown in order to wake Riley up.

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The nightmare from the subconscious also shakes up the other three emotions who are trying to figure out what to do. Anger decides to give Riley the idea of running away to Minnesota, which involves Riley stealing her mother’s credit card. Fear is unsurprisingly the voice of reason, trying to dissuade Anger from following through on the idea. The fact that Anger drives Riley into running away from home is also something I learned from my psych class: Anger is one of the symptoms of unhealthy coping.

Honesty Island crumbles as Riley goes through with stealing her mom’s credit card and buying a bus ticket to Minnesota. Inside Riley’s mind, Joy spots a recall tube and decides to go alone with the core memories only to end up with Bing Bong in the Memory Dump. It’s there that Joy finally breaks down and cries, only wanting Riley to be happy. She comes across a memory of Riley with her parents and friends after a hockey game and realizes that the team’s loss led to Riley being comforted by her family and friends. Riley’s sadness eventually led to other people making her happy, which meant that Sadness had a purpose: getting Riley to realize when she needs other people’s help. Joy and Bing Bong use Bing Bong’s rocket wagon to escape from the Memory Dump, but the first two attempts fail. Bing Bong realizes that he’s holding Joy back and chooses to get off of the rocket wagon mid-jump to let Joy make it back to the long term memory maze. This comes at the cost of Bing Bong becoming forgotten forever. And no, he does not come back in the end. Kudos to you, Pixar. You grew up majorly with that decision.

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Joy goes looking for Sadness only to find that Sadness is trying to stay away from Headquarters, flying off on a cloud and feeling unnecessary. Joy makes copies of Riley’s imaginary boyfriend to form a large ladder to get her to Sadness, who was floating over the Memory Dump.

In Headquarters, Riley’s mind starts shutting down as she gets on the bus to Minnesota. This is my one main issue: how come nobody outside tries to stop Riley? I mean, I get Rule of Drama, but you’d think there would be a cop or some guy that asks for ID before Riley buys the ticket.  Then again, millions of children go missing every day. I just wish there would’ve been some kind of outside force to try and stop Riley outside of her mother calling. The console turning gray and not being able to work is a great representation of how depression develops. As many people have said, depression isn’t sadness. It’s a complete emotional shutdown.

Thankfully, Joy and Sadness smack into the Headquarters window just in time. Once the two of them get inside, Sadness takes control of the console and removes the idea of running away from Riley’s head. Once Riley makes it back home, Joy finally gives Sadness the core memories she held onto throughout the movie. The happy memories turn to sad ones as Riley breaks down and cries, telling her parents how much she misses home and everything she left behind. When Riley’s parents comfort her, a new core memory is formed: one mixed with joy and sadness. This core memory forms a new Family Island.

What’s so brilliant about the ending is that all the new core memories are created from mixed emotions. It’s a sign of Riley developing more complex feelings as she grows up. Headquarters installs a new console that all five emotions can control (including a puberty button). We get a glimpse into the heads of Riley’s parents as they cheer on their daughter in her first hockey game, complete with embarrassingly adorable face paint. The father’s emotions and the mother’s emotions are working well together with a throwaway joke about the helicopter pilot memory being tossed aside, but kept by the mother’s fear “just in case.” Then Riley bumps into a boy on her way to the rink. The glimpse into the boy’s mind as it goes on red alert at the sight of a girl with all his emotions running around like crazy had the entire theater laughing.

The movie ends with Riley playing hockey with her new team and Joy being happy that Riley’s adjusted to her new life, not worrying about the fact that Riley is 12 now. (Hello, sequel bait!)

The brilliance of the movie lies in its core moral: there is a time to be happy and a time to be sad. Joy spent the majority of the movie thinking that she had to keep Riley happy in order for things to be okay, but Sadness also felt needed for the situation and in this case, Sadness was right. Sadness was the one to help Bing Bong feel better, because he needed sadness to be validated first in order to start coping. You can’t just say that “everything will be okay” because at the moment, the person needs to be understood first. In a similar manner, Riley needed to acknowledge her sadness in order to cope. It’s telling that during Riley’s emotional breakdown, her imagination gets destroyed and Bing Bong chooses to remain forgotten. I feel like Riley’s imagination will still be there (the imaginary boyfriend being evidence of that), but it’ll develop into something new, just like the new islands that formed a year after the move. Inside Out also shows the importance of family. Through being comforted by her parents, a new Family Island was created.

Given that I suffered from depression in middle school and anxiety throughout college, I feel like this movie was brilliant in portraying what I went through growing up. I’m also convinced that my mind has a ship yard inside of it. (If you know what shipping is, you know what I’m talking about.) I hope that there will be a sequel to this one because Riley will be developing new emotions as she grows up. For now, I can’t wait for this movie to come out on DVD because I want to watch it again.

The last thing I’ll say about this movie is that the end credits are hilarious. You get to look into various minds, like the teacher, the bus driver, the pizza girl, the cool chick, etc. It shows that people are driven by various emotions.

One other thing: The Pixar Short Lava was a heartstring-tugger, too. You’re gonna be crying even before the real movie starts.

Images are copyright to Pixar Studios and are used for editorial purposes only.

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