Let me just say, watching this movie just after the holiday season was perhaps not the best idea for my emotional fortitude. Inside Out (2015) is the story of Riley, a pre-teen girl and the emotions in her head. After her happy life is uprooted by a move from her Minnesota childhood home to the supremely different San Francisco, Riley has difficulty adjusting to her new surroundings and recapturing the happiness she once felt. Behind the scenes in her head, we see Fear, Anger, and Disgust work overtime to supply Riley’s emotions while Joy has been booted out and Sadness has inexplicably taken over. This movie poses the essential question: What happens when we no longer feel joy?
I was impressed that a movie for children could so brilliantly express the emotional growth we go through on our way to adulthood. The way Riley acts out – quitting hockey, lashing out at her parents’ basic questions, running away – can be easily dismissed as adolescent rebellion, yet the movie wisely portrays this as the actions of someone who no longer feels joy. Riley’s confusion at her new emotional state is just as important as her parents’ surprise at their daughter’s brusque attitude. I’m not a parent, so I can’t comment on what it’s like to experience this from the outside, but I so vividly remember these feelings from the inside.
Even more poignant is that at the story’s conclusion, Joy does not magically return and make everything better. Riley’s memories are different now. Those that were once happy – her Minnesota home, moments with her parents – are now tinged with sadness. New memories can be touched by both Joy and Fear. It’s not a return to the simple, straightforwardness she once felt, but a complicated mess of feelings that require thought and introspection. Really, isn’t this what growing up is all about?
For me, the holiday season brings about a mix of feelings that is part exasperation, part sadness, part nostalgia, and a whole lot of stress. It is the epitome of memories that were once happy and are now anything but. I happened to watch Inside Out at a particularly vulnerable time, but that made me appreciate it all the more. Bravo to Pixar for putting out a story with such intelligence and maturity.