There is a wonderful line in To Kill a Mockingbird. After Atticus and Jem return from a visit to the Robinson home, where Atticus is called an ugly name, Atticus looks at his son, Jem and says, “There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ’em all away from you. That’s never possible.”
Inside Out, the new animated film from Pixar, is a movie about the struggle to keep out the things many think ugly from the life of a child.
The child in question is Riley (Kaitlyn Dias). At the beginning of the movie we see Riley as a baby. But the story is not told from Riley’s point of view. It is told from the point of view of a place called Headquarters.
Headquarters is the domain where Riley’s emotions live. The first emotion to appear is Joy (Amy Poehler). She is the alpha emotion, the one that tries to dominate. Then comes Sadness (Phyllis Smith). Soon after there is Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader) and Anger (Lewis Black).
Joy continually works to keep herself as the dominant emotion. She passive aggressively keeps the other emotions in line. All is well until the move.
Riley’s parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) move Riley from Minnesota to California. This places Riley on a roller coaster of emotions. It does not help that she is in middle school, which are themselves roller-coaster years.
Instead of being able to control what is happening, Joy finds herself more challenged than ever. It seems that Sadness is starting to be more dominant. Add to this the fact that Joy and Sadness get taken out of Headquarters and are lost in the maze of stored memories. This leaves only Fear, Anger and Disgust in charge.
It is on the journey back to Headquarters that Joy has to learn something about development. What she learns is that nothing stays the same. There is always change. And sometimes the change is needed and therefore good.
What Inside Out does well is to show us how a person grows. And growth, by its very nature, is about change and that change can be painful at times.
We witness how things change in the life of a young girl who not only has to navigate the physical changes of a growing body but also must deal with the change of leaving home and finding a new place that everyone else but her calls home. She finds it impossible to think of this new place as home.
What makes this movie so important is that it declares that children are stronger than we believe. In these latter years many parents spend too much time trying to protect their children from the world and themselves. The belief is that the child is not able to deal with the world and all its demands.
Inside Out takes that belief on and says that a child is much greater than the sum of her parts. The child does have needs and does have those moments when support and protection are called for. But at most times, the child becomes human through the natural process of living.
It takes the journey of Joy and Sadness back to Headquarters for Joy to learn that she does not have to dominate for Riley to become and fully functioning, well rounded person.
I really liked Inside Out. The originality of the concept made me buy into it at the beginning. Use of the crisis of “becoming” was a great storytelling device.
The voice casting was perfect, especially Lewis Black as Anger. He made me laugh many times in the movie.
Take your child to see it. Then sit with your child and talk about what was seen. And instead of talking so much, listen. Listen to your child and discover how awesome she is and how her story intersects with Riley’s story.
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action
Directed by Peter Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen
Written by Peter Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley
With: Amy Poehler (Joy), Phyllis Smith (Sadness), Bill Hader (Fear), Lewis Black (Anger), Mindy Kaling (Disgust), Kaitlyn Dias (Riley), Diane Lane (Mom), Kyle MacLachlan (Dad)