Review by Gene
Pixar Studios has one of the best reputations in the business for turning out original stories and endearing characters. They continue that trend with Inside Out, as the emotions of a young girl are brought to life and we watch the often hilarious, and sometimes heartwarming interactions between them. But does Inside Out hit the spot like so many other Pixar flicks? (Minor spoilers ahead)
For me, the answer to that question is, “not quite”. I know that puts me at odds with 95% of humanity, but hear me out. Remember the target audience for such films is children. Pixar, among other animation studios, has done a terrific job of including enough adult context to appease the parents in the crowd. But by and large they’ve kept the material lighthearted with short bits of depth to drive home whatever lesson the film is aiming for. ‘Lighthearted’ is not at all how I would describe Inside Out.
Is it funny? Sure. Is it visually stimulating? Yes. Does the concept spark ones imagination? Absolutely. But this is an animated film with a lot of depth, sorrow and sadness. In fact I came away with an equal feeling of sadness as I did joy. Now, in principle there’s nothing wrong with that at all. I think that was actually what they were going for. My problem is that misses the mark for the target audience. So in the end this feels more like an animated film aimed at parents who can look back on their own childhood, and how they’re raising their own children, and gleen some understanding as to how to approach specific ‘core’ moments in their children’s lives. When seen from that angle, Inside Out is quite good. But at the surface it fails to fully entertain its target audience and instead leaves them with a general feeling of sadness.
Okay, now that I’ve got that out there, let’s examine some focal points.
As is clear from the trailers, Inside Out gives us a view on childhood emotions from… the inside out. That is, we see Riley’s literal emotions dealing with her circumstances and deciding whether joy, sadness, anger, fear or disgust would win the moment. For the most part joy (voiced by Amy Poehler) runs the show in Riley’s head. Until sadness (Phyllis Smith) starts touching things. The more she touches the greater her influence is on Riley. When an accident results in both joy and sadness being removed from the headquarters of Riley’s mind, she is left puzzled by how she feels. It’s at this point when a lot of the depth comes into play.
There’s no hiding the symbolism of depression during these parts of the film. Riley is sad or fearful when she usually isn’t. She knows how she should feel, but isn’t able to make herself feel that way. It reminded me so much of God’s plea with Cain before he killed his brother. “If you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” This is how we might reason with an adult. One who has the emotional wherewithal to master certain things and find the bright side. But for a child, and for Riley specifically, she lacked the ability to fight the urges of anger and disgust battling within her.
During these battles, and while joy and sadness attempt to make it back to headquarters, the movie gets into some depths of Riley’s mind that I’m not sure how a child would be able to track and keep with the story. Abstract thought, the prison of the subconscious. Hence my critique that the core of the film misses its target audience, but could be very relatable and revelatory to parents. Throughout these journeys joy and sadness are embarking on together, joy is dragging sadness along. Usually literally. It’s presumed they’ll find some common ground and succeed in getting back to headquarters. The strength of this film is it’s turn on that assumption. Sadness knows all along that Riley needs joy, but joy doesn’t feel the same about sadness. Joy thinks Riley could do without sadness all together. The revelation comes when joy realizes that sadness is equally necessary.
Sounds a bit counter-intuitive doesn’t it? Joy and sadness are opposites. How could they both be necessary to Riley, and in fact need each other? This dichotomy is something Christians should be able to identify with. God, in his providential power, worked through the meek and lowly to send out the gospel. He didn’t go to the religious elite or politically influential. He went to fishermen, tax-collectors, and tent-makers. God worked through the least likely of people to spread the greatest message to all mankind; salvation through Jesus Christ.
Likewise, as Inside Out shows, some of the greatest moments of joy come through the lowest points of sadness. When we’re at our most sorrowful we’re in our greatest need of the comfort of others. We draw out strength from their compassion. This is where we find the necessity of sadness. Rather than ignoring problems or putting an inappropriately positive spin on everything, embracing sorrow and allowing others to comfort us can spur a shared joy and bring us out of our sadness. As Christians, we find that this works in fulfilling the law of Christ…
“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness;each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” -Galatians 6:1-3
Inside Out does a terrific job at bringing light to this necessity of sadness and relying on the compassion and comfort of others to bringing us out of the funk of feeling nothing rather than feeling sorrow.
My Rating: 3.5/5
This will be a memorable animated movie if for nothing other than its high aspirations in the content it tries to tackle. Much of the film is dealing with some heavy stuff that children may very well relate to. If that’s the case they’ll likely key on those moments and leave the movie with a less than joyous feeling. If not, they’ll find large portions of it boring or slow, while still thinking it was too sad. As a parent I wouldn’t say skip it entirely, but be prepared for a discussion with your children on those heavy moments if they identify with anything that Riley is going through.