I've loved Pixar films ever since I saw the truly delightful "Monsters Inc." and it seems they can do no wrong. Each time they release a new animated film, I raise an eyebrow and wonder, "Hmmm, that seems like a shaky premise...it could turn out to be a typical schlocky kid's film." But then I see said film, whether it is "Finding Nemo," "WALL-E," or "Up," and I am swept up and enchanted in a story that manages to be both light and poignant, both for children and adults, both silly and bittersweet. I mean, the first ten minutes of "Up" and "WALL-E" contain more humor and love and meaning than some entire Hollywood films.
So it was a similar story with "Inside Out," a story that, on the surface, appeared more for tween girls. But on the recommendation of a friend who has demonstrated a capacity for a certain understanding of the world that overlaps with mine, I saw it. And indeed, it is delightful.
It is actually a very effective treatise on and study of psychological processes of the developing brain...disguised as a children's film. The animation and the sparkly effects make it fun and visually stimulating but the ramifications of the story are, at the risk of sounding silly, rather profound.
Once again, we have an intro in this film that manages to convey the contents of an entire complete story...but that is just the start. We watch the birth of a little girl, Riley, and see her grow up for 11 years. She and her parents live in Minnesota where Riley plays hockey with her mom and dad and her friends. But we get a special view of Riley that no one else does: we see inside her head where the personifications of all her emotions interact. Joy, Anger, Fear, Sadness, and Disgust all add their own viewpoint to Riley's world and her interactions with those around her. Director Pete Docter and his production team consulted Paul Ekman, a well-known psychologist who studies emotions, and Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley to understand more fully the function, role, and methodology of our emotions and our psyches.
As one can imagine, the emotional interior landscape of a child is generally fairly straight forward. But when Riley's father takes a job on the West Coast which takes them to San Francisco, Riley misses her friends, her hockey team, and her old life. This change is a spring board for watching the world view of a child grow, become more complicated, become richer. Of course the poignancy comes from the inevitable loss of innocence, and the loss of "pure" emotions...something that any adult with a sliver of self-awareness can identify with. The results of this growth might no longer be so pure but the trade off for a more extensive and deeper emotional life is worth it.
Aside from this grown-up trip down memory lane and examination of how we all got to where we are now, psychologically speaking, the film functions as a nice way to give children a way to think about their emotions. It provides them with visual symbols that allow them to possibly understand their internal processes, which, even for adults, can sometimes be overwhelming and mysterious. The underlying message that it is acceptable--and even necessary--for all of our emotions to act in concert and not to be afraid of that is a beautiful thing.