Inside Out from Disney/Pixar takes place inside the head of an 11-year-old girl called Riley.
The “elevator pitch” for this would be interesting:
“We’ve got this great idea for a feature length animation about a little girl.”
“Okay, so where’s it set? The future? The past? Never Never Land?”
“Inside her head.”
The movie opens with Riley as an infant and shows the process of storing memories.
It introduces the idea of memories being sorted/indexed at night.
At the control panel in her brain, five emotions fight for control of Riley: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. Each has its own colour – Joy is golden, Sadness is blue, Disgust is green, Fear is purple, and Anger is red.
Joy is mostly in control, but sometimes the other emotions take over the controls.
When she does different things, different memory centres in her brain are activated. These are sown as “islands” in the movie. So when she jokes around with her dad, “goofball island” is activated. There is “friend island”, where her memories of activities with her best friend are stored, and “hockey island” etc.
There is also “Imagination Island”, where here “imaginary boyfriend” lives.
There is not much of a plot – almost all the action takes place inside Riley’s head at the control panel. Riley’s family movie from Minnesota to San Francisco, which is the catalyst for turmoil among her emotions.
Much is made in the movie of the interplay between Joy and Sadness. Sadness keeps touching the memories, which are shown as luminescent balls, like bowling balls. When Sadness touches them, they get tinged with blue.
The movie deals with quite advanced psychological concepts: the idea of the subconscious, for instance, and the idea that you can feel two emotions at the same time.
The driver for the plot is when Joy and Sadness get trapped outside the command centre, and the other three emotions are left in charge.
This is a brilliant metaphor for when something traumatic happens – such as moving home and leaving all the things you’re familiar with at home – and you’re left a bit numb. You lose touch with your feelings.
At one point, Anger takes charge and Riley decides to run away from home and get back to Minnesota.
The other two emotions – Joy and Sadness – make it back to the control desk. Joy, who has mostly been in charge of Riley up to now – lets Sadness take over.
Riley returns to her parents, tells them how she feels about her new home, and lets the tears come. Once the sadness is released, there is room for a little joy to return.
From then on, Joy and Sadness push the control buttons together, again cleverly showing that you can feel happy and kind of sad at the same time, and that emotions and feelings are complex things.
There is a memory that keeps recurring: it is of Riley after a hockey match. Joy thinks of it as happy, because Riley is being tossed in the air by her team mates.
Sadness says it’s her favourite memory too. She remembers that it was the day Riley’s team lost in the finals, and that Riley missed with the last play of the game.
It turns out that the team mates were not celebrating victory, but cheering Riley up because she was sad after missing that last shot. The movie is again cleverly showing that memories are complex, and sometimes we don’t remember things completely; we remember them the way we want to.
There is another aspect of the movie that struck me: we see inside the heads of other characters, and sometimes, they have a different emotion in charge of the control desk.
In Riley’s head, Joy is mostly in charge, but in other heads, it’s Anger or Disgust. This is a way of showing that people have different “default” emotions.
My daughter Grace’s reaction
Disgust was her favourite character, because she said “what is that?” when Riley was given broccoli as a kid. And because she was sassy.
Her verdict on what the movie was trying to say: “You can’t be happy all the time – you have to be sad sometimes.”
She liked Sadness, because “Sadness did sympathy as well”. (When Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary childhood friend, is sad, Sadness listens to him and lets him be sad; Joy is impressed, because her approach is to jolly everything along. Once Bing Bong has articulated his sadness, he cheers up).
She cried at the demise of “Bing Bong”.
Grace says she sometimes has two emotions at the same time – anger and sadness when things are unfair.
She says that in Wexford last week – when we were on holidays – Joy was in charge.