Inside Out returns Pixar to a place it hasn’t been in a long time in terms of sheer quality. The originality and character design, in the service of a great story, can remind viewers what quality craftsmanship for family entertainment can be. There’s material in there that is appropriate for children, while being sophisticated enough to entertain the adults stuck watching it with them.
Can’t say that about The Smurfs, can you?
But after seeing the movie, I have to say, I don’t think this movie is aimed much at children. Children can certainly enjoy it, but the real core of the movie is for their parents. SPOILERS and explanations after the cut.
Now, to be sure, let me repeat that there isn’t anything in this movie that would make it “bad” for children, no more so than any other Pixar movie. But, like Toy Story 3, the colorful silliness masks a more adult sensibility that parents might enjoy more.
Consider, if you will, who the movie’s ultimate hero is: Sadness. Sure, Joy is the narrator and the one who maybe learns the lesson at the end, but Sadness is the hero. What ultimately saves Riley from making a horrible decision? Sadness returning to headquarters. What was going wrong with Riley? Joy kept insisting that Sadness be bottled up so Joy could be in control. Every time Sadness came out and touched a memory, it gained a bit of Sadness’ blue to it.
But bottling up emotions isn’t healthy. It takes Joy a while to realize it, after she has a good cry of her own, but a degree of Sadness is needed to first feel better, and that remembering the sad times can make the happy times seem better by comparison.
Think of it this way: why do awful times with relationships breaking apart suck so much? For one, the bad times seem worse because there used to be good times with that same person. For another, the good times are now tainted by the realization that those same good times eventually went bad.
Inside Out manages to make that point with the hockey celebration memory. Joy and Sadness remember it differently. Joy remembers the celebration. Sadness remembers the fact Riley missed the shot and was upset about it. The misery of the missed shot led to the elation of the celebration. Both were vital to the memory. Pretending that one emotion, and only one emotion, is the root cause of any memory is a misnomer.
In fact, the way Sadness “taints” Riley’s memories is suggestive of the fact that Riley is never going to be able to experience those memories without a touch of regret.
Really, the movie is about Riley growing up, an emotionally fraught time for anyone. That both Joy and Sadness are temporarily lost means Anger, Disgust, and Fear are left to run things, all appropriate emotions for what Riley is experiencing, truth be told.
Yes, this is a time when Riley’s “islands” would fall apart. Her life just underwent a major upheaval. Imaginationland in her mind suggests her maturing, with silly castles being torn down and an imaginary boyfriend machine popping up. Likewise, the heart wrecking lose of Bing Bong would only happen as a result of Riley, knowingly or not, giving up on childish things.
The movie ends with Riley’s memories more colorful. There is no one dominant color for any of them.
Pixar managed to use a very creative means of making a very complicated statement about growing up and how complex the emotional turmoil of such a time can be. Truth be told, I can think of only one other movie that managed to make such a complex statement about memory and emotion. That was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Both movies were glorious in their own way.