A few days ago, thanks to the intrepid attention of my wonderful wife, my older son and I were able to go check out the newest Pixar movie, Inside Out, for free. Pixar has quite the track record going. I can’t really think of any swing-and-a-miss movies (except for Cars 2). I mean, there have been some moments that are decidedly not aimed at kids (i.e. Elastigirls “these people will kill you” speech or, let’s face it, the opening moments of Up). So when I heard that this movie was about the different emotions that rule us, I wondered how well it would translate for kids.
So let’s talk story. This movie basically has two levels to it. On the surface level, this could be said to be the story of a girl named Riley. Riley is eleven years old. She’s honest, a little goofy, and she loves her family, friends, and hockey. But then, her dad takes a new job and the family has to move from Minnesota (a nice surprise for me) to San Francisco. Naturally, this completely up-ends Riley’s life. Nothing is the way it’s supposed to be and she has a hard time making the adjustment.
But that’s where the second level comes in, because this is mostly the story of the little people who are in control of Riley’s life. Inside Riley’s “headquarters” (I see what you did there, Pixar) live five…entities?…named Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. These five emotional states basically keep Riley going, dictating how she reacts to events (broccoli on pizza? You’d better believe Disgust and Anger have something to say about that). The leader of the pack, though, is Joy. She’s the one who calls the shots. She’s the one who everyone defers to. And she’s the one who is desperate to keep Sadness in check.
See, whenever Riley experiences something, she produces a memory, basically a little glass ball. If the experience is strong enough, it becomes a “core memory,” something that influences her future behavior. The problem is, lately, whenever Sadness gets her hands on things, she taints them and makes them sad. When one of Sadness’s actions threatens to become a new core memory, Joy freaks out. There’s an accident in headquarters and Joy, Sadness, and all of Riley’s core memories are whisked away to Riley’s long-term memory, far from where they’re supposed to be. It’s up to Fear, Disgust, and Anger to keep Riley on course (you can imagine how well that works out) while Joy and Sadness try to make it back to where they’re supposed to be.
If this sounds like it could be a very cerebral movie…well, it isn’t. Not really. I mean, there are clearly some times when the writers tip their hands to show off some of the research they clearly did into brain development and psychology. But for the most part, this is a goofy little romp through a little girl’s mind.
…that sounded better in my head just now.
My son, who is eight, really enjoyed this movie. There are a lot of genuine, laugh-out-loud moments (one involving a gum commercial is one of my favorites). There are also some very sad moments too, especially as Joy and Sadness revisit some of Riley’s past memories. And there are even some rather intense moments that I wonder might not be suitable for some kids (Riley has a deep-seated fear of clowns and, after this movie, I might have developed one too).
So should you go? I think so. It’s a good movie, well worth it. It’s a lot of fun, but it did leave me wondering what my core memories are. Be ready for some introspection, and be ready to not want your kids to grow up.