Disney Pixar have eschewed enchanted forests, royal castles and underwater adventures. Their masterful new animated tale is set almost entirely inside the head of an 11-year-old girl.
Riley’s mind is inhabited by five emotions – Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear and Sadness – and as she moves house and attempts to make new friends things get a little, erm, messy in HQ. Joy and Sadness end up lost in Long Term Memory trying to get back to the control panel. They take a trip on a Train of Thought, enjoy a jaunt in Imagination Land, make an appearance in Dreamland – a fantastical film studio which churns out dreams – suffer a spell behind bars in Riley’s subconscious and have a close shave with abstract thought.
When I first saw the trailer for Inside Out I thought, “Finally. A film as obsessed with psychology and emotion as I am.” Now I’ve seen it, I am completely convinced that the movie should be compulsory viewing. And not just for kids.
Inside Out is endlessly entertaining (and moving – I never thought I’d get choked up by an imaginary friend) but it’s also incredibly clever and potentially enlightening.
Nowadays some schools use ‘feeling graph’ exercises to get children to think about their emotions. They are asked to identify the feelings they are currently experiencing – at that moment or in their lives in general – and rank the influence those emotions have on them out of 10 on a chart. It sounds like a simple task, but it’s harder than it first appears.
Ask me to write down how I’m feeling and you’ll get a pretty long list of adjectives, but I would bargain a lot of people would struggle to come up with five emotions, let alone admit that they were affecting their day-to-day behaviour. And while kids are being increasingly encouraged to think about how they feel, it’s just as important for grown-ups to be aware of the emotions that govern them too.
Us Brits, with our centuries-old stiff upper lips, are trained not to think too much about the mushy stuff. Unlike some countries or cities around the world, our culture doesn’t always welcome self-examination or introspection with open arms.
As a consequence, many of us aren’t very aware of or able to articulate our emotions. We are prone to live our lives on autopilot, unthinkingly repeating the same patterns and being entirely disconnected from the reasons we act and react the way we do.
But we’d probably be more content if we took the time to pause, take stock of our Islands of Personality and our Core Memories and ponder how they got there and how they shape the people we are. Inside Out is a good reminder to do so – and a chance to open up discussions about what’s really going on in our own human Headquarters.
Another thing this kids’ cartoon does is remind us that it’s okay to be sad sometimes. Sadness starts the story as a nuisance, but ends up being its hero – an emotion that must take control to restore balance in Riley’s world. Listening and accepting what’s going on in our mind, whether it’s negative or not, is a message rarely heard in our aspirational, perfection-seeking society.
Inside Out is a silly, funny film – everyone knows there aren’t really mini, grouchy people manning control panels behind our eyes – but it is meaningful, weighty and important at the same time.
Eight years old, or 80, if you watch this bright and zany kids’ film, you’ll be entertained – and you might just learn something about yourself too.