Spoiler Warning: None
Image Description: Poster for Inside Out, Five cartoon characters, personifying fear (back left, a purple man in a sweater vest cowering from…something), joy (back center, a Disney Tinkerbell-esque figure with blue hair and fair skin), disgust (back right, a green woman with long eyelashes and a look of disgust), anger (front left, a short red man with a shirt and tie and his head on fire), and sadness (front right, a short, roundish blue woman with big glasses) stand in front of a background of colorful circles. At the bottom, the tag line “Meet the voices inside your head” and the date “June 19.” Image taken from IMDB, film by Disney Pixar.
About a month ago (June 19th) PIxar’s new movie, Inside Out, came out in theaters. The movie introduces us to the emotions that live inside the head of an eleven-year-old girl, Riley, just as huge changes are happening in the girl’s life.The movie earned 90 million dollars its opening weekend, and has so far grossed more than double its estimated budget in the USA alone.
The concept of a movie about personified emotions is pretty cool; even cooler is that this movie about an eleven-year-old girl’s emotions. I think the concept was handled pretty well, too—at first it seemed the emotions were being overly simplified, but that, as it turned out, was the whole idea. There were some issues—the stereotyping of the father’s emotions, for one, as well as some issues that plague Disney Pixar films in general. One of these issues is a lack of much racial diversity–although this film, with an emotion played by Mindy Kaling and a black teacher who is one of the few human characters to get any lines, does better than most. Flaws aside, it was both interesting and relatable, a pretty cool artistic exploration of how our minds and emotions change as we grow up.
What excites me about this movie, though, is that emotions are so often policed, particularly as a form of marginalization. Emotion policing, and the policing of how emotions are expressed, is a part of sexism, for example—like the idea that crying is unmanly, or that women are obliged to smile for the benefit of random men. It’s also a part of racism and ableism—like denying POC the right to feel hurt or angry in response to discrimination, or telling someone with a disability that their negative attitude is the only thing holding them back. Expressing emotions and allowing ourselves—as well as others—to have emotions, even ones like sadness or anger—is extremely important. The lesson of the movie is that sadness and grief are necessary, and that by making someone feel as though they have to suppress those emotions, we hurt them greatly. An important message—both for parents and children. I like that this movie celebrates emotions and their importance, even if none of the main human characters are non-white or disabled in any way.
I also really like that this movie is about a girl. Girls, especially teenage girls, and their emotions are far too often the target of derision and cruel jokes. The girl in this film isn’t a teenager yet, but she’s on her way, and changing emotions that go with growing up are the topic of the film. This movie really values Riley’s emotions–they’re the main characters–and it’s great to see that in a mainstream film, especially one that will be watched by kids and parents. While the peeks that we get at other characters’ emotions often seem to be based on stereotypes–including one at the emotions of a teenage girl during the credits, which frustratingly relies entirely on the idea of a girl who only feels what she feels because of a boy, and one at the emotions of Riley’s father, who are entirely occupied with thinking about a sports game–Riley as a character is really…not. She loves hockey, but also shows an interest in boys and in fitting in with the “cool” girls at her new school. She and her parents felt very real, and Riley’s emotions, even apart from their personification, had depth and weight.
One thing I found very interesting–and this isn’t a criticism–was the choice to have some emotions personified as male. In the glimpses we got of other people there wasn’t much gender variation among the emotions, although in those cases the emotions seemed to be in general more unified, presumably due to simplification deemed necessary for the joke. I don’t know what was behind the decision to make some of Riley’s emotions male–whether it was to attract young boys to the movie, a deeply thought out decision about gender, or just how the script turned out–but I liked it.
Despite its flaws, I think the film is definitely worth a watch, and I myself plan on purchasing it when it comes out on DVD.