Jun 19

“Inside Out”: Animated Kids (and Adults) Identify Emotions

The new and apparently not-to-be-missed Disney Pixar movie Inside Out  is about emotions: most specifically, Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, Sadness—the inhabitants of child Riley’s “Headquarters,” her mind’s control center.

Gregory Ellwood, Hitfix: “[Riley’s] birth spurs the creation of the first emotion, Joy (Amy Poehler), but as she grows, Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black) arrive to balance out her emotional makeup. Each has a key role to play in Riley’s life, but it’s Joy who diligently makes it her responsibility to command the team and keep her as happy as possible.”

Yes, Joy is usually Riley’s dominant emotion, but when her parents (Kyle MacLachlan, Diane Lane) take their family from the Midwest to San Francisco, she experiences an adjustment crisis of sorts. That’s when other emotions take more control. A.O. Scott, New York Times: “Each one has a necessary role to play, and they all carry out their duties in Riley’s neurological command center with the bickering bonhomie of workplace sitcom colleagues.”

For info about the brain and emotions, the film’s creators consulted various experts. Co-director Peter Docter told NPR they used the emotions model of psychologist Paul Ekman, who long ago had identified a total of six. Docter, however, cut that down to five when he decided that surprise is similar enough to fear.

More about the film’s plot and structure from Jessica Kiang, The Playlist:

…(T)he inner landscape is where the film’s real dizzying imagination and loopy humor comes into play, as Joy voyages through the Long Term Memory (complete with an irritating gum commercial jingle that becomes a recurring joke), crosses terrain like Abstract Thought (where she briefly becomes a Cubist representation of herself, then a 2D collection of shapes, then a line), rides a Train of Thought, and passes divertingly through Dreamland, which is rendered as a movie studio, of course, complete with lovely in-jokey references to Hitchcock. And most touchingly of all, with a sweet nod back to the arc of the ‘Toy Story’ films, she teams up with Riley’s childhood imaginary friend, Bing Bong (Richard Kind), who drives a makeshift rocket powered by song; it’s quite something to sense an entire theater full of hardened film hacks reduced to lachrymose sniffling messes by the fate of a cat/dolphin/elephant hybrid in a silly hat.

Sadness is particularly crucial in Inside Out. “Unless Sadness is acknowledged and is permitted to take the wheel,” states reviewer Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, “there can be no happiness and no growing up.”

Watch a brief clip about Sadness:

Several other clips have also been made available. Here’s one that focuses on Disgust and Anger:

A.O. Scott, New York Times: “‘Inside Out’ is an absolute delight — funny and charming, fast-moving and full of surprises. It is also a defense of sorrow, an argument for the necessity of melancholy dressed in the bright colors of entertainment. The youngest viewers will have a blast, while those older than Riley are likely to find themselves in tears. Not of grief, but of gratitude and recognition. Sadness, it turns out, is not Joy’s rival but her partner. Our ability to feel sad is what stirs compassion in others and empathy in ourselves. There is no growth without loss, and no art without longing.”