Parents' Guide to

Inside Out

By Betsy Bozdech, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 6+

Beautiful, original story about handling big feelings.

Movie PG 2015 102 minutes
Inside Out Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 8+

Based on 142 parent reviews

age 8+

My 5 1/2 year old has been kept up with the scariness in this

We had to watch this for a school assignment, and I watched it together with him and helped him complete the assignment. My 5 1/2 year old found the idea of the memory dump of forgetting things to be extremely scary, and also the fact that Riley isn't able to feel anything when sadness goes missing. The style is dramatic with feelings getting sucked away and things falling into the memory dump. The ending does not make up for this scariness, and he's been unable to sleep since watching it, and it's an hour past his bedtime, and he's the type of kid who can fall asleep in 3 minutes normally.
age 12+

Mixed Up Emotions

Not every person is emotional—at least, not every person feels or expresses emotions in the same way. That is one reason why I am reacting the way that I am to Doctor’s recent film, Inside Out. I am not writing this because I hate emotions. I value emotions. Emotions are the feeders not only of passion with all its disruptions to daily living, but of imagination and imagination’s creative urges. Emotions are where playfulness meets productivity. Originality is the result. Call me late to the draw, but this two-year-old film Inside Out has me more upset than its preteen protagonist, Riley. Why was Riley upset? Why am I upset? Sadness has no purpose. At least, that is how the plot of this 2015 film starts out. All we know is that every “good” sensation is categorized as such by the ever-optimistic Joy. Joy is there from the very beginning to greet Riley’s world at birth. Sadness is her inexplicable alternate. They have three companions in the Control Center of the brain: Disgust is there to protect Riley from pain. Fear is there to protect Riley from hurt. Anger is there to protect Riley’s rights. But by what right should Riley (or any of us) have Anger—or Sadness or Fear or Joy—when they exist for no apparent reason but to mirror reality through Riley’s semi-self-conscious brain? They are simply in control. It is emotion—not Riley—who in this movie primarily feels and thinks and does. Also curious in this arrangement is that, unlike in the case of Plato or Aristotle, Kant or Hume or Locke, in this film there is no reason. Here emotions are presented as a good thing—when, in our not-so-distant classical history, emotions were presented as unstable and destabilizing. Also important is that all of Riley’s emotions are purely reactive. They are simply responses to external stimuli, not the least of which are the emotions of her parents. This misplaced emphasis on externals is surprising, given the professed aim of the film: to look at human experience from the inside out. “There’s absolutely no reason for Riley to be happy right now,” states one emotion mater-of-factly to another. Every experience may be an opportunity for either joy or sadness. But the film makes it look as if we are controlled by emotions, and it is circumstances which control us through our emotional responses to them. Problem with the film: the film conflates joy with happiness and joy with love. These are not the same thing. Another problem with the film: even memories are cast as amenable to reordering, disposal and forgottenness. Our core memories shape our realities, which are presented as simply a reflection of our perceptions accumulated and understood over time. Our personalities are shaped by memories which influence our response to what we perceive as or experiences day-to-day. When Joy and Sadness go missing, everything goes haywire. Personality “Islands” are depicted as unstable; they shake and fall and crash to the ground. Imaginary friends like the elephant-teddy-bear Bing Bong are depicted as ridiculous and incredible. Abstract thought is depicted as imaginary (!!). (So much for the history of human experience, culture and civilization . . .) Ultimately, experiences are depicted as meaningless as soon as they are forgotten. Riley, through no fault of her own, is driven to react with anger and run away from home. The entirety of her personality is depicted as responsive and reactive—responsive to the emotions with which she is presented and reactive to the circumstances which she encounters. The idea is that giving Joy an inordinate place is unreality. All emotions are important and therefore to be valued and given an airing. In the end, Sadness DOES have a purpose. She helps Riley (and us) process life. There IS a moral to the story. Rather than trying to “fix” emotions, we should accept them and process them as they present themselves to us. (Perhaps this is why the tireless Joy is presented as a bit of a self-absorbed prick.) But if all emotions are equally valuable, why give priority to Joy? And if Joy is not given priority, we are opening ourselves up to a very Sad, Fearful, Angry and Disgusted alternate universe. Perhaps that encapsulates my feelings on the matter. Angry and Disgusted. When the plot resolves, it is only by coming to terms with the grief over her childhood hockey disappointments and her imaginary friend Bing Bong’s sacrifice through Sadness that Riley’s redemption and Joy’s return to the Control Center of the brain are made possible. Sadness has a part to play, after all. I do admit that it’s okay to feel. I do think that childhood memories play an important part in the formation of personality. And I do value the role of Sadness in the processing of these and other emotions. But I feel less Joy than Anger, less Sadness than Disgust as this film draws to a close. The assumption of the movie that troubles me the most is that emotions are presented as the primary processors of reality. Emotions are all there is. Imagination is nonsensical and problematic. There is no soul beyond the emotions—no reason to speak of. I do appreciate the film for its playfulness, creativity and colour. As a spectacle, it is appealing though not spectacular. And I do like the repetitive running joke about TripleDent gum . . . But this is not a children’s movie, not the adventure reel of delightful music and happy endings we have come to know and love. Only Sadness can bring Riley back to feeling. And therein lies a major flaw in the central message of the film—it is on the centrality of circumstance, not emotions, that our final focus is placed. The film ends convincing us less of the validity of emotions than of the pressures of circumstance. Joy does not win; Sadness does. In this sense the film is not a comedy. Nor is it an accurate representation of reality, inside or out.

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (142 ):
Kids say (272 ):

INSIDE OUT is creative, clever, heartfelt, and beautifully animated. It's destined to join the ranks of Pixar's best movies -- the ones that have dazzled us with something we've truly never seen before: Toy Story, Finding Nemo, WALL-E, Up. Not only is Inside Out an engaging, endlessly inventive adventure with strong themes of friendship and acceptance, but it has real potential to help kids and parents navigate the powerful emotions that come with growing up. Kids who might not be able to put their increasingly complex feelings into words could use Riley's experiences for context (for instance, Riley doesn't necessarily intend to be sarcastic to her parents ... that's just what happens when Anger and Disgust are left in charge and can't quite figure out how Joy manages to make Riley's words come out nicely). And parents will be reminded that asking kids to put on a happy face when they don't really feel it can lead to unintended pressure and worry. (Seriously, bring tissues.)

All of that isn't meant to suggest that Inside Out is overly serious or a downer. Absolutely not. It's filled with moments of hilarity and unbridled imagination (you'll have a new appreciation for how "earworms" get stuck in your head...), as well as warm nostalgia for childhood innocence and inventiveness. The emotions are all perfectly cast; Joy's relentless optimism and can-do spirit make her a kindred spirit to Poehler's beloved Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation, and Smith (who played Phyllis in the U.S. version of The Office) is a good counterpoint as Sadness. Inside Out is just as much about Joy's journey as it is Riley's; it isn't until Joy truly understands that the other emotions have important roles to play, too, that she becomes the leader that all of them -- Riley included -- really need. As Joy learns, happiness is all the more meaningful when you've also experienced defeat, loss, or loneliness; that truth is a large part of what makes Pixar's best movies so powerful.

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