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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Inside Out is an outstandingly original, heartfelt story from Pixar about growing up and learning to handle your biggest emotions. Told primarily from the perspective of the feelings inside 11-year-old Riley's mind (brought to life by the voices of Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader, and more), the plot has many moments of peril/tension -- including bridges/islands crumbling, a train tumbling over a precipice, and characters falling into a deep, dark pit. (Spoiler alert: One key character also permanently fades from existence; that and scenes in which it seems Riley is "borrowing" her mom's credit card and running away are definitely upsetting.) Some of Riley's fears are also on display, including a giant, scary clown. Parents are likely to get hit hardest by the film's heart-tugging moments (bring tissues!), but anyone with empathy will feel for Riley as she experiences life's ups and downs. Ultimately, Inside Out has important messages about needing to feel -- and express -- all of your emotions, whether happy or sad. Although most of the content is appropriate for elementary schoolers and up, younger kids may need a bit more explanation about what's going on, since there are references to abstract thought and the subconscious, and it can be a little confusing when other characters' emotions are shown.
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What's the story?
When baby Riley is born to her loving parents, so is her first emotion -- Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), who's soon joined by Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) in INSIDE OUT. The quintet live and work in Headquarters (aka HQ), the part of Riley's brain that experiences feelings and makes memories. With Joy as their leader, the group helps their girl through toddlerhood (ick, broccoli!) and childhood (hooray, a hockey goal!). But everything changes when 11-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) and her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) move from Minnesota to San Francisco after her dad gets a new job. As Riley tries to cope with a new house, a new school, and her parents' increased stress, things get out of control back at HQ: Sadness and Joy tussle over Riley's core memories and end up getting sucked into long-term storage. Can they make it back to HQ in time to help Riley get back in touch with all of her feelings?
Is it any good?
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why it's hard for Riley to tell her parents how she's feeling in Inside Out. Is it OK for them to ask her to be their "happy girl"? How does that make her feel when she's not in a particularly joyful state of mind? Have you ever felt like you had to feel a certain way to please someone else? Is that fair?
What does it mean to have "mixed emotions" about something? How do all of our different feelings relate to each other? Can you have joy without sadness? Why is it important to feel a range of emotions?
Some of the movie's scenes are sad and scary. Is it OK for a kids' movie to not be cheerful and silly all the time? How much scary stuff can young kids handle?
What problem does Riley think running away will fix? Why is she wrong? What could have happened to her if she'd gone through with her plan? Parents, talk to your kids about why Riley's idea -- and how she went about trying to accomplish it -- is not an example to follow.
The characters in Inside Out learn and demonstrate many important character strengths -- teamwork, communication, self-control, compassion, perseverance, integrity, and empathy. Why are these important?
- In theaters: June 19, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: November 3, 2015
- Cast: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind
- Director: Pete Docter
- Studio: Pixar Animation Studios
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models
- Character strengths: Communication, Compassion, Empathy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self-control, Teamwork
- Run time: 102 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: mild thematic elements and some action
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award, Common Sense Selection, Golden Globe
- Last updated: June 6, 2020
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