Many friends have seen this movie—and several (particularly those who have studied with me or who are similarly minded) were very interested in what I thought as both a screenwriter and as a teacher of the Principles of Human Experience. Fortunately my brother and I were racing the car at the Nationals this weekend and while we were there a good friend told me she wanted to see the movie again and so we decided right then to go together.
She had loved her first viewing and noticed a lot more contributing details on the second viewing. I was very impressed with how well it was put together and I found the symbolism and message to be quite good, especially considering the limitations of the medium.
Keep in mind: there is no such thing as a good or bad movie. There are ones you like and ones you don’t. So no one is wrong if they didn’t enjoy this film. But from a professional screenwriting perspective it’s very tightly and effectively structured, its characters are consistent and are weaved with such skill by writers Pete Docter and Reonaldo Del Carmen that they serve the plot quite naturally. As we were leaving the theatre several people remarked that it seemed to be over very quickly and we felt the same way despite it being a traditional length—that’s always a good sign.
I loved a lot of the details, like how the memory storage banks held moments rather than stretches of time. I also liked they were organized like a brain structure, and how the ladders up them looked like DNA. There were so many contributing elements, including even more abstract things like the particular types of memories that children both lose and abandon and why. I also liked how it addressed how our current emotions will impact and colour our recollection of past events.
Maybe even more impressive was each character’s demonstration of a dominant trait—a primary filter or emotion through which the world first passes before being optioned to other possible reactions. This is our default reaction to the world. In the daughter it was Joy, the mother Sadness and the father Anger and these would be how a large percentage of children perceive western childhoods: Dad’s seem busy and mad all the time because of mistakes we’ve made, and Mom’s appear to never want to play and they’re always disappointed we didn’t do something or other exactly the way they wanted.
Another nice touch was the use of the individual characters played in multiple heads. There were many looks for each emotion but the daughter’s Sadness looked just like her mother’s, while her Fear and Anger looked just like her father’s—illustrating the point that we inherit our traits and personalities from the dominant traits of our parents and/or the people that raise us. And, if saw correctly, especially clever was the fact that in any head where you saw Anger you also saw his partner Fear.
Mild spoiler alert—I may give away some later plot details that will give away the ending here, so if you haven’t seen it you may want to save the rest for afterwards.
My favourite aspect was the transition at the climax, when Joy comes to understand and then employ the value of Sadness. That is when the audience—and thankfully many children—are presented with the idea that sadness has value and should not be dismissed from life, and Joy’s role helps to nicely reflect the experience and growth happening within the audience member.
In the denouement it was quite fitting that the film set up the notion that it’s not a tragedy when we change our core beliefs. That is the growth I often talk about in this blog as happening every 7-9 years, and of course Joy is I believe nine years old in the film. It is when we fundamentally shift how we see the world and how we understand it and our place in it.
Over the years we establish and fortify a new set of beliefs more appropriate to who we currently are. And again in 7-9 years we’ll tear down those core beliefs and build another set refined by new experiences. It is very healthy for people to see that process as natural. We shouldn’t get angry when things get tumultuous. We should get excited.
This film probably won’t blow kids away in theatres. But I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if it becomes an important part of future realizations for decades to come. Just as Wall-E informed a generation about the external environment, Inside Out is informing a generation about a healthy internal environment.
I found this to be an excellent film on virtually every level and I highly recommend seeing it. It’s funny that parents worry when their kids become artists. And yet artists are who despotic leaders lock up first, because they’re also the people who change the world in subtle ways. Like the ways in which this film will change the stigma around being sad and how it will instill that our emotions are within our control. That’s important stuff.
Five thumbs up.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own over-thinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.