Discussion: Inside Out


A new Pixar movie is always cause for celebration. But with such a long string of films that are more like soft, huggable security blankets than mere films, I always go into the theater a bit anxious, worried that I’m going to be let down and disillusioned. Sorry, Brave, but you were an itchy blanket that smelled like cheese and Mom threw you out.

Jennifer and I saw Inside Out this weekend and I’m pleased to report that I’ll be hugging it until it’s old, dirty, threadbare, gnawed at the corners, and begging for a biohazard warning. I loved it from the first frame to the last, in fact I didn’t want it to end—and I’m hoping maybe it won’t until we’ve seen a sequel or two because there’s nearly endless potential for further stories.

Go see the movie. Especially if you’re a human. I’d love to hear what everyone else thought of it.

P.S. (I think it says a lot about me that, so far, my two favorite movies of the year are Inside Out and Mad Max: Fury Road. Both are heavyweights of visual storytelling–lots of “show,” minimal “tell.” And I also recognize that they both feature strong female protagonists, which Fin Button keeps telling me I seem to have a thing for. Who knows, maybe Joss Whedon and I are related somehow.)


  1. sevenmiles

    I’m totally with you, Pete. I know I’m still pondering the experience days later. Rarely has a movie hit me from so many angles. I am a stay-at-home dad of two kids, one of which a 12-year-old girl who’s emotions can be like a “swirling galaxy.” Another obvious connection is that my parents moved from NH to OK when I was in the middle of my senior year of high school. You can just imagine the emotional hit that was, especially with control board “puberty” upgrades. It brought some of those core memories back to the surface and how I dealt with them, sometimes well and sometimes poorly.

    I was surprised at the third way this movie affected me. I’m 43 and have realized that I’m having many of the mid-life thoughts and struggle I always thought “other” people had. Seeing the fading memories in the film made my heart ache and my mind race to grab for my own. It’s the reason your brother’s song “Day by Day” has resonated so deeply for me.

    I love that the filmmakers didn’t split up the parents. I love that they didn’t create a life and death situation for Riley (when most other studios would have). I love that when my children are truly sad that I have a little extra reminder that I can look in their eyes, hold them tight and tell them that it’s more than okay–it’s important.

  2. Stacy Grubb

    We saw it yesterday and agreed that pooberty would make a perfect sequel.

    One thing I noted (which may be spoiler-ish): all the emotions with the exception of sadness actually ventured into showing other emotions. For example, Joy showed sadness, Fear showed disgust, Disgust showed joy, Anger showed fear. Sadness basically remained sadness throughout until (okay definitely SPOILER) the end when she found joy in the midst of sadness. That said, I was disappointed at first that Joy represented joy and not happiness because there’s a difference and she definitely seemed more in keeping with the feeling of happiness rather than the knowing of joy. That transformed, though, and I was made glad.

  3. Chris Yokel

    I’m not sure where this ranks for me yet among other Pixar films, but I loved it. Once again (why am I surprised at this point?) I’m amazed by the ability of Pixar to take something so colorful and bright and “kiddish” and transfuse it with such mature themes. I admit, there was a moment toward the third act where I was afraid it was going to go corny, but man, that climax just delivered. Stacy, my wife made the same observation, which I think just goes to show the subtle character transformation that’s fully revealed in the end where you see the memory balls tinged with shades of all the emotions. Such an amazing story about growing up and coming to realize the complexities of the world and how we respond to them.

  4. Rebecca Reynolds

    Hmmm. I thought it was a decent movie in a world of rotten films. There were certain things I appreciated about the Inside Out, but overall, the master narrative didn’t live up to what I expect out of Pixar. Brilliant idea, but the story line felt like it served the message instead of letting the message emerge from the story.

    That said, I can see how this film would be helpful in therapeutic situations. If people have difficulty balancing emotions, or in seeing the value of complex emotions, this movie could offer a great word picture for them. In fact, that’s kind of what the whole film felt like to me, a word picture illustrating a point.

    I hope that doesn’t sound overly negative. I am glad that I saw it. I’m glad it’s in the world. It just didn’t move me like most of Pixar’s work.

  5. Rebecca Reynolds

    The fact that you loved it so much would make me give it a second viewing, though. You tend to have a good eye for stuff.

  6. sevenmiles

    My apologies for not including a “spoiler alert” before first post. I guess I’m one who would assume a “discussion” about a film would likely include spoilers, but I know it’s still polite to include the alert, just in case. I’d add one now, but I don’t think we can edit posts.

  7. John Barber

    I had the same feeling when I left INSIDE OUT that I had after seeing WALL-E – that is, I felt like I had just seen something new, a story I hadn’t seen before. I’ve never seen this kind of insight into the transitory period of adolescence before. This idea of simplicity evolving into complexity inside our minds is fascinating to me, probably because I currently have a daughter the same age as Riley. What I really loved about the movie was the “show, don’t tell” aspect. The turn that happens when (spoilers here) Joy makes the realization that things don’t have to be one thing only, but that they can be complex is masterful, mostly because it’s never stated out loud. All five of us, from 8 to 38, understood it (albeit in different ways) without an explicit statement from the film. Is it perfect? Probably not, but for me it’s close. Maybe my favorite Pixar film.

  8. John Barber

    Also, the idea that sadness matters! Ah! When she sits down with Bing Bong just to listen to him cry… what a wonderful thing for my kids to see.

  9. Stacy Grubb

    Chris, yes, I cried over the multi-colored memory balls.

    Maybe my experience helped me to connect to the storyline so unabashedly. I was 11 when I was pulled from my incredibly small, family-like school environment I’d known since I was 4 and put into public school. It was a brutal transition. I was the sheltered Christian school kid with no inclination to rebel or make crude jokes. I was clothes clueless as I’d always worn school uniforms and hand-me-downs older than I was by a decade at least. Well, for a lot of reasons, I was the big time weirdo trying to make a friend in a cliquish group of kids who’d known each other since pre-school and had no desire to give me a chance.

    When Sadness began touching Riley’s core memories and turning them blue, I thought of that year. I cried for my old school, my old friends, my old happiness daily back then. Everything old became simultaneously happy and sad to remember. March of that school year, our trailer burned down and we lost everything. It was maybe my second blue core memory that formed as blue from the start. I was dealing with all that while also noticing how much thicker I was than the other girls, that my teeth were embarrassingly crooked while theirs had braces to fix that, that my hair was stupid. Plus, my mom and dad were betrayed by our church during a time when we’d lost just about every possession we owned. These church people had been as present as family for all my life and I remember feeling the shock and pain at their apathy while we flopped around like a fish on the dock, getting bloody and splintered, straining just to breathe, looking like fools with our mouths hanging open and our chests expanding trying to take in whatever life was there. Then, things got worse for a lot of years before they ever got better.

    So, watching the movie, I felt like Riley was just falling into a really deep black hole and that she’d learn to cope with the falling long before she’d ever feel caught. Riley isn’t real, but most everyone I know is. I saw so many of these people in her. I saw 11 year old me again just like I see her all the time and wish I could save her somehow. I can see where Inside Out could be criticized for being message-centric, but since it felt so true to how I felt as a little girl being yanked around and absolutely invaded by a sadness that couldn’t control itself, I just don’t care.

  10. Greg Dodson

    This film shines from beginning to end and definitely ranks among WALL-E and Up. Looking back, I love the way they set up Bing Bong. He’s introduced at an ideal time for an antagonist, but turned out to be the real hero of the entire film. Bing Bong says “Come on, Joy, one more time, I’ve got a feeling about this one.” At that moment, I knew the man-tears were coming. And sure enough…”Take her to the moon for me, Okay?” Seriously, Pixar.

    Also….Tripledent Gum – It’ll make you smile!

  11. Blaine

    I did like Brave (not my favorite, but it was enjoyable), but Inside Out was an absolutely incredible experience. Pixar makes fantastic movies–that’s why their teaser trailers are a vague sequence of disconnected images followed by the Pixar logo, because what else do you need? (Unless it’s Cars; then I need a lot more to convince me that was worth my time. But I digress.)–but Inside Out was something special. It’s not just an important reminder that sometimes we need Sadness–it’s also a visual metaphor for why growing up is hard. Suddenly we’re not just happy or sad or angry; emotions get muddled together and mixed up. “The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” As someone with Aspergers, I felt like this movie has said so many things for me that I’ve always struggled to find the words to say.

  12. Aden S

    Spectacular. One of Pixar’s best films.

    As one, who myself, moved to San Francisco years ago from Ohio as a young adult, I understood the backdrop and setting personally.

    I will add this. As a Christian, “Inside Out” made even more sense, honestly. For example. When Riley’s emotions no longer had control, her conscience had been shut down from the effect of her sin, she was dead in sin. I love how professing unbelievers got that truth right! But, that is just one example out of many front this film.

    Overall, the idea was executed so well, and I loved the emphasis of sadness as a key of life… Oh, and the loss of innocence portrayed in such an accurate way.

    I’ll admit, I now pay more attention to the voices in my head.

  13. Karen

    Five minutes in, I had a feeling this film might be one of the most profound I’ve seen of late. By the drive home from the theater, I wasn’t sure whether to put this or “Up” at the top of my Disney/Pixar list. It communicated so much without words, much in the way “Up” did.

    This poked at me in so many soft, beautiful, vulnerable, tender places that at one point (y’all know it…that scene with Bing Bong and Joy to which Greg alluded) I think I made the little kid next to me nervous because I had my knees balled up in front of me with big silent elephant tears falling down my cheeks.

    For the past couple years, I’ve been doing the hard work of sifting through the rubble left in the wake of several traumatic life events…death of a parent at a young age, [my own perceived] failure on the international mission field, long major medical issues, job upheaval, and more. How sad it has been to watch memory balls that once were Yellow turn to shades of Blue (oh how I ached every time Joy chastised Sadness for touching the balls – my Joy has tried to keep Sadness far away from it all, too, but only to the eventual detriment of the whole).

    Of all the various approaches we’ve tried to get to the heart of the hard, IFS (internal family systems, or “parts work”) has been leading me the farthest in we’ve gotten so far. It’s “Inside Out” to a tee! What a visual it was to watch Riley’s parts wrestle with each other, get frustrated with each other, create space for each other, learn from each other. This movie gives us a whole new paradigm through which to talk to kids (to each other as adults, too) about the complexities of emotion. Each part has real value to the whole…each one needs to be heard, acknowledged, appreciated to keep the whole functioning well. Even Sadness, that oft-avoided emotion of ours, can have a beautiful and important role. There are times for Joy, times for Sadness, times for Fear…it’s all so ecclesiastical, eh? How comforting is it that Blue or Green or Purple or Red core memories aren’t “bad” just because they’re not Yellow?

    This movie is beautiful because we as humans know it to be TRUE – that’s how our this-side-of-heaven imperfect human brains work! I know there are arguments to be had in other areas of psychology about the accuracy of the film (I’ve heard a lot of discussion about its portrayal of memory), but for the most part, the science behind it was good. That’s why most of us loved it so much – because we knew it to be true!

    I’ll admit: I already have a date set to see it a second time next week. I’ll be sure to pack some Kleenex this time!

  14. Aden S

    Pete, are some actually Christians? Or do you mean believer in a broader sense, much like the worshipped unknown “deity” that people the Apostle Paul faced in the Areopagus?

    If so. My apologies for not reading between the lines, or even reading enough stories about the folks at Pixar to know if some are actually believers. If I’m missing something completely, it wouldn’t be surprising, I can be quite dense. Hehe! 😀

    Anyhow, I loved your analogy of the security blankets… And the Pixar misfit, Brave. Both are completely accurate!!

  15. Janna Barber

    Halfway through this movie I didn’t want to watch anymore. It hit a little to close to home because we faced major transitions over and over again while I was growing up, and unfortunately, they didn’t always end with a safe place to cry it out. Mom and Dad were struggling just as much as I was (if not more) so they didn’t have much to offer us kids. Add to that the pressure of a happy crappy Christian subculture and you get me, the ultimate stuffer of emotions. I don’t know if I sensed that my parents couldn’t help, or if I was too ashamed of my sadness to open up, or too proud to be vulnerable…probably some mix of the three. Anyhow, I’m glad I stuck with the movie to the end because it was great to see such a vivid portrayal of how my early pattern of squelching sadness results in losing joy, too. Habits established so early in life are difficult to break, and I guess that’s why I still struggle with depression. However, I’m learning to reach out instead of always in, and each time someone sits with me in my pain, it gets easier to open up the next time.

  16. Jen Rose Yokel

    Stacy, I hadn’t really thought about joy vs. happiness until you brought it up… glad you did. Seems to me that joy is a more mature happiness, but one that needs sadness to become real?

    (Possible spoilers ahead? I dunno.)

    I loved how Riley’s emotions were born with her, and had to grow up with her. It reminded me of how when I was a kid, sometimes I’d be aware of sudden shifts in emotion — like crying one minute, then laughing the next — and how confusing that felt. Even as an adult, sometimes I still feel embarrassed about sadness, but Sadness might be my favorite part about this film.

    I really like too how they took such an abstract concept and visualized it in a creative way. The best Pixar films capture a sense of wonder from the most ordinary starting points.

    Anyway, I thought it was great fun. And I’m still thinking about it a couple days later.

  17. Stacy Grubb

    Jen, I think I’ve come to think of joy as a long haul emotion, while happiness comes and goes for a time. Maybe joy feels like gratitude sometimes. Joy is from knowing some feelings are liars, some thoughts are liars, and even some circumstances are. It’s wrapped up in the peace that passes understanding.

  18. Tom Fisher

    When – after a couple of hours of laughing our heads off – the entire movie burst into tears at the end, I realized this wasn’t just a GOOD movie, but (much like UP), it was a WISE movie. The point of the movie is that our sadness is a necessary companion to, and not an impediment to, our joy. Anyone who’s had a loss (a lost toy, a lost family member, a distant friend out of touch…) will be affected by this fine return to form for Pixar.

    By the way: Spot on view of the inside of the boy’s mind at the hockey game… and the minds of cats.

  19. Jordan

    In reflection, I was initially surprised by the choice of “joy” being the main, upbeat character and not love and even more so that love was never addressed once in the movie. But then, I was taken by gratitude that the makers made that choice. In that they both acknowledged that perhaps love is too complex to embody in a colorful cartoon and that perhaps love is what we’re longing for the whole time.

    (SPOILER) For in that final scene, we finally see it. Riley is loved as she acknowledges her sadness, as she is finally able to no longer mask her loss with happiness. Things just suck at times; things are broken and our healing is found in that good confession. And moreover, in her confession, Riley’s parents are given equal space to be honest about the loss they are feeling. So good!

    Inside Out is something worth exploring for many days and nights ahead but this strikes me at the moment.

  20. Aaron Alford

    I’m coming to this pretty late, so I’m not even sure this discussion is still going, but here goes. I loved that scene between Sadness & Bing Bong. For me that revealed how sadness can mature into empathy. I also found it interesting that Sadness/Empathy was “piloting” Riley’s mom’s emotions. Did anyone else notice that? Anger seemed to be “piloting” Dad, but he’s not an especially angry character. Any thoughts on what Anger can mature into?

  21. rdregge

    Would Anger mature into Justice, perhaps?

    I would call Love an action more than an emotion. Love can be fierce and jealous, or content and longsuffering. God is Love, after all, and He feels wrath and grief and patience and extraordinary mercy all at once.

  22. Emily

    Loved the NPR piece that Chris put up. I think that’s the hope I found in the movie, identifying with Riley and thinking, “I’m not the only one.” What good art! Connecting us and creating a sense of community.

  23. Julie Silander

    Loved it. Inside Out had more substance than most “grown-up” movies we’ve seen lately.

    I was particularly grateful to have seen it with my kids. I feel like we emerged from the movie with a new framework/vocabulary that will give form and substance to that which can feel illusive (the complexity of what is going on in our hearts/heads).

  24. Dustin Scott

    Does anyone know who the Bach is in the interview Keith posted of Docter (which was a fun read)? Google was not helpful. Apparently he’s a filmmaker.

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