In a beautifully imaginative take on world-building the latest offering from Pixar tackles big ideas in the closed quarters of the mind. Steered by an affable bunch of characters representing our primary emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling), this powerful narrative is both simple and profound, due largely to the use of playful metaphors to explore complex emotional issues.



Inside Out tells the story of 11-year-old Riley and her struggle to deal with the challenges of leaving the comforts of Suburban America for the trendy but hectic West coast of San Francisco. As Riley attempts to contend with her new environment, which substitutes frozen lakes for broccoli pizza, she slowly loses control of her emotions, a process which the audience is privy to via the humorous interactions between the characters in her mind as they struggle to maintain the status quo. When Joy becomes desperate to control headquarters and thwart the influence of Sadness the two are ejected from the Control Tower and it’s left to the remaining emotions, Anger, Fear and Disgust, to run the show. Cue ensuing hilarity and typical Pixar heart-wrenching.

Pixar is known for using beautifully nostalgic and poignant visual metaphors for addressing big ideas: the loss of innocence that accompanies childhood’s end (Toy Story); the heart’s capacity for love after loss¬†(Up); and, emancipation from fear (Monster’s Inc.). The emotional resonance of Inside Out is difficult to distill into a single idea or concept because the subject is so complex, but it serves a very important purpose; as the title suggests, it inverts contemporary narratives which emphasis observable traits and behaviours by exposing internal processes, thus demystifying them. Moreover, the film rewrites the way we think about thinking in a manner that presents an opportunity for parents to talk to their children about their feelings and critically, to teach them how to engage with their feelings without fear of judgement or stigma.

Some of my favourite visual metaphors from the film include: the Train of Thought, a free-ranging locomotive which Joy and Sadness hijack in an attempt to ride it back to the control tower; the Personality Islands, which rise and crumble with the tides of experience whenever Riley creates a “core” memory; and, Abstract Thought, where ideas are reconceptualised and re-cast as non-objective fragments. Each playfully renders complex emotional processes into colourful metaphors to delight and inspire. Equally delightful are the closing credits which offer glimpses into the minds of secondary characters,¬†including a cat – as mad and disruptive on the inside as it is on the outside – and a teenage boy upon meeting a girl – think “core meltdown” meets “bleating panic”. If that’s not enough to compel you to see this movie then I don’t know what is.

At it’s heart, Inside Out is a colourful children’s film written for adults – a trait for which Pixar is rightfully renowned. Perhaps the most compelling character and the vehicle through which the films core metaphor is communicated, is Sadness. Although I previously stated that the message of Inside Out is difficult to distill, Sadness undoubtedly plays a central role. From the moment Sadness touches a core memory in the beginning of the film, irreversibly altering its emotional make-up, to the touching realisation at the films end that Sadness compels growth, Inside Out reminds us that Joy cannot always rule, and that’s ok.

Feature Image via: Pixar Animation Studios & Walt Disney Pictures