Pixar’s Inside Out – and a Second Thought on Joy & Sadness

Blog - Inside Out - Theology of Sadness - scpr.org

Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.Psalm 30:5

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.Matthew 5:4

My husband and I watched Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out this weekend. It was so stressful. We wondered how children managed coping with the anxiousness of the story. Riley, the heroine of the film, is an 11y/o who moved with her parents far away from her hometown. The story tells how she deals with that move with the help of her emotions (5 in particular – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust).

Happy, happy, happy little Joy is the moon-faced, darling emotion of Riley’s. The tension in the story is Joy’s attempt at damage control as little Sadness begins coloring some of Riley’s happy memories “blue”. The plot twists and turns as Joy tries to right Riley’s world.  She is pulled into a journey with Sadness alongside and spends most of the film trying to get back to Riley’s “presence of mind”. Meanwhile, Anger, Fear, and Disgust do what they can to help Riley maneuver through her day…without Joy and Sadness’s help. It’s a scary prospect.

I’m thinking children must get caught up in the adventure, the mesmerizing visuals and the familiar faces of these emotions. For me, it was just stressful.

I have a huge respect and admiration for Ed Catmull after hearing him speak at Global Leadership Summit 2015. Catmull heads the work of Disney/Pixar Animation Studios. Dave recently read his book Creativity, Inc. and so enjoyed it that I’m reading it also.

Blog - GLobal Leadership Summit - Ed Catmull by brainpickings.orgPhoto Credit: Brainpickings.org

Watching Inside Out, my mind wandered to the creative teams at Disney/Pixar. What were they thinking?! Then later, I had second thoughts on the film…after watching bits again as our youngest son, visiting over the weekend, watched it on pay-per-view.

He, too, also thought it was stressful, but as I watched his face, watching the film…I saw what we might have missed as older ones watching. Wonder, surprise, vexation, empathy. In the strong face of this young man, I saw the response to the film maybe hoped for by the creators. The audience identifying with the film…and in the end…understanding and a sweet resolution of the seeming conflict between Joy and Sadness.

On that second watching (both the film and watching my son watching), I liked Inside Out much better. It helped me to Google that great “Aha!” moment of Joy’s – when she discovered:

“Sadness…Mom and Dad, the team…they came to help because of sadness.”

No spoilers for those of you who haven’t seen the film, but for me, a couple of articles really resonated (see below). I struggle personally with sadness which shades the joy I also experience.  Then that same joy re-colors the sadness, bringing perspective and healing. Josh Larsen, in an article on the Think Christian website, wrote beautifully about this film’s message (at a deeper level):

It’s a rich subject – one mined with Pixar’s usual combination of wit, intelligence and emotional resonance – and also one that echoes a Christian understanding of the human experience. Christianity, after all, is an expression of joy in response to – not in denial of – deep sadness…we can’t fully understand our place in God’s story unless we’ve experienced sadness of some sort. It isn’t until we recognize the deep sorrow of this world – the Fall, and our perpetuation of its effects – that we can fully appreciate the almost laughable generosity of Christ’s redemptive act. And only then will we know true joy, the fairy-tale ending that is God’s restoration of His creation. – Josh Larsen

Toward the end of the film, there’s a lovely moment between Riley and her parents. She finally comes to terms with her deep sadness in moving away from home. It’s a place all of us have been if we linger with a person grieving…a person who knows we love them.

I was reminded how sadness sometimes  overtakes us and it’s best confronted head-on in all its real…on-another’s-shoulder…Riley, tears spilling down her face, doesn’t hold back as she pours out her grief to her parents. As they cradle her into their arms they, too, confess their own sadness.  Then it happens…that last wet-faced shudder into Daddy’s chest; that deep sigh…all cried out.

That’s what we love about Disney/Pixar…and the God-given emotions of joy and sadness…especially when love is in the mix.

Inside Out and a Theology of Sadness – Josh Larsen, Think Christian

Many critics love Pixar’s ‘Inside Out.’ Not this guy.

Inside Out Quotes

All 15 Pixar Movies, Ranked From Worst to Best

8 thoughts on “Pixar’s Inside Out – and a Second Thought on Joy & Sadness”

  1. I took the twins to see this one weekend when we had the opportunity and not much else to do, even though I knew it’d be over their heads. I don’t remember much, but I did cry. I think what touched me was watching the little pieces of her fade away, all the happy bits that made up her personality and experience, lost. It’s just a bit scary and saddening with the littles, to know what awaits them and how the world will try to destroy and deceive. It renewed my resolve to bolster them in prayer and build up His armor, His purposes in their lives.

    I suppose it also helps me appreciate their individual emotions, the differences in how they experience the world. I remember sitting in a fast food joint at the old port with you and Nathan as you encouraged him to find the joy in his experience 🙂

    1. Oh, Blythe, thanks for writing. I would love to know how the twins experienced the film. Those parts you mentioned were so poignant. Memory has always been an enigma to me – why we remember some things and not others…why we can remember a moment, seconds really…and not larger chunks of experience.

      I love your memories of our times together. It was just visits here and there and yet they were so rich. I love how you loved our kids…and how you treated them as full-fledged real people, though still so young, yet you treated them “like” they were big. I think they “got bigger” because of that…your love, honor, and genuine enjoyment of/vexation with them. Your friendship is something we all treasure from those days in N. Africa…and still do.

      May your little ones, growing up, have such friends as you were to ours.

      Oh, and speaking of Nathan – one of the saddest (non-death-related) days of our lives was when he didn’t make the soccer team in 8th grade. We were back in the States for a year, and they were attending a small Christian school. I think the roster for the team was 20 and 22 boys tried out. Nathan and his best friend didn’t make the team. Saddest night ever. Crying in his pillow sad. Then, thank God, that cloud lifted. He and his friend played on a county rec. team, and all was restored. That’s what I thought of when, in the film, Riley cried her sadness into her daddy’s chest. Anyway, thanks for your take on the film…and that memory of Nathan. He’s ever so grown up now.

  2. Loved this movie. We saw it as a family last weekend. It was right on the money. My favorite part was when Joy realized that Sadness had to take the controls of Riley’s life for her to be her true self. And then when Sadness took the controls and started pressing buttons and BOOM- Riley started bawling…so did I. And then the family island came back up because the family bonded over that moment. So poignant. We can’t and shouldn’t protect ourselves or our kids from feeling sadness. HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS MOVIE.

    1. Thanks, Jay, for your comment. That was a very suspenseful part when Sadness took control of Riley’s response to life. Very sweet and realistic finish of the film. We can’t protect our kids or ourselves from sadness. We go through it together.

  3. I’ll have to watch it sometime – I’m sure I’ll be able to identify with crying over moving memories. 🙂 But, at the same time, I have wonderful memories related to each move we made.

    Also, read the ordered list – agree with Nemo and Toy Story being in the top three, but Wall-E? Really? I never got why that one was such a hit – maybe because it was trying to be so edgy? But, I love the other two! My dad has still never seen Nemo, believe it or not, but he said he’ll watch it with Little Miss when she’s old enough.

    1. I don’t think I’ve seen Toy Story 2 or 3 – definitely I haven’t seen Toy Story 3. Will be very pleased to catch up on my Disney/Pixar films with Little Miss.

  4. Joy talks to Nathan because Sadness and Anger touched the console and Joy and Nathan to be Friends and played hockey with Riley with joy sadness anger fear disgust and Nathan.

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