Pixar’s newest offering, Inside Out arrives in theaters today. It’s a Pixar film, so you know it’s going to be good and you know you can take your kids. But (like its Pixar predecessors) it is fraught with emotion (that’s kinda the whole point), tension and peril. So, as a parent, what should you be aware of before taking your kids to see Inside Out?
Based in Headquarters, the control center inside 11-year-old Riley’s mind, five Emotions are hard at work, led by lighthearted optimist Joy (voice of Amy Poehler), whose mission is to make sure Riley stays happy. Fear (voice of Bill Hader) heads up safety, Anger (voice of Lewis Black) ensures all is fair and Disgust (voice of Mindy Kaling) prevents Riley from getting poisoned—both physically and socially. Sadness (voice of Phyllis Smith) isn’t exactly sure what her role is, and frankly, neither is anyone else. When Riley’s family relocates to a scary new city, the Emotions are on the job, eager to help guide her through the difficult transition. But when Joy and Sadness are inadvertently swept into the far reaches of Riley’s mind— taking some of her core memories with them—Fear, Anger and Disgust are left reluctantly in charge. Joy and Sadness must venture through unfamiliar places—Long Term Memory, Imagination Land, Abstract Thought and Dream Productions—in a desperate effort to get back to Headquarters, and Riley.
Inside Out is really original. The way the film handle the abstract concepts of feelings, consciousness and memory is pretty novel, but may be harder for younger viewers to understand. Riley’s parents constantly ask her to be their “happy girl” though she is understandably feeling big emotions about moving away from her friends and hobbies. It’s worth discussing with your kids the kind of pressure those expectations put on Riley, and how it’s resolved. As the parent of a kid (Nate) who tends to be bit more morose (and as former pubescent girl myself) I really loved the way Sadness was represented as a confused being who didn’t know why she existed and how she eventually figured out that she was needed. Inside Out could be an excellent conversation starter for kids around Kit’s age (8/2nd grade) as they are just starting to feel some more subtle emotions like jealousy, loyalty and frustration, while still not quite understanding the purpose of those emotions or how to express them.
There are a few moments that might make me think twice about bringing the youngest kids. Some of the characters fall into a deep, dark pit with memories that are going to fade (Small but important to read spoiler here for families with emotionally sensitive kids: one of the characters fades away – sacrifices their self -in this pit). Riley runs away from home which causes the audience a lot of tension. Riley’s fears are shown including a dead rat and a giant clown, which may freak kids out.
From a scientific standpoint it’s clear that the production team has done their homework on the psychology of feelings. It’s a good, kid-friendly introduction to complex concepts like feelings and memories, but it’s no way scientifically accurate in representing how those things work in a real, neurological sense (as cool as it would be to have an actual Train of Thought…)
All told it’s a fantastic, positive story. It’s charming, perfectly cast (Of course Lewis Black is anger!) and has enough moments of humor to balance out the tears. Parents will definitely want to bring some tissues. While Kit teared up a few times, I was an unapologetic, sobbing mess at least twice. The movie was developed when director Pete Docter’s teenage daughter was starting to experience some of the same big feelings Riley is, and the movie is definitely written from a parent’s point of view. It’s tender and touching…and it will probably make you cry.
So, “Can I bring my 5 year old to Inside Out”? I’d say yes, and that even younger kids would enjoy this one with adult guidance. Inside Out would be really beneficial for older kids to see. Riley is 11 when the movie starts and I think her experiences will really resonate with kids ages 11-14.
I had the chance to see this movie a few weeks ago at a special screening at the Seattle International Film Festival, and was able to interview director Pete Docter and Producer Jonas Rivera in conjunction with this special screening. Check back tomorrow, when I’ll post the interview – and the dorky photo I asked them to pose for!