Pixar is a movie studio that specializes in crafting animated films that are advertised to lure in the kiddies but whose primary objective is to make their parents cry in public. Their latest offering, Inside Out continues this tradition and throws in guilt for no charge!
The film's opening line summarizes the plot nicely, "Have you ever wondered what's going on inside the head of an eleven year old girl?" An unanimous "YES" rises up from every parent in the auditorium. For the next hour and a half Pixar shows us. Basically, our little Riley's brain headquarters is a factory of sorts filled with memories, short and long term memories that are stored in a giant colorful warehouse. These memories are divided into five personality islands, family, friendship, goofiness, honesty and hockey. At the control panel of her consciousness are five competing emotions, brought to life as fuzzy, color coded little people with huge eyes and four fingers. There's Joy, whose sole mission in life is to keep all of the other emotions away from the controls and see to it that Riley is happy all day long. Then there's Fear, Anger and Disgust, all doing their bit at the appropriate time. Finally, there's the insufferably adorable and bespectacled Sadness, who is always ruining everything and generally making Joy's life difficult. It's all quite funny and very clever and for the most part great fun. When our little Riley is learning to skate on the pond out back in her Minnesota home, or rough housing with her parents as a toddler, it is a satisfying, escapist night out at the movies. But when Dad takes his start-up venture, along with his family out to San Francisco, everything changes. Eleven year old Riley must deal with everything from brochilli pizza, to having no furniture for a week because the moving van went to the wrong state, to being the new girl at school, all at once. Suddenly, Joy must make way to lots of Fear, Disgust, Anger, and especially Sadness.
Let me here add a quibble or two I had with the premise of this fine film. First, if I didn't know better, this film would have me believe that our entire existence on this planet is governed exclusively by our emotions, patently untrue. Secondly, only five emotions? No Guilt,or Envy? How come Pride makes no appearance? But, whenever I catch myself taking issue with the finer points of psychology, I must remind myself...it's a movie and an animated one at that. It wasn't very long ago when these things were called cartoons, so chill out.
Riley has a rough go of it in San Francisco, and seriously, who wouldn't? Soon she becomes sullen, withdrawn, and for reasons that escape me, Joy and Sadness leave headquarters on some wild plot goose-chase that leaves Fear, Anger and Disgust in charge. Predictably, Riley is soon a hot mess. In a scene that I still cannot get out of my head, Riley is sitting at the dinner table being peppered with questions about her day by her well meaning parents. Meanwhile, back at head quarters, Anger grabs the controls. Dad presses the unresponsive Riley for an answer, telling her he doesn't much care for her tone and attitude. Inside of Dads brain, the emotions at his control panel are determined to get tough. "Put the foot down....THE FOOT IS DOWN! Repeat, THE FOOT IS DOWN!" Riley gives in to Anger, explodes in a rage and runs up the stairs to her furniture-less room.
It was at this point that I found myself reliving every failure I had as a Father, every moment when I lost my temper. The time I warned Kaitlin that if she didn't stop throwing a fit ( or merely crying, as her Mother would describe it later), I wouldn't let her go trick-or-treating. She didn't do either that night. I won the battle and lost the war. Or the time I flew into a rage at my crying child who had hurt my feelings by not wanting to leave the sitter. This scene allowed me to relive those failures through the eyes of a child who wasn't capable of articulating her feelings. It brought tears to my eyes.
By the time Joy and Sadness finally make it back to headquarters, Riley has bought a bus ticket back to Minnesota. This is where a beautiful truth of this film comes to life. We learn that life isn't always about joy and happiness, that in fact, sadness is also part of life, not something to be avoided at all cost. Through times of great sadness, others get the chance to come along side of us, to comfort us, to commiserate. We come out on the other side of sadness a better, more complete, more understanding person. We discover just how valuable our family and friends are to us, something we would never understand without those difficult moments.
So, Pixar did it again. You would have thought I would have learned my lesson with Toy Story. As the credits rolled, I was choked up, Pam was crying.