Movie Review: Pixar’s “Inside Out”

Our parents pulled a surprise on us Friday evening and announced that the next morning we’d all go and see Pixar’s latest film, Inside Out! Needless to say, the house erupted in a chorus of cheers at the news, and it didn’t matter if you were 5 or 23 or–well, I won’t say how old my dad is, but you get the picture. Pixar rarely disappoints, no matter how old you are–and who doesn’t like a trip to the theater?

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IMDB Synopsis: “Growing up can be a bumpy road, and it’s no exception for Riley, who is uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. Like all of us, Riley is guided by her emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness. The emotions live in Headquarters, the control center inside Riley’s mind, where they help advise her through everyday life. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues in Headquarters. Although Joy, Riley’s main and most important emotion, tries to keep things positive, the emotions conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house and school.”

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This is only the second time I’ve seen a Pixar movie in the theater (the first time was Toy Story 3)–and it was WONDERFUL! The storytellers of Pixar have the uncanny gift of communicating truth in colorful, hilarious, and yet heartstrings-tugging ways. Inside Out is no exception–and it’s unbelievably clever! In some ways it reminds me of Inception, in that I saw those adorable little emotions running around in Riley’s head and thought, “Oh my gosh, that is so creepy–my brain works exactly like that!” But it never gets so bogged-down in the intricacies of the mind and heart that my smaller siblings couldn’t keep up.

(Well, except for the part about abstract thinking…that may have gone over a little person’s head, but we adults were cracking up.)

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There’s something else the people at Pixar are really good at: telling stories that everyone can relate to. I’ve never made a traumatic geographical move like little Riley–but I have felt responsible for keeping a brave face on a difficult situation and hiding my real emotions, no matter what. When Riley tells her parents, “I know you want me to be happy, but I’m not…please don’t be mad at me”–that was when I started crying. Because I’ve definitely been there.

Both my parents, on the other hand, made emotionally-devastating moves when they were children. Dad moved from Connecticut to Louisiana when he was a kid, while Mom moved from a Mayberry-esque town in north Louisiana to New Orleans. Talk about major culture shocks, in both situations. They could both relate to Riley’s utter confusion, grief, and then anger as she tried to cope with the trauma.

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But–and bless you a thousand times for this, Pixar–Inside Out never says those negative emotions are bad and should be avoided at all costs, or that you should put on a Pollyanna face instead of having a good cry. That’s what Riley tries to do, and guess what? It flops. 

HOWEVER. Neither does Inside Out say you should simply let all your feelings go wild and unrestrained because (*dramatic gasp*) SELF-EXPRESSION–FREEDOM–I WAS BORRRRRRRN THIS WAY–(*flails*). Nuh-uh. If anything, it communicates a very biblical message about emotions: that they’re part of who we are as human beings, that you should acknowledge your feelings, even the unpleasant ones, and then take care to keep them balanced. Because the so-called negative emotion itself isn’t a sin. It’s what you do with it that will either edify or destroy you.

I won’t tell you how it ends, because that would be classified as SPOILERS and I’m trying to avoid posting them on my blog these days! But I will tell you that Inside Out left all of us with a very keen awareness of not just our own “emotional headquarters,” but those of the  the people around us. Who knows what’s going on in the heart and head of that obnoxious sibling, or that shy, withdrawn girl at church, or the abrasive blogger, or the parent who comes home from work looking grim and depressed?  As difficult as those people may be, they might be hiding deep wounds and fears–and I need to make sure that I respond appropriately and with compassion. Not like Joy, when she tries to push her happiness on the grief-stricken Bing Bong…but like Sadness, who knows when to “weep with those who weep.”

And as someone who’s really, reeeeaaaaally struggled in the past with acknowledging her emotions (especially the more unpleasant, uncomfortable ones), I’m definitely learning that I need to be honest with myself and simply admit whenever I’m scared, angry, disgusted, heartbroken, or just plain giddy with joy. And then I need to surrender all of those emotions–even the joy!–to the Lord. While they are definitely affected by total depravity, He never intended for me to smother or ignore them. Besides, even He has emotions! His are perfect and mine aren’t, that’s true–but the fact that I can feel so strongly is part of being created in His image.

We should value our emotions. We shouldn’t be ruled by them…but we shouldn’t take them lightly or trample them underfoot, either. They’re God-given indicators of the conditions of our souls and we should treat them as such. And that, I think is the message of Inside Out. 

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7 thoughts on “Movie Review: Pixar’s “Inside Out”

  1. Loved this review! Now I want to see the movie myself, and I hope it will restore my trust in Pixar. Also, it’s encouraging to hear about a film that handles the topic of emotions in a balanced way; our society is nothing if not extremist, and usually on the I-do-what-I-want side. :-/

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    1. Very true, very true. I definitely thought it was “old-school Pixar”–clever, sweet, and with a good moral lesson.

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  2. I’m SO GLAD to hear they don’t sweep negative emotions under the rug! I’m looking forward to this a lot more now! I believe that to be healthy one needs to deal and feel all their emotions, not just some of them–so I’m glad Pixar seems to be taking the same stand!

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  3. Hi Maribeth!
    I’ve been reading your posts for a while, not sure if I’ve commented before or not, but anyway, I really appreciate this review! I’d heard this was a good movie from a non-Christian friend, and though she and I can usually agree on the more shallow aspects of what makes a good movie, since she’s not a Christian I wasn’t sure if the moral lesson would be good. It’s great to hear from a fellow believer that it does have a good moral lesson, besides being a return to the “old-school” Pixar! I’m looking forward to seeing it now.
    Thanks for your review!

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    1. Hello Lizzie–nice to “meet” you! I’m so glad you liked the review. It really was a wonderful film and I hope you enjoy it!

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  4. I just saw Inside Out two days ago, and was reading up about it when I came across this review. I completely agree – it was a touching movie with a beautiful ending, which made both me and the rest of my family cry. When I’d first heard about it, I thought it would be strange – and it was, a little, but in a good way. It deals with deep concepts and morals that nearly everyone can relate to and understand, which is a wonderful thing found in both movies and stories. I think that was why “Let it Go” became so popular; many people could relate to it. To be honest, I’m starting to think this might just become as popular as Frozen, based off of what people have said about it. It even received 98% on Rotten Tomatoes!
    Anyways, back on what I was originally going to say – this is one of my favorite movies of all time, and a sweet, beautifully done one at that. You wrote a wonderful review for it!

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