This is a review by a man who was eleven (the age of Riley, the protagonist of the movie) back in the forties.
I was a refugee from Nazi-occupied France, who grew up loving radio, Disney films, and so many other aspects of American culture. I thought my perspective might interest you.
I’ve seen a host of Disney films in my day, and regard them as reflecting and shaping American consciousness. Inside Out is a remarkable film in many respects. Created with the close consultation of two psychologists from the Bay Area, it attempts to influence how kids and their parents think about their emotions and inner lives. An animated film that ventures into that sphere is remarkable in its own right; this one does so with humor, imagination, and compassion and has gained a huge following. It deserves all the kudos it has garnered.
Much of the film’s action takes place in the head of Riley, who has just moved from Minnesota (where she loved her comfortable home, her friends, and playing hockey) to a sketchy neighborhood in San Francisco. Her parents have decided to pull up roots in order to take the opportunity for greater economic success.
That’s what motivates their move – and its presented to both the film goer and the young girl as a given not to be questioned. After all, isn’t that the American Way? Right in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, we’re guaranteed the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. And in contemporary America, aren’t happiness and consumerism linked? The more we purchase, the finer the objects we purchase, the happier we are.
In the film, the five inner emotions that dictate Riley’s actions are Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear. The emotion running the show is: (you guessed it) Joy! She organizes the four others, keeps them in line, and reminds them that she is the most important of them all. Her driving ambition is to “be happy”. An All-American girl!
Just as the assumption that the parents leaving their idyllic existence in Minnesota is a justified move, so is it a given that Joy plays the dominant role among the emotions. In the development of the story line, Joy does learn to acknowledge the important role Sadness plays in coping with reality. The inner balance shifts. Evolution is going on, both within the main character in the movie and perhaps in the greater consciousness.
I thought about how this film couldn’t have been produced in Europe. European literature and philosophy are grounded in human suffering and dashed dreams stretching back centuries. The Romantics and Revolutionaries who pressed for human happiness in the past have all too often seen their efforts go up in flames. Pixar Europa might have created an evolutionary film where Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger would have run the show… and finally Joy would have been allowed to sit at the table and have a say. But there is no Pixar Europa.
As for myself, I’m glad to be living Outside in America, where striving for a balance between those Inside five emotions is seen as a good thing in the latest Disney contribution to our consciousness.
Frank Rubenfeld, Ph.D. is a BAGI Trainer and Faculty Member. For more, go to www.frankrubenfeld.com