Top Four Learnings About Emotions From Pixar-Disney's Inside Out


After much anticipation Inside Out was finally released on the 19th of June.

We were very curious to see how Disney and Pixar would portray the complexity of our minds and our emotions in their latest animation, a story that features an 11-year-old girl named Riley who moves to San Francisco and everything that goes on in her mind and with her emotions. The main characters that we get to know are her key emotions: Joy, Anger, Disgust, Sadness, and Fear. It takes us into her mind where memories are stored, where ideas are created and where emotions are dispersed.

Why this movie matters

We were thrilled that Inside Out was going to bring the relatively taboo and unspoken topic of emotions to people in a way that they could relate to them and that made it OK to talk about feelings. Pete Doctor and the team behind Inside Out, spent extensive time with psychologists and neurologists. The big question was, how accurately would this film show the latest research around emotions. Would it reinforce the belief the world seems to have that the only emotion we want to have is joy or happiness and that all other emotions are just annoying? Would it teach the audience, children and adults alike, about how they can better relate and navigate their emotions? Would is show what the real purpose of emotions is?

We know that many researchers in the field of emotions were skeptical about this film, probably because they know how complex a topic it is and much can get lost when we try to simplify it. On our side we felt grateful that the topic of emotions is being brought to light and hopeful that Inside Out would contribute to the movement of acknowledging, accepting and valuing emotions, which is exactly what we are trying to achieve with Feeling Magnets.

So what is our verdict?

It’s definitely entertaining and worth the watch. We also realized that we are probably watching this film through different lenses than other people who have not spent the last few years immersed in research around emotions. There were some key passages and messages in the movie that they really nailed and that we hope people take away with them. (Careful! Spoilers ahead!)

1. Joy isn’t always the best feeling

Riley’s dominant emotion is joy and throughout most of the movie, it seems like Joy is trying to protect Riley from the other emotions, making them seem a bit like they are the bad guys (which for the record, they are not). But Joy also has some important learnings during the movie. There are two particular scenes that bring to light that sadness can also be the best feeling for a particular moment.

The first scene that really highlights this is when Bing Bong is feeling sad and Joy tries to cheer him up… unsuccessfully. Sadness then sits with him and is sad and empathic with him. To Joy’s surprise Bing Bong responds well to this and can then move forward. Finally at the end of the movie Joy seems to have learned to trust and value Sadness and she lets Sadness take control of the dashboard. This beautifully shows how all feelings have good intentions, that they are there to help us and guide us.

2. Our feelings about something can change

Riley has some core memories that are stored in a special place in her mind. These memories are all joyful (yellow) and at some point Sadness starts to touch them and when she does, they turn sad. At first it might not be clear why she is doing that and our first reaction is “No! Don’t do that!” But seeing as these core memories are from before Riley moved to San Francisco it makes sense that these memories become sad (even if they were happy before). Sadness is about loss and through her move to a new city, Riley had lost the life that she had before. It was actually important for Riley to let herself feel sad because sadness helps us to reflect and reminds us what is important to us so we can move forward in the best possible way.

3. Numbing all emotions

Riley wasn’t allowing herself to feel sad. She ignores her feelings, which leads to random outbursts (like on the first day of school where she starts crying in class) and slowly she begins numb her emotions completely. This eventually leads her to steal from her parents and to run away. Her personality islands all break away making her unsure of who she is and further disconnecting her from herself. All of this just because she wasn’t letting herself feel her emotions completely.

4. Several emotions at once

In one of the final scenes, we see a new core memory of Riley’s come in. This is the first memory that has two feelings - joy and sadness - at the same time. This brilliantly shows how we can feel many emotions simultaneously. However confusing that may seem, that is the reality of our emotions.

We are secretly hoping that there will be an Inside Out 2, where they will then also show, in more detail, the value of Fear, Anger and Disgust, the way it was highlighted for Sadness. They could show how Anger helps Riley to stand up for something that is unfair - perhaps standing up for someone who is being bullied. Fear could help Riley stay out of danger or make sure she prepares well for a presentation that she has in school. The possibilities are endless, because our feelings are really our friends that are trying to help us - if only we let them.

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