Spoilers in a Paragraph:
Every human has five emotions in their mind reacting to circumstances and encouraging emotional responses from a command center in the mind: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. Riley moves to a new town where circumstances prevent Joy from being in control, Sadness takes over, then Sadness and Joy both disappear from Riley’s emotional canon, as her key personality traits are stripped from her (“Hockey”, “Friends”, “Family”, “Goofiness”), until she is emotionless and without identity, at which point it’s only Sadness that compels her to return to her family. The family listens to her concern (“I miss home”) and hugs her. Apparently, listening to Riley vent is her catharsis (her emotional burdens are released from within her and into the world where they don’t (immediately) affect her). Then it’s the warm embrace that creates happiness — Joy.
So we spend at least the last 2/3 of the movie in the spiraling hopelessness of Riley losing her emotions and personality. The “message” (if that’s what it was) or resolution comes in the last minute of the film.
The inciting incident is when Joy and Sadness lose control — they get sent away from the command center and have to find their way back, so for 2/3 of the movie, Riley falls apart. She has no hope of happiness as long as Joy and her “core memories” are not in the command center, and circumstances indicate that all the losses of memory and of personality during this bout of depression (or emotional chaos) are permanent which feels pretty shitty when you’re watching it. I guess her personality comes back (after all, it’s the core memories Joy carries around the whole movie), but you’re not told it will. In fact, there’s the constant fear that Sadness will accidentally ruin those too.
The comedy comes in the midst of angst. But overall, it wasn’t a “fun” movie, but a dramatic movie.
That said, I don’t think young kids even understand the story; kids in grade school probably get the emotions as emotions and as characters (like Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse), but won’t realize it’s a psychoanalysis and won’t draw any societal lesson from it; kids in middle school and high school will realize it’s an analysis of the mind, BUT I don’t think they’re going to get anything out of it except to identify that if you lose your emotions, it’s up to random luck whether those emotions in your head will find their way back to command center. For those who feel hopeless, they’ll feel more hopeless. Or maybe the movie will express their emotions for them. Or maybe they’ll learn to talk about their emotions before they disappear. I don’t know their reaction.
But this movie will be talked about. With questions like “What’s the purpose of the movie?” and “What’s the message of the movie?” Two very important questions that must be answered but aren’t. And it’s one of the paradoxes of a story. Some stories are allegorical; they have a message and make it clear. Most stories, however, are entertainment – with no message. Then there’s “good” movies (still entertainment), which hold a mirror up to life (a mirror with an author’s filter) and say “here’s the worst of it. No comment. Figure it out.” I want to say, it’s mostly “here’s the worst of it” with a brief moment of allegorical.
Let me preface this review by saying I had been forewarned about this movie. I heard things like “it was a good movie, but there was some LONG sad parts.” I expected that of Pixar because ever since finding Nemo, Pixar has erred on the side of drama, sadness, and loss to drive their plot, and little on imagination and wonder, which is in my opinion why Toy Story and Monsters Inc. are their two best movies (after Geri’s Game). The person who was complaining about the long sad parts said “I’m fine with sad parts in movies, but that was sad for way too long.”
The first experience I had with the movie was the UK trailer, which was a 2 minute scene at the dinner table. It was cute and imaginative. It began with the mom asking the daughter “How was your day.” When the daughter responds “Okay I guess”, the camera pushes into the mom’s head and we see a council of little creatures at a console. They can see what mom sees. They’re reacting to the scene dramatically. Intuitively, it’s mom’s emotions. They comment on the daughter’s response, reading into her response, “something’s up”. Then they look to dad for help who, of course is thinking about sports (I’m so tired of this stereotype), and missed the cue. The scene goes on until the girl storms off (I think). Typical teenage angst was my assumption. But what is it going to be about? Can they sustain a whole movie like Mystery Science Theater? No way. Then what?
Next I saw the US trailer #2, which was that 2 minute scene edited down, with titles and voice overs: “this is joy… this is anger… this is sadness…”.
Okay, so going into the movie, I know it’s about the emotions in your head. However, my brother had warned me: “The whole time, I couldn’t figure out if the movie was going to be about the girl, or the emotions in her head. As it turned out, it really wasn’t either. … As far as I could tell. ” He also told me “It will make you cry,” as if it wasn’t already obvious. It’s a Pixar movie.
Now, the movie.
It began with the daughter’s birth. POV of the baby opening it’s eyes as it sees parents for the first time (probably not, actually, since both parents were standing up – so maybe they were grabbing their baby from the nursing center after birth). “Joy” is in the console watching the view. She explains what’s going on. “This is Riley…. I’m joy…. At first it was just me and Riley. We were so happy.” I think the first memory was created. A snapshot, and a glass ball rolls out. The balls contains the snapshot replaying inside the glass (ala Minority Report). “It was me and Riley forever.” Then Riley starts crying. Joy is confused and looks to the console – Sadness has pressed a button. “Well, for eight seconds.”
Then they go on collecting other emotions, and showing the creation of new memories. Joy explains “core memories” which form Riley’s personality and create the worlds of “Goofiness” “Friendship” “Family”, “Hockey”, etc. . Joy explains each emotion and why it exists:
I’m “Joy”. I make Riley happy.
“Fear” makes Riley careful, and keeps her from hurting herself (Fear makes Riley slow down to analyze a lamp chord and walk cautifously around it – she knocks it down anyway).
“Disgust” keeps Riley from poisoning herself. Disgust gives her a negative reaction to Broccoli.
“Anger” appeals to Riley’s sense of fairness. When dad tells her she can’t have something, Riley yells “That not fair!” and storms off.
And this is “Sadness”. I don’t know what she does.
Boom. That one hit hard. I interpreted this as “Sadness is a useless emotion”. This could be a feel-good movie then, about conquering sadness. But I’m told it’s really sad and depressing… Hmm.. How?
Note that each emotion is color coded:
Disgust is green.
Anger is red.
Sadness is blue.
Fear is like a teal.
Joy is yellow. Except Joy is only one with a dash of another color. She has blue hair. I don’t know why. My theory is that they wanted a color to balance the glowing yellow creature they had created and blue is the complimentary color. Then they thought, in order to justify themselves, well since the whole story is going to be sadness vs joy, maybe it’s appropriate to add some Sadness to Joy. To say you can’t have one without the other. But I didn’t think of any of this until after the movie – so ignore it for now. And you didn’t hear that about the plot.
So after the growing up montage and teaching you the world mechanics, Riley finds herself in an over-packed car, moving to San Francisco.
And the hard knocks begin. And they don’t let up…. until the very … last … moment … of the movie. But we don’t know this yet, and it isn’t the inciting incident.
In the car, Riley Fears the move. The car ride is too long; she gets angry.
Upon arrival, she sees the new house. It’s a tiny two-story town home crammed between other town homes. (Disgust).
Riley sees her new bedroom – the attic room. There’s dust and garbage everywhere. And a dead rat. Disgusting. Joy always tries to recover the moment by thinking positively. Hey, clean slate; you can decorate! Riley imagines her room decorated. She’s happy again. She runs downstairs to the moving van, BUT…. “Uh oh, the parents look stressed.” Dad: “The moving van isn’t going to arrive until Thursday” (a few days out). “Great,” she thinks “now I have to go to school with old clothes. I won’t have anywhere to sleep….” But Joy is persistent. What if? Yeah…. Joy puts a lightbulb into the console. Riley crabs a hockey stick and a crumpled piece of paper and plays hockey around the new living room, scoring a goal around her dad into the fireplace. They go for another round, and mom joins in. A new memory is formed – a happy one. Only, as it’s rolling down, dad gets a call, cutting her play short. Dad has to go to the office immediately. Dad takes off, and Riley thinks about the pizza place she passed on her way there. Riley and mom head to pizza, but she gets BROCCOLI on her pizza. Yuck!! (It was funny, but kind of messed up at the same time).
It’s probably a good point to ask yourself what’s going on here? It appears that every character is autonomous, yet connected. Riley performs her own actions and makes decisions without her emotions. HOWEVER, her emotions control her reactions to moments. Then there’s the memories. They generate spontaneously. Most of them are happy. They’re color coded too. Most of them are yellow, with spots of the other colors. What makes it hard to talk about, though, is that Joy and Riley are both autonomous characters, so I find it a challenge to use pronouns like “she” and “her” without explicitly naming the character.
So then Riley goes to school. Where she is asked to introduce herself. She says she’s from Minnesota. The teacher says, “oh then you must like the weather here.” Riley laughs and goes on to explain how she loves the winters. We (including the emotions) see her memories. In the winter, the lake freezes over and she ice skates and plays hockey, and every year her hockey team makes it to the finals – MADE it to the finals. She stops and realizes none of it is going to happen anymore.
The emotions are concerned. Why did she stop? Then the screen turns blue. What’s going on! They turn around, and spot Sadness touching the memory. It turns from yellow to blue.
“What have you done?!” Joy exclaims. “That’s a core memory!” She tries to rub the memory herself to change it back. To no avail.
Sadness apologizes, and leans on another core memory. It begins to turn blue. “Stop it! Back away!”
Riley starts crying in class.
Later that day (or week), she tries out for the hockey team, but messes up because she’s still not very happy. That makes her angry, and she storms off. The “Hockey” world (a floating island off in the distance, connected by a thin bridge, over an abyss (explained as the dump where memories never return)) begins to turn gray and stops moving. Hockey – one of her key personality traits — is dead to her now.
After that, she video-chats with a friend from home–who has found a new friend. In anger, she shuts her out. Her “Friend” world turns gray. This is bad. This is all happening so quickly! Her “Friend” core memories are turning blue because Sadness is touching them. They’re getting sucked into long term memory through a vacuum chute, and Joy tries to stop it. But then Sadness and Joy gets sucked in, and go into an area on the other side of the abyss, beyond the worlds, into the a massive library of memories. When they land they look back at the console, across the abyss.
Sadness explains the situation: “This is bad. I’m sorry Joy. Without you at the console, Riley can’t be happy. We have to get you back.”
When you look at the distance they have to travel and the challenges they faced, the trek to Mordor came to mind.
This was the inciting incident.
Joy spends the rest of the movie traveling through long term memory, imagination land, dream productions, the train of thought, and the abyss…. While Riley’s remaining world’s fade to gray, crumble and fall into the abyss, and the console fails to function for the remaining emotions.
This sounds like clinical depression. Except without sadness. It’s beyond sadness. She can’t feel anything anymore. She’s numb. But she can still reason, and she reasons that all her good memories were in Minnesota, so she’s going back.
So at the end of the movie, Riley is finally on a bus, running away – back to Minnesota. She has no emotions, and Joy has finally made it back to the console with Sadness.
For some reason, Joy realizes that Joy isn’t the correct emotion for this moment. It’s Sadness. She tells Sadness to take control right now. So Sadness presses the button and it works for her.
Riley suddenly feels sad and bails on the bus. She gets off and goes home.
At home, her mom and dad are concerned for her. She apologizes that she can’t maintain a positive attitude (because her mom thanked her for handling the move so well on the first day of the move). They say, “it’s okay, we know the move was tough.” Then Sadness presses the button again, and Riley starts crying. “I just want to go back to Minnesota.” Her parents hug her and tell her it’s going to be okay. In this embrace, the camera pushes into her face, and she breaks a small smile.
You see, only a few scenes before, Joy needed to motivate a fading childhood memory – a character who was their guide through the latter part of the journey. Joy couldn’t convince him to get moving because all was lost, but Sadness just listened to him, complain about his loss, and he almost immediately felt better. Joy was surprised and asked Sadness “how’d you do that?” “I don’t know. I guess I just listened to him.”
So long story short,
Riley moves to a new town where circumstances prevent Joy from being in control, Sadness takes over, then Sadness and Joy both disappear from Riley’s emotional canon, as her key personality traits are stripped from her (“Hockey”, “Friends”, “Family”, “Goofiness”), until she is emotionless and without identity, at which point it’s only Sadness that compels her to return to her family. The family listens to her concern (“I miss home”) and hugs her. Listening to Riley vent is her catharsis (her emotional burdens are released from within her and into the world where they don’t (immediately) affect her). Then it’s the warm embrace that creates happiness.
Then the movie is over.
Don’t get me wrong: there was some very imaginative things, and lots of funny moments, but overall, the outlook of the film was very dismal. Unnerving even.
Starting about 20-30 minutes into the movie, the movie made it clearer and clearer that there was NO HOPE. Even Joy appeared to be a skeleton of her former self for most of the movie (for the entire journey from long term memory). Memories were lost and her core personality traits disappeared. “Forever!” And even though I think the worlds returned at the end of the movie (for a minute, to resolve the movie), there was no indication that they would.
So it sounds like a visualization of a depressed mind, void of hope, telling people that they should be sad, and talk to their family about what’s making them sad.
IT OFFERS NO SOLUTIONS.
I’m sure the author believes “The solution is talking about it.” I think that’s half-assed. I can write a real good god-damned imaginative visualization of depression, and I could probably win an Oscar for it, BUT without offering a method for helping the depression, and displaying the solutions in action, repeating the techniques so one can learn to modify cognitive behaviors, it would just be another useless Oscar winning movie. In fact, I’d argue, if it did offer success techniques – it would NOT win an Oscar. Inside Out will. But I guess it’s not hard. It’s probably the only animated, kid movie that appears to have a message.
If I write a movie about people with good attitudes coming together to solve a problem, but butting heads about the solution, and joyfully overcoming many obstacles along the way, Hollywood quickly dismisses it (*cough* Armageddon; *cough* Independence Day; *cough* Speed). Audiences love it, but acknowledge it as a “good” movie. But if I make a movie about one conflict that can’t be resolved except for the very end, with lots of moments to dwell on disappointment, people think it’s a “good” movie. Fuuuuck thaaaaat!
If I didn’t prep my brain for it – if I had come into the movie without a sense of what it would be – it certainly would have broken my emotional barrier and I would have been crying. For no reason. Tears that would bring literally NO GOOD to me. Here’s where I’ll have you know: when I cry, my immune system drops, and for days, my eyes remain puffy, my body and muscles remain fatigued, and I’m depressed and in pain. It doesn’t matter what makes me cry.
I DO NOT NEED THAT. EVER. PERIOD.
What I NEED is a feel-good movie about people with good attitudes, making good decisions, taking action joyfully, and in the long run getting rewarded for it all.