Why Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’ is an essential film about young mental health

It’s through no sheer act of coincidence that the Pixar animation studio has come to be one of the bastions of the art form, standing beside Studio Ghibli and Toei Animation. Releasing one of the most revolutionary films in modern cinema in 1995s Toy Story, Pixar’s technological innovation would encourage a shift in attitudes towards animation at the turn of the new millennium, as the whole industry shifted from celluloid to the domain of digital, forever changing its makeup.

Since then, Pixar has long stood at the very forefront of the industry, releasing children’s films that weren’t devoid of intelligence and genuinely challenging themes. This has long been the company’s ethos, funding creativity and great stories to create such masterpieces of the art form such as Monsters, Inc, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up and, perhaps their most celebrated movie, Inside Out

Whilst Pixar often focuses on the dynamic between an individual and their surrounding family, their 2015 movie Inside Out was one of the first to explore this concept in the realms of the semblance of a real-world situation. Telling the story of Riley, a young girl who has just moved house with her family in San Francisco, the film takes us inside her mind to join the anthropomorphic representations of Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness. 

Traversing the emotional jungle of moving house and starting a new life without the safety net of your hometown, directors and co-writers Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen and Meg LeFauve construct a robust and well-structured narrative to house a crucial film about the importance of mental health for their young viewers. 

Interpreting memories as a bowling ball conveyor belt that constantly flows in and out of short term and long term memory, the crux of the film hinges on the importance of several ‘core memories’ that make up who we are, and always have been, as a person. With ‘Joy’, voiced by Amy Poehler, leading the group from the front, many of these memories glow with the golden glow of happiness, with few being reserved for the malaise of sadness. 

Broken down using distinct imagery, the subtext of Pixar’s film focuses on the importance of sadness for a healthy state of mental health, with the benefit of her character, played by Phyllis Smith, becoming more and more apparent as the film goes on. It all stems from one inciting incident toward the start of the film when Riley is standing in front of the class, recalling a happy memory of her childhood, when, all of a sudden she begins to cry and Smith’s Sadness turns the memory blue. 

In a cranium-based tussle, Riley’s core memories are scattered and her life is thrown into turmoil, unable to fully articulate her problems and overcome her sadness of moving house. Well reflecting on how an individual can get stuck avoiding their emotions, causing them to spiral into anxiety and depression, through its well-conceived narrative Inside Out demonstrates how it’s OK to be angry or upset from time to time if this is a true reflection of yourself.

After all, reaching closure in a painful situation requires you to access each corner of your emotional range, with sadness being as important to the healing process as anger, happiness, disgust or fear. In not being able to access this, Riley becomes isolated and unable to communicate properly, attempting to flee her new home and return to her past life at the end of the film, in an attempt to return to some sort of semblance of happiness. 

Though, as the film’s moving finale suggests, it is easy to get over such periods of monumental change or hardship by finding a resolution to one’s pain, a challenge that can only be solved when accessing our true range of feelings. Then, only with the help of the appropriate support from others and the benefit of time, can we work to resolve the hardest moments in our life, answering the problem from within instead of bottling our frustrations to breaking point.

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