There I was in a theatre full of children for Father’s Day. As we got deeper into Inside Out the small ones were often silent.
The small unrepresentative audience survey I conducted suggests that the kids enjoyed themselves but couldn’t follow the nuances. As so often happens, the children enjoy the film one way while the parents have another sort of experience, laughing at double entendres and subtle asides that go over the kids’ heads.
Inside Out is the latest summertime animated treat from Pixar studios, the people who brought you Up, Wall E, Monsters Inc and Toy Story. Sometimes adult voices roared with laughter, myself among them. While there were tears as well, these too seemed to be confined to the adult population.
Inside Out is a very sophisticated piece of work, reminding me of a modern morality play where a series of abstractions are personified. But instead of this being an allegory (a battle between “good” and “evil”, perhaps with “greed” and “sloth” personified) we look inside the heads of a series of characters, discovering that our emotional lives could be understood as a kind of conversation, sometimes a very intense conversation, between different emotions. I think this film will have extraordinary resonance for most people, in the way it suggests our lives are a series of choices even when we are not aware of the moment when we chose to surrender to one impulse or other:
- Amy Poehler is “Joy”.
- Phyllis Smith is “Sadness”
- Lewis Black is “Anger”
- Bill Hader is “Fear”
- Mindy Kaling is “Disgust”
The emotions are situated in a kind of control room that’s inside the head. There is a set of emotions monitoring and influencing Riley (the 11 year old who is at the centre of this film), just as there’s another inside her Mom and inside her Dad, as well as her teacher and others in the film. I don’t believe in spoilers so I have to stop soon, but this is a very scientific stimulus-response approach, that probably won’t go over quite so well in the Bible belt. If there is anything allegorical at work in the story, it would be in its concerns with Positive Psychology and resilience, illustrating a pathway to emotional balance.
The film employs such a simple yet powerful way of understanding our behaviour –including incorporating memories and clusters of behaviour that become key parts of our personality (for Riley this includes her love of playing hockey and her sense of family) —that we may see people growing up using this film and its mythology as a reference point.
I am reminded of Maurice Sendak, Roald Dahl and L Frank Baum, authors whose stories are so deceptively simple that we tell them to children, even though they function at such a deep level that we spend the rest of our lives figuring out what they really mean.
This doesn’t mean that children will have any problem with Inside Out. They will have fun and like it, even if they may wonder why the adults are laughing so hard, and sometimes shedding a tear.