By Nyla Lee
If there’s one thing to know about Disney, it’s their ability to tell a meaningful story with memorable characters and messages.
Spanning from Encanto’s themes about generational trauma and family to Zootopia’s unique take on race disparities, Disney animated movies are no stranger to tackling important themes.
It comes as no surprise, that their company Pixar takes a go at distributing colorful morals and themes to children through their 2015 film, Inside Out.
Taking place in the head of eleven-year-old Riley, Inside Out tells a story of mental health and the effects changes can have on young children.
The film depicts more than the deterioration of Riley’s mental health, though. It also teaches audiences the significance of emotions. More so, the significance of negative emotions in children.
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Pixar’s Inside Out Teaches Children the Importance of Emotions
After much investigating and rewatching, I’ve found at least four different ways Pixar’s Inside Out teaches children – and adults- the importance of emotions.
Beware, this will contain spoilers for the film and its main plot points.
You may also like: Pixar’s Turning Red: A Love Letter to Youth and the Flaws of Adolescence
Crying Is Not Inherently a Bad Thing
Throughout the film, protagonist Riley Anderson undergoes a series of life-changing events that shape her as an individual.
From losing her best friend to giving up her passion for hockey, she has to find ways to cope with these new changes. Riley needs to deal with all that while living in a new state and attending a new school.
Unfortunately, much of Riley’s coping mechanisms involve keeping her emotions bottled up. Inside her head, emotions Joy and Sadness are taking a journey through the girl’s head to return to Headquarters, as Riley’s life falls apart from their absence.
It is not until the end of the movie that Riley finally breaks down and expresses her emotions through crying, during which her parents embrace her and accept her feelings.
The specific scene in the film shows children that crying is a healthy response to situations occurring in their lives. In fact, it even promotes the idea of crying as a release.
The entire film centers around Riley’s slow break from her past self through deteriorating mental health issues. As I mentioned before, she hardly cried. All she did was sleep through her pain until it came to a head at the film’s climax.
The film shows that bottling up your emotions can lead to dangerous consequences. For example, Riley steals from her mother and becomes dishonest as she spirals further down a darker path.
The releasing of negative emotions through crying allows Riley–and the audience–to understand that crying is a necessary release for a healthier mindset.
‘Sadness’ Is a Normal and Human Response
Inside Out makes a point to stress the complicated relationship between characters Joy and Sadness for a good part of the movie.
They are different visually and personally. Joy depicts moments of toxic positivity. Sadness bursts into tears, falling into depressive moods frequently throughout the film.
The two constantly bicker and fight about the state of Riley’s mental health– simplified through always wanting Riley to be happy.
These differences lend a significant depiction of the importance and normalcy of sadness.
After Joy attempts to stop Riley from leaving her family, the film reveals Sadness is the key to the protagonist making that decision. This moment, and the one between her parents, is symbolic in a sense.
Riley comes to life once Joy and Sadness return. Though, it is Sadness who fully brings her back and shapes her expressed emotions.
It isn’t until after this episode, that Joy comes in to make the moment bittersweet.
This lesson allows children to understand that feeling sad is not strange, nor is it inhumane.
Riley had been the most human and vulnerable than she ever did when Sadness overtook the control board to break through to her.
Although Joy made attempts to keep Sadness from ruining Riley’s happiness, she realized the importance of the opposite emotion in the end.
This discovery mirrors how children may see emotions, since some parents may distinguish sadness as an emotion they do not want to express.
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Pretending To Be Happy Is Harmful
At the climax of the film, Riley admits to her parents that she attempted to be happy for their sake. After this occurrence, she breaks down and reveals her struggles with their new life.
Inside Out explicitly makes it clear that pretending to be happy and engaging in toxic positivity is harmful to children.
This is especially true of Joy’s character. She is the personification of the harmful stereotype. Soon, she realizes that Sadness is a prominent aspect to ensure Riley’s happiness and mental stability– she also learns the downfalls of her actions in the end.
Joy’s change and Riley’s eventual confessions to unhappiness allow children to understand that showing emotions besides happiness is safe. Normal even.
Pretending to be happy forces children to push down their feelings for the sake of others. Thus, This further a negative emotional toll on them.
Children are quick to react to their surroundings with emotions. And hindering this natural process of life may hold them back mentally and physically. It also perpetuates a stereotype surrounding negative emotions and their relation to a child’s attitude towards others.
Inside Out completely subverts this concept through Riley, Sadness, and Joy’s journey, as they all navigate the changing environment and Riley’s reaction.
Being Upset About New Things Is Normal
In Inside Out, much of Riley’s issues stem from her sudden uprooting from Minnesota to California, where she experiences a new environment and culture through the newness of San Francisco.
As she further spirals down a hole of despair from her new environment, the audience understands she is acting out due to all these changes.
The film does not portray these emotions as inherently negative– excluding from Joy’s perspective.
In fact, the film portrays Riley’s conflicted emotions as a normal and age-appropriate reaction.
This way, it teaches children that being in a new environment can spark confusing emotions. Also, a change of scenery different from their own is not something many can easily adjust to.
Children’s reactions can vary greatly, from acceptance to what you see in Inside Out. The reason that talking to them about big changes is such an important thing.
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Conclusion on How Pixar’s Inside Out Teaches Children the Importance of Emotions
Inside Out is a film that allows children to understand emotions from a creative perspective.
It helps them see how complex emotions can be, along with their importance for sufficient functionality as a human being.
Emotions help us remain human. It’s why we find unemotional things and people upsetting. It’s not something we are entirely used to.
Children expressing emotions that do not traditionally fit with happiness and joy is a valid reaction. And the movie confirms so with Riley Anderson.
What do you think of Inside Out? How did you feel about its portrayal of mental health in children? Do you think Pixar’s Inside Out teaches children a lesson about emotions? Or do you believe it has more than this?