Written by Melisa Shafiee
When we think back to our favorite childhood movies, we remember extravagant stories with comedy and adventure. However, there is one movie that sticks out from the rest as it not only shares an exciting story, but it also emphasizes an important message on mental health. It may also have been our first exposure to the emotions joy, sadness, anger, disgust, and fear, and even the topic of growing up. This movie is none other than Inside Out.
Inside Out tells the story of Riley, who has difficulty adjusting to the new town she has moved in. She is constantly missing her friends and becoming distant from her family. It is prevalent that Riley, a young girl, is experiencing signs of depression and anxiety, as is shown by her attempting to run away from home. Throughout the movie, we are introduced to Riley’s main five emotions: The optimistic emotion of Joy, the gloomy emotion of Sadness, the fiery emotion of Anger, the contempt emotion of Disgust, and the panicky emotion of Fear. Much of Riley’s life has been dominated by Joy. However, as Riley experiences hardships in her new town, we see how emotions such as Sadness, Anger, and Fear, result in her to behave the way she does. At one point, Sadness begins to take over the other emotions, and she justifies by saying she simply cannot help it. The movie helps explain that we may sometimes feel sad out of the blue, and that is completely acceptable. In a world where we are constantly encouraged to be happy, it can be difficult to explain why one is sad- especially where there is no explanation. Inside Out maintains the theme of how it is okay to not be okay, and how it is acceptable for a child to feel sad at times.
Inside Out further emphasizes the importances of our other, more disliked emotions such as Fear, Anger, Sadness. The movie conveys the message of how life would not be the same if we felt Joy all the time, and how our other emotions are just as necessary. Of course, no one wants to feel fearful all the time, but fear is essential as it holds us back from making impulsive and dangerous decisions. This is evident in Inside Out when Fear is described as the character that keeps Riley safe by making her think before her actions. The importance of Anger is also portrayed when Riley stands up for herself in her classroom. One of the most notable scenes of the movie is towards the end, where Riley recalls a memory of her cuddling with her family, disappointed after losing a hockey game. Though Joy tries to make this memory seem happier since it is her job, Sadness steps in and wisely mentions the importance of this sad memory. The sadness that Riley helped bond her with her family, and it served as a motivating learning experience for the future. When I first watched Inside Out, I remember being confused by this scene, wondering why a memory that sad should even exist. But, my mother reminded me that we need sadness in our lives because they help us grow as individuals. Since then, I have learned to cherish my sad memories, and use them as inspiration for growing stronger. Certainly, all of these emotions can be harmful if felt continuously, but Inside Out shows that we would not function the same without them. A curious child who watches the movie will become more familiar with each of their emotions, and learn why they are all important.
Finally, it is important to mention the role childhood imaginary friends have in Inside Out. During one of the exciting journeys in the movie, we meet the character Bing Bong, who was Riley’s imaginary friend as a child. Bing Bong is a symbol of Riley’s purity and innocence from her childhood, but as Riley grows more mature, we see Bing Bong’s importance begin to fade away. Eventually, Bing Bong accepts that Riley has to move on from him to grow as an individual, and he becomes a distant memory. In this sentimental scene, we see the importance of maturity and moving on, though it may be difficult. Children are no stranger to having all sorts of imaginary friends, but it is important for them to learn to face reality as they grow older. Inside Out shows that it is difficult for children to not cling on to their past and experience the real world on their own, and the movie normalizes this idea. Children navigating the world on their own can be a challenging time mentally, but Inside Out demonstrates the importance of doing so because it fosters their future growth. The transition to adolescence involves losing friends, both real and imaginary, but it also involves gaining knowledge and our sense of identity.
Inside Out gives us insight to common mental challenges that children experience as they grow older, from accepting their emotions to becoming mature individuals. It does what many other childrens’ movies fail to do, and that is to introduce children to the topic of mental health. Inside Out has complex characters, exciting adventures, and real world challenges, all wrapped up into one beautiful movie. Big or small, Inside Out’s message can touch us all.