PUBLISHED 22 JULY 2016
INSIDE OUT centres on 11-year-old Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) and the five anthropomorphic emotions that operate the control centre that is her mind: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader) and Anger (Lewis Black). In turn, the emotions take command of the metaphysical controls when they feel passionate enough about the events transpiring in the real world. This subsequently makes Riley feel that particular emotion and act accordingly. Although the film starts with Joy as apparently the most important emotion, it is actually Sadness who is the true hero of the film.
As Riley goes through life her memories are stored as glowing orbs, with the colour of each representing the emotion associated with the memory. During the beginning of the film Sadness starts touching certain memories, making Riley think back to them. But, now instead of remembering them as happy, she recalls them as sad experiences. This is a common occurrence in regards to recalling memories. Dacher Keltnera, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley and one of the psychologists who consulted on the film, explained that if “I’m in a current state - let’s say I’m feeling ashamed - and you ask me to recall something from the past, that emotion is going to bias what I recall from the past”. The fact that Joy attempts to stop this from happening is what causes the disequilibrium in the story. This is only resolved when Sadness is finally given access to the metaphysical controls of Riley’s mind; in making Riley feel sad, Riley gets the attention and help she needs from her parents. “Sadness... Mom and Dad... the team. They came to help... because of Sadness”.
Sadness is initially shunned by Joy and the other emotions as seemingly useless. Joy appears to be the epitome of delight with a slim build and pretty face whereas Sadness is depicted as overweight and sluggish. A commentary on modern day culture, the depiction that she is less empirically attractive implies she is less valuable. However the film turns this on its head and reiterates the age-old expression of “don’t judge a book by its cover”. Sadness’s worth soon becomes apparent when Riley suffers her first real struggle: moving away from her home city. The film culminates in the beautiful realisation from Joy that it is okay to be sad. We need sadness to make us appreciate the times when we are happy. It is a principal basic in conception but not often dwelled upon; to appreciate the good times we must endure the bad.
Sadness’s apologetic sentiment “Sorry, I went sad again, didn't I?” is repeated throughout the first two acts yet by the end of the film we have learnt the integrity of Sadness: only by being vulnerable and occasionally sad may we truly be happy. The struggles of childhood are often brushed aside in our culture but INSIDE OUT serves as an earnest social commentary on what an amazing achievement it is to navigate that particular social labyrinth. Sadness teaches children and adults alike that it is not a weakness to be vulnerable or upset, that in fact it could be the key to our happiness.