Inside Out: Children’s Movie or Mental Health PSA?

Image via IMDB.
Image via IMDb

I’ve always been a kid at heart because I love the simplicity of it all. Bright colors and talking animals? Count me in. So when I heard about Disney Pixar’s newest movie, Inside Out, my secret six-year-old persona’s heart did backflips. My eyes grew wide as I saw the cast list: Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, and Amy Poehler. I had been so excited to see the movie ever since learning about the fantastic people lending their voices. So, opening night, amongst a sea of toddlers and moms, I was there with my excitement and an open mind (plus a couple of friends and little sisters because apparently going alone to a children’s movie is too “weird”).

Inside Out follows a young girl, Riley, and her emotions — Joy (Poehler), Disgust (Kaling), Anger (Black), Fear (Hader), and Sadness (Smith) — as Riley and her parents move from Minnesota to San Francisco. The emotions’ jobs are to keep Riley healthy and content, and they base their success off of the amount of happy memories Riley has. But, right before Riley’s first day of school, Sadness touches some of the happy memories and turns them sad, without an explanation or way to fix it. In a storm of frustration and confusion, Joy and Sadness get launched into Riley’s long term memory and other parts of her brain to fix the problem, leaving Fear, Disgust, and Anger to act for Riley.

This plot is definitely very different than anything Disney or Pixar has ever done — especially in the recent years of princesses — but it has paid off in my eyes. I’m probably over-analyzing the entirety of this movie, but I honestly saw it as a tool in understanding mental illnesses in children. Sadness, out of nowhere, just starts touching all of the happy memories and wrecks them. She doesn’t know why it’s happening, and Joy doesn’t know how to fix it, so they both run off to fix the problem, leaving Fear, Disgust, and Anger in charge.

Children are just that: children, learning everything for the first time — including how to understand their own emotions. A child can’t tell you, “I feel anxious,” or, “I feel depressed,” because oftentimes, those words are not in their vocabularies. We openly allow them to use the words “happy” and “sad” because we understand those emotions, and we can work with them. But even grown adults don’t fully understand anxiety, depression, or really any other mental illnesses, so how are we supposed to expect children to?

When someone is void of happiness and overtaken by sadness, they don’t want to appear weak, so they let other emotions kick in to try and cover up the pain that they’re going through. Whether it’s disgust, fear, anger, or anything else all depends on the person. Just as Joy and Sadness left Fear, Anger, and Disgust in charge of Riley.

Overall, I say A+. Disney Pixar, you have done it yet again. It is so important to teach children emotional literacy because they’ll need it to understand everyday things, just as they do with the alphabet and addition. It’s just as important for parents to come to terms with the fact that their child may NOT be okay sometimes and that they might need support, no matter their age. Props to Disney and Pixar because, hopefully, I’m not the only one who used this as a mental health PSA.

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