When I finished watching Inside Out for the first time, I immediately loved it. I remember walking out of the theater with a whole new conception of emotions and, being a teenager, I felt a little better, knowing that I wasn’t the only one having mood swings at times. So when it came to analyzing an animated movie, I had to pick this beautifully written film.
Inside Out teaches children (and adults alike) to be themselves at all times and to always strive to do their best. In the hockey scenes (both when she makes good plays and when she doesn’t) the movie conveys the message of never giving up on efforts to become better. Also, as the main character, Riley, faces a life crisis when she’s uprooted from her house and goes to live in San Francisco, the film inspires the viewer to resist and to adapt when there is a change. And that yes, it is okay to feel confused and out of place when such changes occur. Also, as one of the main problems for teenagers is trying to fit in, I found the movie to be a perfect teacher regarding acceptance. It’s okay to feel different than other people. It’s okay to be awkward in social interactions because, well, everyone is. When she starts crying in class causing many whispers and her embarrassment too, we understand that if she makes it through, so can we. As a final lesson, the ultimate goal of the movie is (spoiler alert) to prove that it’s okay to be sad. As Joy hands total control to Sadness to let Riley truly be sad, we finally understand that venting and expressing our emotions is healthy and results in feeling happy. Because no one can feel good forever. Letting herself go in front of her parents (one of the last scenes of the movie) ends up creating a mixed emotion, colored in both sad blue and happy gold.
But at the same time, the movie also sparks some reflection on what could be negative lessons. What caught my eye at first was the way characters are depicted in the film. The difference between the emotions is obviously enormous, but between the two main characters there is a huge gap that not many could explain. While Joy is a tall, good looking, well dressed white girl, Sadness is represented by a chubby, ugly, blue girl wearing glasses and bad clothing. As the critic Joni Edelman funnily put it, “(Joy) gets to wear a cute little dress, which she probably bought at Nordstrom, while Sad is shrouded in what is probably an itchy-ass thrifted wool sweater. Maybe that's why she's named Sadness.”. The only issue with the movie is that its character-defining is flawed, and heavily follows stereotypes. Films can do one of two things, either confirm stereotypes or go against them in the real world. Pixar, while representing sadness with an ugly, fat girl, did not only go along the common idea that what is sad is also bad looking, but also defined it as a woman. Did we really need a girl to portray that role? Some might say that producers wanted her to resemble a tear drop, and hence the roundish form. But following this train of thought, what would Anger be? A 50-year-old red brick on fire?
Also, many proposed that she might be modeled after her voice actress. That is indeed very common in animated movies, but most probably not in this one. Sure, Phyllis Smith could kind of look like Sadness, but she would be the only character to do so. Joy doesn’t really look like Amy Poehler, and few other characteristics don’t match up at all. For example, Joy, who in the movie is a head taller than sadness, does not reflect an Amy Poehler who’s many inches shorter than Ms. Smith in real life. That is just too big of a difference to prove that Sadness might be modeled after her voice actress.
In conclusion, as kids aren’t capable of contextualizing, the very movies that are addressed to them need to avoid stereotyping. Because soon enough they will all take those beliefs for granted, and believe that they truly represent reality. And because the next time they will be on the playground and they’ll see a chubby, badly dressed, short girl with glasses, they will automatically think she’s sad. And if she watched the movie, I promise you she will be too.