Inside Out: a Fun Family Film with a Lot More

Inside Out is Pixar/Disney’s delightfully animated new-to-DVD film about eleven-year-old Riley and how she struggles with her family’s move from Minnesota to San Francisco, especially with her feelings of Sadness, Joy, Anger, Disgust and Fear. Inside Out shows Riley’s feelings at work, and how each feeling—even those she’d like to avoid—can help her to be her best self and navigate her new life, especially when the unexpected and challenges arise.

A masterpiece of animation, Inside Out is Pixar at its enchanting best, with a storyline that younger children can follow and root for, while the layers of storytelling and ingenious imagery make the film a real pleasure for grown-ups to watch as well. Inside Out is a great film in so many ways: great writing and story development, laugh-out-loud humor, marvelous character voices and character development.

The movie takes place on two levels: Riley’s daily life and her inner life of feelings, memories, thoughts, and imagination. Each featured feeling is its own character, and core memories—connected to Riley’s feelings—create important aspects of her personality. Trouble arises when Riley tries to force herself to be joyful, thus discounting the sadness she feels at leaving behind her old life. As young Riley eventually learns how each of her feelings are important, we in the audience accompany her in our own emotional journey, laughing out loud and maybe even shedding a few tears.

Joy is the real protagonist in Inside Out, as we all root for Riley to re-find happiness once she starts to struggle with the challenges that come from moving, but we are also treated to close-ups of Riley’s feelings of sadness, anger, disgust, and fear. Inside Out offers striking visuals and metaphors to help the audience young and old understand how feelings shape experiences, memories of those experiences shape a child’s personality, and how personality shapes a child’s identity and behavior. Amazingly imaginative, Riley’s vivid inner landscape brings all of these interior dynamics to life in a visually memorable way.

Inside Out is a great film for the family to enjoy together—a fun and entertaining story with lots of humor, but also with deeper themes about feelings and personal growth which parents or teachers can use as a lead-in to open a conversation or dialogue with their children:

  • about the connection between feelings and behavior
  • the importance of “negative” or less pleasant emotions
  • the reality that life isn’t just “happily ever after” but that wholeness comes from living both the joy and sadness of our lives
  • the marvel of the human person fully alive—how every aspect of us is a gift from God

A great prayer to conclude the family conversation is Psalm 139.

For another great review and ways to use this film in your family or in youth ministry, see Sr. Hosea Rupprecht’s review here. 

Footnote: This is also a great film to use to reflect on the role that feelings have in the Ignatian understanding of discernment. I put together a short Discernment @ the Movies Guide: Inside Out, to offer a Scripture passage and reflection questions that will help viewers reflect on the theme of discernment and personal integration.

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