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Cinema in Focus


Cinema in Focus: ‘Inside Out’

3 Stars — Wholesome

Animating the personified emotions within each of us is creative genius. Although far more complex than any simple structure could explain, each of us has a range of internal emotions that seem to govern our responses to the external world. Often surprising even ourselves by how we react, we sometimes feel as though “that wasn’t me!” Nevertheless, we know that whatever caused us to react in that way was in fact a part of us and has been developed from our first moment of life.

Written and directed by the team of Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen, with assistance from Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, Amy Poehler and Bill Hader, Inside Out continues the proven genius of Docter. Having written Up, Toy Story 1 and 2, Monsters Inc. and WALL-E, Docter is a master storyteller. Combining this with the creative artistic touch of Del Carmen, who collaborated on Up and worked on such films as Ratatouille, Brave and The Prince of Egypt, we have a winning duo.

In this animated tale, we meet the emotion Joy (Poehler), the executive emotion for the newly born Riley (Kaitlyn Dias). As the primary emotion in this little girl’s life, Joy is soon joined by four other subordinate emotions of Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling).

Her mother (Diane Lane) and father (Kyle MacLachlan) also have these same five emotions, although in her mother Sadness is primary and Anger is primary in her father. An added benefit during the credits is a short explanation of the executive emotion in others within the tale.

The primary action occurs when Riley’s idyllic, joy-dominated world is changed when her parents move her from Minnesota to San Francisco at age 11. In this moment, when location is so important to a person’s developing identity, Riley’s Sadness becomes overactive in her interior world where Joy and happiness had reigned. It is this journey toward understanding the important place of Sadness within Riley’s emotional life that allows us to understand the importance of all of our emotions in the creation of a fully developed and meaningful life.

In the process of this developing story, Riley is “upgraded” from a simple internal control panel to a multi-user expanded version that allows all five emotions to be interactive in each moment and memory. Riley not only has a new capacity with which to deal with her family’s change in exterior location but also in finding more complexity in her internal world as well.  That change from hierarchical to the complex equality of emotions is a message that is helpful for all of us as we learn to accept the importance of all the emotional responses we may have in life.

A fun, creative and insightful film, we recommend Inside Out to older kids as well as adults.


» When Riley discovers a larger world full of fear and disappointment, she discovers that her singular dependence on Joy and happiness is not enough to guide her in life. When she comes to experience the blending of Joy and Sadness, we realize this little girl has begun to grow up. What is your executive, primary, default emotional response to life? How do you as an adult modulate that with your other emotions?

» The depiction of memories as balls that are color-coded to their emotionally charged experience and then deposited into long-term memory and culled by a team that discards the ones that fade because they are no longer important to Riley is a fairly accurate description of the way we understand the brain. Have you found your brain “forgetting” memories of the past? How does this film’s depiction of emotions and the process of storing memories help you understand yourself better?

» When we come of age, there is a theory called “Childhood Amnesia” that we have a cleansing of older memories of early childhood. However, a child during childhood is found to be able to remember events as well as an adult. Does this help you trust the memories of a child? Why or why not?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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