Love from the Inside Out


Hopefully you’ve had a chance to see the wonderful and insightful Pixar film, Inside Out, which premiered in June and is coming out on DVD in early November (already out on Amazon Prime Video).

If you haven’t seen it, feel free to skip this blog. But if you have seen it, I wonder if you might journey with me a bit in this blog post.

Inside Out, to me, is one of the most meaningful films to come out in decades, live action or animated. The combination of themes relevant to both adults and children is accomplished masterfully, visually, with humor and heartache side by side.


I think even the youngest viewer could see some of the film’s biggest themes:

  • We all have strong feelings which shape who we are.
  • It’s not only okay, but necessary, to let our feelings out and run their course – even Sadness, or Anger, Fear or Disgust. In fact, one of the film’s revelations is not only that “it’s ok to be sad,” but that it’s sometimes integral to eventually finding happiness.
  • The main character and leader of the feelings, Joy, has to learn that she is not the answer to every situation. And she is forced to realize that sometimes the greatest Joy comes out of Sadness. This is a remarkable and redemptive theme to find in a modern film, let alone an animated one.

But in recently watching the film again, and discussing it with family and friends who were seeing it the first time, I was struck by far more than the first time I viewed it. That alone is the sign of a great work of art – when it teaches you new things every time you revisit it.

Here’s what I noticed this time (again, if you haven’t seen the film, you might want to skip this until you have):


Riley’s first memory is born from loving words. The first memory of Riley’s life, a golden ‘memory ball’, emerges from the lovely maze of brain pathways as soon as her Dad says, “Look at her. Our new little bundle of Joy.” This is perhaps why Joy is the leader from the start – Riley’s first feelings, her first impact on others, and the first words she hears, are ones of Joy. How great a reminder that the words we tell our children have such foundational power.


Joy keeps Sadness from finding her true role, until much later. Perhaps Joy doesn’t mean to be a bulldozer when she relegates Sadness to unimportant tasks far removed from Riley’s day, but that’s why Sadness is always interfering and getting into messes she shouldn’t — because she’s not allowed to take on her true role and she yearns for more.  When destiny requires Sadness to take the front seat in Riley’s life at a key moment, Joy realizes that she was in the way. Of course, it’s great how Joy always wants to make sure ‘her girl’ is happy as much as possible. But the deeper happiness was to be found only after she allowed Riley to experience the full range of Sadness. It’s the only way Riley could then let her sadness go, and thus re-open herself up for new experiences of joy.

When we see inside Riley’s Mom and Dad, Joy is not the lead feeling at their control panels. I was so touched by the fact that at the Mom’s inner control panel, Sadness is the leader. Such a telling detail for women who suppress so much, endure so much, in their families and beyond. And for Riley’s Dad, the lead feeling at the control board is Anger – and how telling is that for so many men who haven’t allowed themselves to process their frustrations. It also struck me how adults change later in life – how they lose touch with the joy that perhaps characterized their childhood and led the way far more.

Our memories stay with us. Whether we realize it or not. The endless hallways and shelves of long term memories shown in the film stagger me every time I see them. How many memories have we ‘forgotten,’ yet are still in our psyche, our soul, somewhere? How might we be transformed if we merely strolled the halls of our memories to be reminded of some of our greatest victories, lessons, challenges, loved ones? Even those stricken with Alzheimer’s, a topic I explored recently in directing a film, still have those memories buried deep within them, somewhere. The Memory Dump in the film is even more powerful to think about – memories, good and bad, that we’ve simply let go. And yet, as we saw, even those have their important role to play.


Our imagination saves us more than we know. Bing Bong, one of the most beloved Pixar characters ever, becomes integral to Joy getting back to Headquarters and saving Riley’s emotional life. Not only are our imaginary friends a rescue during our childhood, the ones we go to when all seems awful or impossible, but revisiting them as adults can remind us of who we were, and are, and of the simple joys and needs of life. Sometimes we need to be reminded that we can reach the moon, and on most days only our Imagination can do that.

Which feeling do you relate to?

Many ask this question when seeing this film: who are you most like — Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger or Disgust? Though many of us can perhaps relate more to one over the others, the fact remains that all of us have all those feelings inside us, all the time. How we choose to weigh them, how we choose to process them and let them out, makes us who we are.



7 thoughts on “Love from the Inside Out

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