WARNING: The Following May Contain Minor Spoilers
Why do we go to the movies? For some, film is a method of getting away from the pressures of real life. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with occasional escapism, movies have the power to be even more. In addition to helping us escape reality, this medium can also help us to better understand reality. Among all the mainstream releases that have come out in 2015, no motion picture has done a better job at addressing the hardships of reality than Pixar’s Inside Out.
That’s not to say Inside Out is a 100% realistic film. Obviously, there aren’t literal tiny individuals running around in our heads contributing to our thoughts and actions. Every emotion depicted in the movie, however, feels totally genuine. As a result, anybody can identify with the film’s central character, no matter what our age or gender. The universal appeal of Inside Out provides the perfect outlet for a life lesson we rarely see in movies marketed to kids or adults for that matter: Sadness is an essential emotion.
Before we go any further, perhaps its best to discuss the film’s plot for those who haven’t seen it. In a nutshell, the story focuses on a young girl named Riley and the five humanoid emotions that occupy her head. When Riley is moved across the country from her childhood home and friends, Amy Poehler’s Joy tries to keep her spirits high. As hard as Joy tries to inject the child with cheerful energy, though, she can’t subdue Phyllis Smith’s Sadness, who thinks Riley needs to cry about her circumstances.
It would have been easy forInside Out to turn Sadness into a bad guy. After all, sadness is one of the worst emotions we can experience, right? Not necessarily. Sure, nobody likes being sad and some people are overwhelmed by sadness to the point that they’re constantly miserable. Yet, negative things are always going to happen to us. It’s admirable when a person puts up a positive front during a dark time, but sometimes you need to cry and confide in loved ones in order to be truly happy again. Smiling while bottling our other emotions up is only going to result in a greater internal struggle.
This ties back into why audiences go to the movies: To feel good when life gets them down. That’s one of the reasons why moneymaking champs are typically fun, action-packed rollercoasters where something more “depressing” will only do modestly well at the box office at best. Again, that’s perfectly understandable. Sometimes you need an adrenaline rush from a film like Jurassic World and sometimes you need a good laugh from a film like Pitch Perfect 2. Although Inside Out is often exhilarating and funny, it’s also willing to acknowledge that people need to cry as well.
Inside Out teaches us that life isn’t always going to be carefree and perfect, but that’s okay. Granted, the film does ultimately result in a happy ending. That optimistic conclusion doesn’t come without the realization of harsh truths, however. In a business governed by profits, it’s reassuring that a major studio would take a risk on a picture with such a unique, invaluable moral that many producers would brush off as too “complicated” or “downhearted.”
Then again, the importance of sadness seems to be a reoccurring theme in Pixar films. From Finding Nemo, to Up, to Toy Story 3, all of these movies have taught us something about letting go and moving forward. The same can be said about many Disney films, like Bambi, The Lion King, and Frozen. They all have their sad moments, whether it’s the loss of a parent or giving away a childhood toy. No matter how old you are, we can all relate to the sadness surrounding these instances, bringing even the toughest of grown men to tears. Seeing the characters overcome these problems through redemption, sacrifice, and bravery, though, makes us all feel wiser, stronger, and more prepared for the real world. In that sense, an animated kids movie like Inside Out is actually the most adult cinematic experience you’ll have all year.