Disney’s ‘Inside Out’ Offers Explanation of Emotions

Pixar Post - Inside Out characters closeupThe new Pixar movie “Inside Out” is Disney’s latest masterpiece for children and parents alike with a deep and powerful message that all emotions — positive and negative — matter. The movie is an entertaining and insightful 90 minutes of fun with meaning; pretty good for a children’s Pixar movie.

“Inside Out” is the story of an 11-year-old girl, Riley, who has a strong and established sense of self, until she is uprooted from her life and cast into an new one, literally overnight. At first she tries to adjust by just being happy, a persona that has served and her parents well in the past but that cannot endure forever.

The movie is narrated by and takes place through the eyes of cartoon characters that are her emotions inside her head — Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. These emotions compete for air time and, depending on what’s happening in Riley’s life, they more or less get it, with Joy being the predominant emotion until the move. When they take over, they literally push buttons — her buttons — inside her head that then control her actions.

The bigger-picture moral behind the story is that no one can be happy, or in this case joyful, all the time and that all the emotions — even unpopular ones, like sadness — are essential for growth, adjustment and transition to occur.

Here are seven teachable messages from the movie:

1. Don’t act like Riley’s parents. If a family is undergoing major transition, don’t pretend you’re not. Riley’s parents moved and, although her mother is sensitive at times, how Riley is feeling is not a priority — and it should be! Both parents expected her to be her joyful self despite the upheaval. That always backfires because kids need transition time, just like adults and parents, to process the downsides of life and subsequent emotions.

2. Accept feelings. Many times parents tell children, “Don’t feel angry or disappointed or even sad.” By doing this they are basically saying that “down” part of you is not important, just get over it or pretend it’s not there. But that doesn’t make it go away; it only makes it bigger and more problematic. Besides, when parents say don’t feel such and such, it’s too late anyway, because the child already feels that way. What also happens is that the child can feel disapproved of and alone without help from an adult to process difficult and painful feelings.

3. Understanding self. The movie nicely depicts the self as being comprised of a variety of events, experiences, relationships and places that are colored by the emotions that are associated with them.

4. Emotions color and shape experiences. The example in the movie is that when Riley lost her hockey game and her team sought her out to comfort her, she associated joy with losing, instead of sadness and shame, because she had support from loved ones. Negative emotions can bring people closer and, therefore, don’t have to stay negative forever.

5. Sadness is underrated. Expecting children to be happy all the time just makes them want to run away, literally. Acknowledging and even embracing sadness allows kids to connect to all their emotions, resulting in connection to others and eventually away from sadness and back to joy.

6. Memories are central to the development of self. Imagine how you’d view life differently if you didn’t’ have memories that make you who you are. Core memories, as they are called in the movie, are the foundation for our sense of self.

7. Kids are resilient. Kids, more than any other age group, can embrace change and, with support, many can fly through it.

The movie is a simplistic view of emotions that is basic and, therefore, understandable for children — and that’s its aim. The movie introduces memories as a way to refocus negative emotions; but even without memories, the healthiest people process negative emotions and then redirect them into positive actions, rather than dwelling on them.

“Inside Out” makes a statement to parents and children alike. It says that all emotions are important and need to be validated and understood as part of a child’s development. Parents can form deeper connections to their children and understand them better by accepting first their own and then their child’s emotions.





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