Have you ever wondered about what goes on in your brain? About the changes that it has gone through since you were born? About how your emotions influence your actions and perceptions of the world?
It sounds like you need a thorough neuroscientific study to discover all that. Possibly you do, but don’t worry! The 2015 animated movie Inside Out, by Disney-Pixar, roughly gives you a cute and colourful insight into the brain’s workings, enough to whet your curiosity and to urge you to learn more about the most important organ in our body.
Enter Riley. Literally. Enter this 11-year-old girl’s brain and meet her basic emotions: Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger. These personified emotions are lodged in the Headquarters where, through a console, they each guide Riley through her daily life, driving her actions and also her reactions to what is happening around her. With every interaction of the girl with her parents, friends and the things she loves, a memory is created, tinted with a particular emotion, and stored safely.
Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler) is naturally the leader of the pack and her duty is to keep Riley happy. She tries her best to keep all the other ‘negative’ emotions from touching the console but inevitably, each one of them wants and needs their turn, depending on the nature of Riley’s life experiences.
In parallel to this ‘cerebral activity’, there is the girl’s external life. Riley is going through an important change. Together with her parents, she moves from Minnesota to San Francisco and, because of the situation and particular instances, it is hard for her to adapt. The emotions witness the events through her eyes and they can’t help but be affected by them. Most in particular Sadness, who starts acting strange, like she wants to touch and taint all the girl’s memories, even the core ones.
It is during a tackle between Sadness and Joy that things take a dramatic turn. They both end up sucked out of the Headquarters and into the long-term memory depository area and, with the help of Riley’s old imaginary friend Bing Bong, they need to fight hard to reach back their original position before Riley’s character is drastically altered.
When Joy and Sadness are out there, we discover the other important sections of the brain. There is the personality area which is made up of islands representing Family, Friendship, Hockey (her favourite sport), Honesty and Goofball. Then there is the Long-term Memory storage, the Dreams production area, the Subconscious, the Abstract Thoughts, the Imagination Land and finally, the dreaded Memory Dump into which memories get permanently trashed.
I confess that at first I felt lost trying to understand all these brain parts because there is a lot going on, but the plot actually makes it easy to get all the references and it is a fun way to learn about how the brain works.
I don’t want to spoil the story but you can imagine what happens and which lessons are learnt. We learn that no single emotion can be excluded from our inner workings – not even Sadness – and that there is the need for a balanced co-operation between all our basic emotions. We see that, inevitably, we change as we grow up and our personalities evolve with each stage of life that we go through. And finally, we understand that the emotions alone cannot dictate our life because our character also depends on interpersonal relationships.
While reading more about this film, I have discovered that the production has actually consulted psychologists while writing the story. This shows the seriousness of the creators: they didn’t just want to make another entertaining animated movie for kids but they wanted to keep a certain degree of accurateness within a fantastical framework.
Hence this sort of didactic purpose, together with the colourful imagery and the dynamic plot, make Inside Out an awesome movie, not only for kids but also for adults in search of a cool animated production and a tender story.
I really hope that there will be a sequel of this movie in the future. In my opinion, it can become the new Toy Story, a film that remains with the viewers as they grow up.