Every time I saw the poster for the new animated film Inside Out, I cringed. I felt that the color palette was tacky, and the characters did not look attractive to me at all. But I went to see the movie anyway, lured by its high score of 8.5 on the movie website IMDb. It was released in China on Oct 6.
I knew I had chosen the right movie not long after the opening scene. The story follows an 11-year-old girl named Riley who is struggling to adapt after moving to a new place. But the main characters are actually five personified emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. They live inside Riley’s mind and help advise her through everyday life. This “boldly abstract premise”, as The Guardian puts it, got me intrigued almost immediately.
Being a children’s movie, Inside Out does a great job illustrating complicated mental processes. It guides viewers through Riley’s dreams, her subconscious, her imagination and the mechanics of forgetting. But beneath its traditional adventure-based storyline, its philosophy speaks to children and adults alike.
Most of Inside Out’s audience members are no longer kids, but that doesn’t mean they’re masters of their emotions either. Lashing out occasionally, and accidental bursts of melancholy, can be frustrating. Many of us face the question: why do negative emotions have to exist at all?
Riley’s story gives us an answer. Human beings can be both strong and vulnerable. No two individuals are identical, and no one is as straightforward as a math equation.
Inside Out doesn’t feature a single villain – a rarity in the realm of children’s movies, where morality is simple and good always triumphs. Yet, there is plenty of conflict in Inside Out, and that’s a testament to how complex our inside worlds are.
The film’s protagonist, Joy, confronts the complexity of human experience, when her reign as dominant emotion is threatened by Sadness. Joy used to believe that only positive feelings count, and she tried to keep Sadness out of the way. But Joy comes to understand that life’s bittersweet moments help Riley grow up. No single emotion is better than another.
When I walked out of the cinema and saw the poster again at the gate, somehow I started to like the “tacky” rainbow-colored imps, representing Joy and her four colleagues. Don’t we all have these little people inside our heads?