Inside Out Turned Upside Down

All right, so I just finished watching Disney and Pixar’s newest film, Inside Out—and while I will say it was charming, creative, and not without its funny moments, I left with way too many questions, and several nagging story issues. I won’t be doing a whole in-depth analysis, like I did with Beauty and the Beast. This one will just be a review/run-down of my thoughts on Inside Out. Basically a top ten grievances list. Let’s get started.

Warning: This post does contain spoilers!


1. Stick To What You Know

The main characters in the film are Sadness, Joy, Fear, Disgust, and Anger.


They all work together in the “head” quarters of the young girl, Riley.



Each one affects Riley’s actions and mood by way of their distinguishing trait. For instance, when Anger is at the controls, Riley feels angry; when Fear takes over, Riley is afraid; and so on and so forth.

What the film suggests is that these characters’ essences mirror their names—Anger is angry, Joy is joyful, Sadness is sad…you get the picture. But throughout the movie, we see each character experience every emotion. One particular moving scene shows Joy weeping tragically over some of Riley’s lost memories. If she is Joy by essence, how can she feel sadness? Even Anger has moments of happiness, and Sadness moments of fear. They’re all over the place!

If the emotion is just their job title, it should have been so stated, because the movie really depicts each character as being exactly what their name suggests, which is contradicted by some, though not all, of their actions throughout the film. This also begs the question, how do these characters work together in such cooperation as depicted if their very natures are conflicting? Yes, one emotion can spawn another; but if Anger is always angry, don't you think he'd get mad if someone else was at the controls? Wouldn't Fear be too afraid to try and score a turn? Or Sadness to down to work, Disgust fed up with the whole operation, and Joy too wrapped up in bliss to notice anything at all? What chaos!

2. So Emotional

Inside Out seems to suggest that humans are slaves to their emotions, as Riley’s whole life is affected by the way the emotions push buttons and handle her memories. Of course, our memories and the emotions attached to them are critical pieces to our development and life decisions, but the film seems to suggest that there is no room for anything else, things like education, logic, and discipline, to name a few.

3. Gender Problems?

In Riley’s mind, Joy, Sadness, and Disgust are female, and Anger and Fear are male. However, in Riley’s mother’s head, all the emotions are female.


And in her father’s, all the emotions are male.


Riley’s mom’s emotions all have long hair, wear women’s clothes, and have formed, pink lips, while her father’s emotions all have moustaches, and don business garb. In fact, all the other heads we look into have emotions that are all the same gender identity as the person in whom they operate (not to mention, they also mirror the person’s complete personality, with matching hairstyles and clothes, which is not the case with Riley).

So, what’s with Riley? Her sex is obviously female, but is she having gender identity issues? Is this a subtle, subliminal comment from Disney?

4. Deep-rooted Issues

Sticking with Riley’s parents, let’s take a look at the team of emotions in their heads.

This one actually left me disturbed and saddened. In Riley, Joy appears to run the show. She rallies everyone together, gives orders, and most of the time stands at the center of the five at the control board, commanding most of Riley’s day. However, when we first get a look into Riley’s parents’ minds, we see two different emotions sitting at the center—Sadness and Anger.


Aside from the fact that the parents’ emotions physically sit and Riley’s stand (which is sad in itself), what’s disturbing is the fact that Sadness is sitting center in mom’s head, giving orders, and Anger is sitting center in dad’s, doing the same. Does this mean that mom’s main emotion is Sadness, that she’s predominantly sad? And that dad is deep down an angry person, prone to out-bursts? It would be consistent with Riley's character, who is depicted as a joyful child throughout her early life and up to the onset of the plot's conflict; an eleven year period where Joy was spearheading Riley's head's emotional operations.

But on the point of the parents' central emotional state, no comment is really made. Or is it? While I saw no indication that the father was an angry person, the mother sure hints at a few suppressed problems. Onward to number 5.

5. Dissatisfied Mother

This next one should come as no surprise, as we just learned that Sadness is at the controls for mom.

The movie seems to suggest that mom may be a discontented spouse. The first evidence of this is the fact that the emotions in mom's head refer to her husband as "The Husband." We know from the emotions in Riley's head that they are capable of calling people by their first names; so why don't the emotions in mom's head call their dear spouse by his first name? Are they a distant pair that has grown apart over the years? Or did they never really establish a true, loving connection before marriage?

The second piece of evidence comes in the form of a holstered, go-to memory that the emotions seem to view regularly: the memory of a Brazilian hunk mom appears to have had a fling with before marrying dad.


We see this memory get placed in mom's head during a moment of disappointment with dad, which suggests she has second thoughts—however innocent they may seem—about being married to him, thoughts of a life she might have had. Now, the film does show the emotions cast the memory aside in the end during a family group hug; however Fear quickly retrieves it, saying, “Just in case.”

If that means what I think it does, Riley may yet be another Disney character without a mother, as mom may be out the door in the sequel—and that’s not as cute and funny as the movie makes it out to be.

6. More than just Angry

Anger shows signs of being more than just the emotion of anger—he might be an evil deviant. Several times, we see anger relish and encourage mischief, which is weird because anger and mischief don’t really go hand-in-hand. Anger demonstrates a real pleasure in such things, though; and that makes me wonder what his true nature must be.

Also, while we’re on the point of “more than meets the eye,” can I just say that Joy is passive aggressive and manipulative? Because she is.

7. Memories Lost

The way in which memories are portrayed and utilized in the film is imaginative and fun, but it makes no sense. All the trouble started because Riley’s core memories (the central, specific events and categories that make her who she is—family, friends, hockey, goof ball-ness) are sucked into the halls of long-term memory, wherein memories wait to be recalled or forgotten.

In long-term memory, we see workers vacuuming irrelevant memories out of the shelves, and casting them into a canyon of forgotten memories. This canyon is also where the islands of Riley’s core memories (which are built when a core memory is made) crumble after the core memories are lost. So, if these memories are lost, does that mean she won’t be able to remember the memory’s content? And what does it mean when the island crumbles? We see the hockey island crumble away, and yet Riley still asks about her former hockey team to a friend over Skype. Maybe it just makes her care less? I don’t have a clue.

One more thing. Why is the memory of Riley’s traumatic first day at a new school in the forgotten canyon? Wouldn’t that be one of the pivotal memories she’d need in deciding to run away? Or does it not matter as long as the emotions plant the idea in her head, like they did? Does she need reasons, at all? I would think the first domino, after moving to a new state, would be the bad first day at school.

8. Lost My Train of Thought

Riley’s train of thought is a literal train that moves about when Riley is awake, transporting things like facts and opinions about her brain. But during a moment of conflict, we see the train tracks crumble and the train crash into the canyon of forgotten memories.

What does this mean? Is Riley now incapable of any sort of thought? Is her consciousness permanently disabled? Apparently not. We see absolutely no consequences from the train’s destruction. Absolutely none! You’d think that a person without the ability to transmit and process a thought would be a vegetable, right?

9. Murder!

Quick one. I think Riley’s imaginary friend, Bing Bong, just killed someone. He snatches a piece of cloud from a cloudman’s house. And when the cloudman comes out to yell, Bing Bong straight up obliterates him!


The tragedy continues later in the movie when Joy bumps off cloudman's wife as she's reporting her husband's demise to the police.

10. Meaningless Sacrifice

Last grievance. Bing Bong, the imaginary friend, has a touching sacrifice and a heart-wrenching line before he fades away in the canyon of forgotten memories. But it’s all for…wait. I think I just lost my train of thought. It must have derailed somewhere. Gosh, I hope it’s not plummeting into my canyon of forgotten memories. I'm afraid it might! What will I do? Without my train of thought, I’ll be a vegetable! It makes me so sad just thinking about it…and really, really angry! I mean, what moron was steering my train of thought, anyway? I want him fired! His or her or its incompetence disgusts me! What kind of idiotic—hey! Look! A quarter! Ha! What joy! A whole quarter! I’m so happy! *Sigh*…

What was I saying, again?


C. K. Conners

©2015 by C. K. Conners