Disney Steps Up It’s Social Issue Game with INSIDE OUT and Here’s Why We Should Celebrate


[Warning: Minor spoilers ahead.]

It was the moment when the Train of Thought tumbled off its tracks and broke into splintered pieces that I lost it for the first time during the movie. As a creative being, I felt deeply moved watching something that so often happens to me being illustrated on a seventy foot movie screen. I looked to my right and left at my friends to see if I was the only one having a MOMENT, and I was thankful to see that I was not alone.

I have attempted to explain depression and anxiety to friends and family since I first learned they were the names for the things going on inside my body. I have swallowed the “just breathe” and the “just find gratitude for your life” advice for years. I have kept my mouth quiet during arguments about suicide and drug overdose sitting at the holiday table because I knew it was easier to stay quiet than talk about how intensely I understand what drives people to such things.

And then, Pixar paid Amy Poehler and Mindy Kaling to say them for me.

“Crying helps me slow down and obsess over the weight of life’s problems,” Sadness says to an evasive and frustrated Joy, halfway through the film.

Well, ain’t that the truth.

Inside Out, in my opinion, is a movie made more for adults than children, but a five-year-old might argue otherwise. Don’t get me started on how this is why Pixar is just, my favorite. Everyone in a Pixar audience walks away from the movie understanding something different than the human who sat next to them.

And I don’t know about the audience I sat with, but I found the movie to be so many things.

First of all, body diversity. Yes, we can argue that Sadness was fat (or just the upside down teardrop that I think the illustrators were going for) and yes, we can argue that Joy was thin which presents an idea to children that sad people are fat and happy people are thin but, someone already did that, so I’m going to focus on the positives of this movie.

Let’s talk about the differences between Joy’s waist in this movie, and Elsa’s waist in Frozen. Although Joy is still on the thin side, she’s a step toward a more realistic representation of a size six woman than Elsa’s Barbie doll design. And let’s talk about the fact that Disgust was fabulous and also pear-shaped. I know a lot of fabulous pear-shaped women, but Disney has never acknowledged them before. Finally, we’re starting to see more reality in the way women are represented in these animated movies. Think back to Ariel, and Belle, and Jasmine, and their impossible proportions. Compared to the princesses, Inside Out is a sign of progress, and I think we should celebrate that. Perhaps our celebration will be heard, and encourage more like this. I want to throw a freakin’ parade to celebrate how many different women’s body types were represented in the movie, my favorite being the mother’s. For once, in a Disney movie, the mother had hips, and a bust, and wasn’t supermodel height. I loved this, and much to the dismay of those sitting around me, announced it several times during the movie.

Second of all, female presence and empowerment. Going along with the improved body diversity in the Disney empire, let’s talk about how this entire movie was about a.) a little girl who plays hockey (often pegged as a “boy’s” sport, much like dancing is pegged as a “girl’s”) and b.) a female protagonist and antagonist, if we’re calling Sadness the antagonist. After watching male characters as the basis in Cars, Monsters Inc., and the Toy Story trilogy, I felt like throwing confetti when I saw the preview for Inside Out the first time. Not only was it a female heavy movie, but there were NO PRINCESSES and there was NO LOVE STORY! This is huge! And although perhaps a minor detail, my favorite part about the female presence in this movie was that Fear, was not! Fear was represented by a male character, voiced by Bill Hader. How many euphemisms are associated with fear and caution that refer to female anatomy? Too many. Do I think fear should have a gender at all? Of course not. But in a Disney movie, to have Fear not be represented by a woman is a victory in my eyes.

Third, although not as improved as we wish for… racial diversity. Yes, truth, once again, the primary characters in the film were three white people from Minnesota. But the classroom scenes featured a black teacher, and children of several ethnic and racial backgrounds. I know we aren’t even close to achieving racial diversity in many many aspects of American media, but compared to Disney movies of days gone by, this movie definitely shows progress in that there were multiple ethnicities and racial backgrounds in the same movie. Additionally, although possibly irrelevant, I loved that all the characters working inside Riley’s brain were colors of the rainbow, not colors of human skin. This allowed me to be completely immersed in the illustrated psychology of the film with an unbiased point of view as I watched the story unfold. I don’t think the story would have worked if they hadn’t used such color variety to explain the workings of the human brain to seven-year-olds and seventy-year-olds alike.

Finally and most importantly, mental health. For those who don’t understand what it’s like to have a chemical imbalance in the brain, or shall I say, for those who don’t believe that mental health disorders are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, there could be no easier explanation than what we just saw in that movie theatre.

It was psychology 101 performed by cartoons.

And for that I say thank you.

Perhaps for some out there, when they saw the movie, they noticed what happened when Joy and Sadness went missing. No one in the main control room knew what to do. Riley was confused, irritable, and unable to make decisions. This wasn’t just a story for children – this was an example for adults of the way the human brain’s imbalances can affect every. single. thing.

And what I loved most about it all, is the hope that I felt after leaving the theatre. Watching Joy scramble through what must have been ten or eleven impossible obstacles, just to get back to headquarters and make Riley feel happy, was so visceral for me. It reminded me of the open letter to my happiness that I wrote a few months back, telling it that I never meant for it to feel unwelcome or unappreciated. I just wasn’t aware of how hard it was working to get through to the front of my thoughts.

To watch Joy fight each uphill battle, literally, to get back home and do her job, made me think about my anxiety in a different way. Not only do I have panic attacks when I’m overwhelmed or stressed, but I also get them when life is great and opportunity knocks. And I know that this is caused by turmoil inside my body that I try very hard to manage naturally, without medication. Seeing Joy and Sadness tumble and fall and at times, almost give up, gave me realization that it’s when those two emotions “fight” with each other, that my body gets out of whack and goes haywire. I don’t know if this makes me feel better, but it made me feel, satisfied. That finally, someone is talking about it.

And that’s what I walked out of the theatre feeling. I felt, satisfied. I felt, relieved. I felt like a multi-billion dollar movie production company finally said, fuck the pink elephant that everyone’s trying to avoid, let’s make a blockbuster out of it instead.

For the seven-year-olds in the audience, I think the movie was funny and colorful. For the teenagers in the audience, I think the movie was funny and colorful and possibly enlightening. For the 28-year-olds in the audience having panic attacks in Vegas after living in Hawai’i for a year and struggling to love their bodies after two years of eating disorder recovery, I think the movie was funny, and colorful, and empathetic, and comforting, and hilarious, and really ambitious. And speaking for those 28-year-olds, I can say that I was really just so grateful, to have witnessed such an incredible and successful undertaking – bringing mental health to the forefront of global conversation.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, go see for yourself. I know I haven’t processed everything that I felt while I watched it, but I simply appreciate the fact that it was produced, so so so much. It will strike a chord in your heart that maybe you didn’t realize needed to be touched, and if nothing else, it will make you laugh hysterically. And I mean, hysterically. It will also make you ugly cry. Which according to Sadness, is alright, and can sometimes, even save the whole damn day.

Run, don’t walk, to see it. I think it will make you appreciate many of the things in your life that you’ve never understood. Which has always been the point of cinema to begin with.

And I say, let us throw some celebration, for that.

*Note that Inside Out is a co-production by Pixar AND Disney, and I chose to use Disney in the title because I feel this movie was more progressive for them, than for Pixar, who has been pushing social norms for a long time (i.e. Wall-E). Either way, the movie showed progress for both companies and I’m still. over. here. screaming. HALLELUJAH!

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