All right guys let’s get a little spoilery. If you haven’t seen Inside Out stop reading now and come back when you have. (No complainers about giving away details ok!!!).
Let’s talk about things that make Inside Out so special which I didn’t want to give away in my non-spoiler review. For a quick recap the story of Inside Out takes place in the mind (not the brain) of a little girl named Riley. And on an aside the idiots who are claiming ‘they stole Herman’s Head’ are wrong. Herman’s Head is about personality traits not emotions. It isn’t the same! Herman’s Head has creatures like genius and animal that represent different sides of Herman’s personality just like Riley has the islands of personality. Plus the show is super dated and not very funny. Get over it!
Even if the idea of people inside a person’s head has been done Inside Out has an entirely different take on the matter. It deals with memory and actually not that much time is spent directing Riley around or manipulating her. Aside from one moment of waking her up it is all about memories and how they ‘make Riley, Riley’ as Joy tells us in the intro.
Up was so brilliant because it was about dealing with loss and how we can ‘move on’ from memories. How we in a sense can function with those memories. The main conflict in Inside Out starts because Riley is moving away from her childhood home. This change has done two important things. First Sadness is now compelled to turn Riley’s core memories from joyful to sad, which makes sense if you think about a little girl who is losing everything she knew and loved. Suddenly a happy time with a friend feels sad because that friend is gone. (Again just like with Up the dreams Carl had with Ellie are now paralyzing him and making him feel guilty for the memories he couldn’t give her). Joy resists Sadness changing the memories creating the main conflict of the film.
Second, when Riley speaks before her class a new core memory is created and Joy tries to take it away and Sadness says “it’s a core memory. You can’t take it away”. That’s what gets Joy and Sadness sucked into long-term memory and our entire story moving. When you think about it, Pete Doctor and his team have really presented a rather bold concept. They are saying that Riley at 11 is already having to do what Carl did at however old he is. She is having to overcome the sadness of her memories and find a way to be happy just like Carl. Perhaps this is a key to the human experience? It certainly is for me and everyone I know.
So Joy and Sadness end up in long-term memory. What does this do to poor Riley? It leaves her in a state of emotional emptiness. She can feel neither joy nor sadness and that was an emotion I can certainly relate too. There have been times in my life when there seemed to be a black cloud over everything and I felt incapable of feeling anything and nothing I did made it any better. No wonder she gets desperate and has the bright idea to go back to where she was happy. Again it is much like Carl in Up trying to go to the place of their dreams where they had so much joy. In Riley’s case her mother even tells her that she needs to be happy to help her father. What a bold idea for Pete Doctor and team to share with kids- that being happy can actually be the wrong advice. (We’ll get to more of that in a little bit).
The next section of the movie you have Joy and Sadness trying to find their way back to headquarters but as Riley starts to feel more empty the more challenges are put in their way. The islands of personality are falling apart (which again makes sense when you think about depression and the dullness it gives to life) and it forces them into a couple parts of Riley’s brain- her imagination, dreams, subconscious and abstract thought. These are all brilliantly done.
First we find Imaginationland. This is obviously Riley’s imagination or creative center. It’s where she plays and fantasizes. What is so brilliant about this world is it is so clearly 11. Everything about it is changing from a little girl to a teenager. Nearly every building is either being built or taken down, which makes complete sense for Riley especially with a move going on. For example, her gingerbread house she used to dream about (and is one of the possible options for the new house in San Francisco) is being taken apart when the duo arrive. We also see the Princess Castle evaporate into thin air.
This sense of change in Imanginationland not only creates an unpredictable world (as opposed to say Sugar Rush in Wreck-it Ralph which was pink and sugary and kind of predictable) but it also tells us so much about Riley. It tells us that she is thinking about boys, and throwing off some of her more childish ideas. At the end, she has whole new personality islands like Boy Band Island and Joy seems to finally be at a spot where she can allow for whatever Riley wants to happen. Riley’s parents also seem to come to terms with their little monkey imagining a quite grown up thing of running away. She is a new person an equal to them in many ways emotionally.
Riley’s changing imagination and personality is personified with the character Bing Bong her former imaginary friend. He has been hanging out in long-term memory for some time but he still dreams of going to the moon in his rocket with Riley again someday.
He knows more than Joy about Riley’s changes and she in fact gives him a naive hope that Riley will revert back and play with him again. It’s another example of the brilliant layers within the movie. We see Joy change as Riley is changing and it impacts Bing Bong and Sadness and the whole story. He knows the inner-workings of Riley’s mind because he has no doubt been hanging around for some time (she’s 11 figure 5 or 6 years?). He knows the urgency so he suggests they take a shortcut to find the train of thought station. Sadness warns about this I think knowing there are no shortcuts when it comes to emotional growth and change. We can want some easy solution to the emptiness Riley is feeling, which is what Joy wants desperately, but that’s not the way things work.
If we think about who is left to rule Riley’s mind when she is feeling all of this emptiness it is mostly Anger and Fear with a little help from Disgust. Isn’t that true? When we are dealing with depression or these types of feelings do we feel joyful? No we feel angry and at least for me especially anxious. You will do almost anything to get rid of the emptiness and we can see Riley as she gives up hockey, gets frustrated with her parents and gets sent to her room. Her father mistakenly tries to cheer her up with the old Riley making monkey noises. That just reinforces what she has lost and the unknown lying in front of her. And yet her Mother tells her she has to be happy? That feels as impossible as if Joy was lost in a maze in her mind…oh wait she is!
So at this point Joy, Sadness and Bing Bong take the shortcut and just as Sadness predicted it ends up being a problem. They are lost in Riley’s abstract thinking. It is a brilliant sequence where they change from cubism (look like Picaso), to two dimensional objects, to lines and barely make it out alive. Again so is with shortcuts to real emotional growth. They just leave us muddled in abstract concepts like wellness and wholeness and not any closer to fixing the problem.
Once they make it out of abstract thought they arrive at the Train of Thought. All seems to be solved and Joy an Sadness are back on their way to headquarters with Bing Bong but Joy has still not accepted the need for Sadness in Riley’s life. She has started too when she hears Sadness console Bing Bong over the loss of the rocketship. (Sadness merely listens to him and he feels better. That is very profound concept, sadness listens…Still pondering that one). But if they made it back to headquarters Joy would still be resistant to Sadness and the sad core memory and Riley would probably still want to run away (remember it is Sadness that is able to remove the lightbulb to run away).
So the Train of Thought stops because Riley goes to sleep. This means they have to enter the next land which is Rileys Dream Studios. This is probably the funniest section of the movie as there is a production studio that looks alarmingly like the Warner Brothers lot (water tower and all) which I thought was funny. I like that Riley is still a normal girl having fairly normal dreams but just like our dreams the longer they go the nuttier they get. There are some definite inside jokes in this segment about the illusion of movie making. I especially like the reality distortion filter. Even in the best of movies that is the case. It’s a story not reality.
Joy wants to do something nice to wake Riley up so they can get back on the train. She gives Bing Bong the core memories and tries acting like a dog. Sadness says “this isn’t working…” Joy will not listen and they end up getting kicked out of the studio with Bing Bong taken to the next land Riley’s subconscious. These characters of Joy and Sadness have a real dynamic character arc. You see them grow and change which is remarkable when you think they are emotions. Perhaps our emotions are also dynamic fluid things that change? Particularly joy at 11 is different than joy at 70.
Joy and Sadness have to follow Bing Bong into the subconscious because he has the core memories. The subconscious is full of things that scare Riley. Things like the basement stairs or her grandma’s vacuum cleaner (I’m assuming that one was a long forgotten fear). And the largest fear is a giant clown that has trapped Bing Bong in a balloon cage. This was interesting to me that Riley’s fears have trapped her imaginary friend from childhood. I know for me when I was going through my empty time I was afraid to make a change and be happy. My fears were holding me back. All of Riley’s Imaginationland is changing and how ironic that her imaginary friend is in a cage in her subconscious? This is the only part of the movie that might scare small children. One little girl had to be taken out of the theater because the clown is pretty scary.
But they are successful in waking up Riley so we think that the train of thought will start up again and the movie will be done but Joy has still not learned to accept Sadness like RILEY NEEDS her too. By this point the plan to run away is in full swing and it really makes sense if you look at it from Riley’s perspective. As anger says ‘Minnesota was the last place she was happy so we need to get back there’. But the problem is she was a girl in Minnesota and certainly if she were to continue on the bus ride she would be even less of a little girl by the end of it. In fact, her entire personality (all the islands) would have been destroyed. This is what prevents Joy and Sadness from making it back to headquarters when Family Island starts to disintegrate. Joy and Bing Bong end up in the memory dump. (I tried to find a picture but I couldn’t).
Joy has finally reached the point of complete humility where she has stopped trying to be happy and she weeps, cries her eyes out. She does what Riley should have been doing all along- expressing all this change and fear of the future. It is then that she see’s the sad core memory from the beginning of Riley crying in class. The one she had resisted at the beginning that had started all this mess. She realizes Sadness was right and that Riley needs both of them in order to get through life (how brilliant is that!). She learns that the happy core memories are often made memorable by the heartache that proceeded it. In particular a hockey game that Joy had seen as being such a fun core memory. Now she see’s the other side and how Riley had missed the winning shot and was sad. Her friends and parents came to cheer her up which made the memory special worthy of a core memory. It is a very moving moment for the audience as we think about our core memories which are also equally bittersweet.
It reminds me of the play Our Town. In the play Emily tries to pick the most innocuous of events to revisit, her 12 year old birthday party, (Riley is 11). Surely that will be a perfectly happy care free time. She ends up leaving in tears and asks the Stage Manager if anyone on earth “realizes life while they live it”. Perhaps we are too concerned with making the birthday party and not enough the people being celebrated? We can certainly see this with Riley’s parents who are trying but dealing with a move, stresses at work and not wanting to acknowledge their daughters feelings. She just needs to be ‘happy’. Kind of like the birthday party in Our Town.
Realizing what she needs to do Joy is desperate for a way to get back to Riley and make everything right. It’s such a humbling moment for a character. I thought in a movie where a character is Joy it would be so one note and predictable. Never in a million years did I think she would come to herself and realize she was wrong. I never expected a repentant Joy! That’s how deep and emotionally rich this movie is. But they are stuck in the dump and Bing Bong is starting to evaporate.
That’s when they get the idea to use Bing Bong’s rocket to get back up to Sadness. Unfortunately after 3 tries it becomes clear to Bing Bong that it cannot make it back with his weight in the ship. He decides to sacrifice himself in order for Riley to get Joy back again. It is really a lovely moment of cinema. Joy doesn’t realize it until she is back safely up and there is just time to say goodbye to Bing Bong. (Again going back to that theme of saying goodbye to Riley’s childhood). I thought they might pull some kind of stop and not make Bing Bong die. That there would be some way to make everything work out but no they stick with it and it is beautiful, and touching and perfect. It made me think about all the people in my life who sacrificed to help me become the woman I am and gave up much so that I would feel joy (teachers, parents, aunts, uncles, the list goes on).
Eventually Joy and Sadness make it back to headquarters just as Riley is executing her plan and boarding the bus to Minnesota. They did such a great job in these sequences of making the happy little girl we see at the beginning look kind of dead inside. It isn’t really her. But Joy tells Sadness that Riley needs her and she takes the control board and wakes Riley up and she gets off the bus. Then she goes home and tells her parents ‘I miss home…I know you need me to be happy but I feel sad and need to be sad”. Her parents admit they also miss home and are also sad. Like I said this is the moment where she is no longer their goofy child but an equal emotionally and it is so beautiful. I’m tearing up just writing about it. There is such a sense of peace and comfort with the 3 of them embracing on the floor at Riley’s level. As great as the opening scene in Up is, this is a nearly equally strong closing scene. I love it soooo much.
We then understand that Riley is back to being who she is and is ready to embrace San Francisco and all the changes in her life. She is finally able to recognize and express all her emotions including sadness and is a terrific teen, even if she does like boy bands. 😉 Joy is also happy in a new way. She loves all of Riley not just the ‘fun’ parts she appreciated before.
It’s interesting because I did all of that and didn’t mention any of the funny parts and there are tons of them! There are so many good jokes thrown in at every juncture. There are dialogue based jokes that kids may not get such as when Bing Bong introduces deja vu over and over again. And then there are slapstick jokes the kids will love especially with Fear and Anger and their mannerisms and expressions. Everyone will laugh at things like Angers disgust at broccoli on pizza (or broccoli in general!). The dream sequence is especially funny aside from the clown that may be a little too scary for small kids but it is short. I loved the gag with the gum commercial that is constantly stuck in Riley’s head! Another good joke was when the facts and opinions get spilled and mixed up. Bing Bong says ‘that happens all the time…”. So funny. They also did just enough of the control boards inside other people (really just one scene) which shows Riley’s frustration while getting good laughs (although it is strange that she is the only one who has both male and female emotions and why is Sadness the leader in Moms brain?). Anyway, it’s funny and the ending inside the minds is very funny. The entire family will find things to laugh at in Inside Out.
All the vocal performances are perfect and it looks beautiful. I love the way the characters are kind of fluffy on the edges. They sort of look like faerie muppets in a way. I also thought the human characters looked great. The maze of long term memory is great and I thought the sound design was brilliant. The way the globes sounded like pool balls clanging against each other was just what I would have imagined. But then when they get to the dump it sounds like charcoal, empty and hollow.
There is so much but it is a beautiful film. I was moved by it. It made me think about my life. (In fact, I wrote a blog called Core Memories over on my personal blog). It made me laugh. It was visually interesting and new. I feel inspired in every way you can be inspired by film. One of the great movie going experiences of my life.
Do you have any response to anything I have said? Did I elaborate on any points you had been feeling or open up something new you might not have realized? I’d love to discuss in the comments section. Thanks!
40 thoughts on “Inside Out Spoiler Review”
I really want to watch this!
Read my regular review not the spoiler review if you haven’t seen it!
Just the regular one : )
This is excellently written. I put my review up today but tried to keep it spoiler free. One thing I mentioned was how much I loved one of the lessons learned at the end, but I didn’t say what it was so as not to spoil it. But here I can talk about 🙂 I really, really love the message that you need a balance of joy and sadness in life, and that sometimes giving in and feeling sad is a necessary part of dealing with things. I did tear up a bit at the ending. I also kind of realized from the moment we met Bing Bong that something would happen to him and he would probably die or disappear. He is, after all, an imaginary friend, and Riley is 11 – it’s natural for something like that to disappear. My husband suggested another way they could have done it: have Bing Bong come back into her memory and use him as some sort of artistic inspiration – a character in a book or a piece of artwork. I think if Riley’s passion had been writing or something art related that could have worked, but she loved hockey so it wouldn’t really have fit. I thought it was a neat idea though.
I loved this movie so much and I can’t wait to see it again.
Oh good. Someone to chat with! This was my first time doing something like this and it really is quite liberating. Especially for a movie like Inside Out which has so much crammed in its run time.
That is a really interesting suggestion your husband made. It could work but I kind of like that they made the sacrifice real, no backsies! I like that it was Bing Bong’s choice to get off the wagon. Joy would never have agreed to it. He loved Riley enough to put her happiness above his own life “greater love hath no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends’. Never in a million years did I think I’d be quoting scripture talking about a character named Bing Bong but there you go!
I like the idea that the core memories stay the same but the islands of personality change. That’s the way it is in life, sometimes quite rapidly. And I’ve been thinking about it I think most of the core memories would be blue. It’s weird thinking about childhood do I remember all the Christmases or the trips to Disneyland? Yes but only vaguely. I remember vividly is getting bullied and pushed into a fountain and told I looked like a dog. That is seared into my brain. And that happened when I was around Riley’s age and my family moved when I was 12 across the country. You’re exactly right about the combination of happy and sad in life but I would take it even farther. The movie says that an essential ingredient to creating happiness is sadness, without it we are just having fun and not ‘core memory’ level of happy. That’s profound thoughts. And I just love the way it tackles the idea of being in a state of no feelings at all- depression, emptiness, blank, whatever you want to call it. To me that is almost worse than the sad times because it’s so hard to fix.
Do you guys have kids? Just curious what they thought. So far all of my friends with kids have loved it.
This was another great review! I never thought you would make a spoiler review version for this film. Still, great work on both versions of the review. Yeah, I liked how Joy evenually realized that she was in the wrong for thinking that Riley always needed to be joyful, you know? Anyway, great job again on this one too.
I loved that. I never thought I’d get so much growth from a character of Joy.
I didn’t think I would do a spoiler review detailed like this but I like how it turned out. As long as I give people enough warning I think I might do a little bit more of them. What do you think?
Agreed! I can see why this film has done really well at the box office thus far (despite not reaching #1, that is).
Oh, and I think it would be a great idea for you to do a spoiler review for future films as long as you warn the audience of the spoilers, you know? Anyway, great job again!
Oh good. Thanks for that feedback
“Joy has finally reached the point of complete humility where she has stopped trying to be happy and she weeps, cries her eyes out. She does what Riley should have been doing all along- expressing all this change and fear of the future.”
The same analysis I had when I saw it. I was utterly moved by Joy’s breakdown. This scene really breaks the idea that Joy was single minded caricature, and not an incredibly human character who simply wants to make the people she loves happy and the world a better place. Her only crime was loving her little girl too much, so much that the movie’s plot was basically about Joy realizing Riley is not little anymore. Amy Poehler even said so much. That Joy is unable to let go of Riley’s childhood, and that is symbolic of Riley being unable to let go of her own childhood and past in Minnesota.
I really like the connections you came to about Bing-Bong’s end being another aspect of Riley’s literally disappearing childhood. Spot on.
Thanks so much for your great comment and for reading my blog. This movie is so rich I feel like I will constantly be finding new layers to think about.
Pixar is so good at pushing its characters to the brink where you start to worry they are going to lose (incinerator in Toy Story 3 anyone?) and Joy in that dump it feels pretty hopeless. But it is what the character needs to fully learn. I never in a million years would have thought a character of Joy would have such character growth . Amazing.
Great review. So in depth. I kept mine spoiler free but as someone who’s seen it twice it’s fantastic to see such an in depth review. Great job 🙂
Thanks! I had a nonspoilery review but this one was really fun to write and get deep down into it. Not every film you could do that!
Despite the odd setback every now and again, Inside Out remains a solid reminder why Pixar is the BEST Hollywood Studio working today; here we have a film that is not only entertaining, visually appealing, well scripted and expertly performed, but its full of deeper meanings that can be expressed through the simplest of scenes, such as when Joy tells Sadness to say in the “circle of sadness” it can easily be seen as a warning against bottling up your emotions, or when Sadness talks to Bing Bong and you see a parable of the film’s message about the importance of sadness as a healing emotion. It’s also impressive that even on a scientific level, the way the emotions interact inside Riley’s mind is actually based on real psychology as well as Pete Docter’s own experiences with his then-eleven year old daughter. But the third act, and the ending especially, it has the boldness to kill Bing Bong and Riley’s emotional resolution is so realistically conveyed that your investment is all the stronger. There’s just so much that I could write on, but these are just the key themes that I can highlight. This was a fantastic film to return to after an extended period of time, but it definitely deserves its place in the Disney/Pixar pantheon.
Ok. Have a great day