Thursday, June 12, 2014

High Hopes for "Inside Out"

Disney-Pixar’s next film to debut is Inside Out, which will be released June 19, 2015.  Inside Out tells a story featuring the inner-workings of a teenage girl’s mind.  When I first heard about this film my first thought, apart from noting the similarities to Walt Disney World’s attraction Cranium Command, was that this had the potential to be something really unique and amazing.  Knowing Pixar’s, and specifically Pete Docter's, track record I have high hopes and expectations.  In addition, this is right up my alley and therefore near and dear to my heart as subject material.  I’m all for people learning something from films, whether overtly or indirectly.  If this can somehow enlighten people to some of the real struggles that adolescents face as they mature, and turn away a bit from the stereotypes and jokes then that would be a win in my book. 

This article was released recently and shed some light on the plot and characters, including emotions Fear, Sadness, Anger, Joy, and Disgust.  I love that Pete Docter based the character off of his daughter and the experiences he had of watching her grow up.  It shows he was curious about the changes she was going though and the emotions behind the scenes.  It would be much simpler to chalk it up to “raging hormones” or her just being a “typical teen,” as so many people do.  I’ve written about the adolescent stage in the past, but it’s worth repeating that it’s a rocky and unstable time.  I only hope the makers of the film take that to heart and don’t succumb to too many jokes at the expense of the stereotypes and misconceptions.  Docter cites the film as more poetic than scientific, but I hope that it doesn’t completely kick facts and truth to the curb.

I’m personally incredibly fascinated with interactions.  My goal in working with families is not to single anyone out, but to focus on the relationships and how they interact.  There is more in my notes about how people talk than what they talk about.  I help them improve those interactions and realize how much they impact each other.  This is another thing I’m looking forward to about the film.  I hope we get a front-row seat to not only the interactions between Riley and those around her, but between her emotions as well.  Viewing emotions having emotions toward each other will be something really great if they can pull it off.  That’s the kind of depth needed to depict the intensity that is adolescence  - when you can FEEL your feelings having feelings.  It’s an abstract idea and I appreciate the feat of translating that to the big screen.

In fact, the idea of separating different emotions so that they can easily be identified and navigated is nothing new to me.  I’ve had success with bright little kids that can conceptualize feelings like anger as something apart from them and something actually controllable.  When they are trained to recognize the “anger monster” sneaking up on them and to go find an adult when it happens, it gives them more power over their reactions instead of feeling like anger always leads to aggression.  Likewise, having a family realize they are all struggling with a mental illness such as depression rather than pointing fingers at one “depressed” person gives the system more power since they are working together. 

I bring up depression because one of the plot points of Inside Out includes Joy and Sadness disappearing from the story for a while.  I’m interested to see how Riley responds to the absence of both of these primary emotions and if depression plays any part in her storyline.  If so, it may be helpful and psycho-educational for audiences to see depression in this form – as an inability to feel certain emotions rather than a choice, as so often is perceived.  Riley’s experience may be less intense and more of a mood change but I’m still very curious as to the execution and implications of scenes such as these.

I’m excited to see if this idea latches on and becomes more tangible for the general public.  If kids begin to recognize and identify emotions like sadness or fear as characters from their new favorite movie, it makes the feelings more concrete and could make them easier to talk about with their parents.   The sad truth is that emotions are not something a lot of families feel comfortable talking about.  As a result, kids can grow up confused by them or wondering if it's even okay to feel certain ways.  The more acceptable it is to talk about it, the more parents can learn about those they care about most, and help them become more rounded adults.  

Other hard-to-picture aspects of the mind that are to be portrayed in Inside Out are imagination, abstract thought, dreams, and a “train of thought.”  These are all things that may be easier to conceptualize and lead to more healthy conversation because of a little helpful visual rendering.  Reading Docter’s analysis and acknowledgement of this gives me hope that he understands the benefits of externalization and knows that the film could be a gateway to introducing it in a fun way.  It sounds like he “gets it” and I’m anxious to hear more as the film begins to unfold and grow.

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