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Disney’s Inside Out: Learning to feel your feelings at the movies

I went to see Disney new movie, Inside Out, on Friday and it blew…my…mind.

It’s the story of an 11-year-old girl, Riley. She’s an only child and lives with her parents in Minnesota. Her father get a job in San Francisco and the family moves. As Riley struggles with her feelings during the move and starting a new school, we get a glimpse into the emotions driving her feelings.

There are five emotions and each is represented by a little cartoon character. The fivesome works together as Riley’s emotion committee and – lucky for Riley – Joy is the leader. Other members include Anger, Fear, Disgust and Sadness.shutterstock_157214810

The five of them gather around a Starship Enterprise-ish console with lots of buttons and take turns – or sometimes just butt-in and take control. Throughout Riley’s day, the emotions generated by a specific event is transformed into a little orb – colored accordingly: Red for anger; green for disgust; blue for sadness; purple for fear’ and yellow for joy.

The little orbs are stored in Riley’s long-term memory – a massive labyrinth in Riley’s brain. Riley also has five core memories. These are very, very special and joyful memories and you don’t want to lose these. But, the committee does and Joy and Sadness go after them.

On their journey then pass through Imagination Land, Dream Production and the Subconscious basement. They also get into abstract thought and critical thinking and take a ride on the Train of Thought.

So, I’m watching this movie – in 3D – and I can’t keep up. Part of me wants to just watch the damn movie but there are all these metaphors flying around. Sadness hugs Bing Bong, Riley’s long lost lonely friend, and Bing Bong “embraces Sadness” and his tears, which are made of candy, stop.

I just wanted to stand up in the theater and holler – “Whoa, did you get that? He embraced sadness! That was awesome!” Stuff like that went on for most of the movie and I gave up trying to process what I was hearing and decided I should probably see it again.

I’m sure the kids didn’t catch a lot of the metaphors.To them, it’s the story about a little girl moving from Minnesota and her feelings. But if you grew up in a family where emotions were rarely seen or heard – like mine – this movie is revolutionary. The movie shows a family expressing their feelings in a healthy way.

I have spent years in therapy learning how to “feel my feelings” and express them appropriately. I had no idea how much holding all those feelings in for all those years affected my mental health – especially my depression.

Inside Out has received widespread praise and some criticism. Joy is too pretty and dough-eyed while sadness is  short, fat and wears glasses. Another block-buster filled with sexist stereotypes. Some psychologists who have seen the movie say it is not an accurate portrayal of how our brains work.

To which I say: “It’s a kids’ movie, people!” It shows kids how to express their emotions and that it’s okay to cry and be afraid and get angry. If they don’t get that message at home, where else are they going to learn it? In a movie theater with a bag of popcorn?

Works for me.



Disney’s Inside Out: Learning to feel your feelings at the movies

Christine Stapleton

Christine Stapleton has been a journalist for 35 years. She is now an investigative reporter for The Palm Beach Post. In 2006, began writing a blog for PsychCentral called Depression on My Mind. Her latest blog, Addiction Matters, draws on her 19 years of sobriety and her coverage of the drug treatment industry in South Florida.

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APA Reference
Stapleton, C. (2015). Disney’s Inside Out: Learning to feel your feelings at the movies. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 5 Jul 2015
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