What the Children’s Movie Inside Out Can Teach Us About Our Emotions


A few years ago, I watched a Pixar movie called Inside Out and I was completely amazed at how they managed so simply and at the same time with so much depth, to explain what goes on in a child’s mind and refer us to our own childhood. For those who like psychology, it is a full plate!

The title of the film literally means “from the inside out”. The film recounts young Riley’s journey and her trajectory from childhood to early adolescence, through the personification of the 5 main feelings inside her head that functions as a Command Room, the Ego: Joy, Anger, Sadness, Fear and Disgust. Each of them is responsible for certain characteristics of Riley and have a specific color in the plot.

As soon as Riley was born, when she opens her eyes, the first feeling, Joy, appears when she sees love through the eyes of her parents. As soon as crying comes, and Sadness follows. During much of the film, Joy tries in every way to remove Sadness from Riley, but there will come a time when she herself will see that it is impossible, because sadness is part of the construction of our being. Over the years the other characters appear and the control panel gets more and more complex.

The Main Personalities 

Joy is the well-being, positivity, and self-esteem. Whenever something cool is happening that needs self-confidence and freedom to be, it kicks in. She also appears when something she thinks is of great value appears, even if it’s eating on a “little plane”. 

The Sadness in blue is the discomfort, negativity, guilt, and misunderstanding. He is always wanting to be part of Riley’s unconscious and several times he finds himself denied, without being able to express himself completely.

The fear in lilac helps to protect Riley, giving more security. Takes action whenever Riley is in danger, as if out of self-preservation, teaching her to respect and find limits. He also likes to make a list of things that can go wrong.

The anger, in red, of course, reflects the understanding of the limits, anger, impulsivity, and aggression. Anger is also an important emotion in our lives, especially when we are inert in the face of life’s difficulties. It makes us act!

The Disgust, in green, is the acceptance of both food as social experiences and prevents Riley from “poison” the bad aspects of society. It appears for everything that is repulsive or undesirable, even if it is eating broccoli.

The film shows us how each of our core emotions is important in building our personality and how suppressing them can lead to drastic consequences. Since the beginning of the film, the role of Sadness is never understood or accepted. Joy always tries to keep her away from the control panel and the memories, thinking that Riley will never need to feel sad in life.

The Islands of Personality

Memories are impregnated with emotions, symbolized by colored circles, according to the main feeling in which it is represented. This refers to what Carl Jung called Complexes and they are activated unconsciously. In the film, these complexes are represented by islands that are located around the control room. They are Bobeira Island, Hockey (sport), Honesty, Friendship, and Family. They are the center of personality and make Riley Riley.

The Main Changes

In the film, we realize that there are two significant changes happening in Riley’s life. The first is external, the change of city, the second is internal, the transition from childhood to adolescence. The change of the city comes as a bomb in the life of Riley who had everything in perfect working order and under control. Changing cities means leaving behind something she thought was good. It is going from something controllable to something that is out of your control.

When she arrives at the new house, the first disappointment comes. It is not at all what I expected, especially when I saw a dead rat in the back of the room, which already symbolizes the mourning of something she has lost or is losing. Then Anger, Fear, and Disgust start to manipulate the control panel and Joy, wanting to appease everything, acts as if it were denying reality.

At school the same thing. She realizes everything she left behind and the friends she had and unexpectedly starts to cry in front of her new colleagues, causing great embarrassment. The denial of something that does not satisfy us is a natural process of mourning as if it were self-protection. The problem is when this denial is prolonged and prevents you from having contact with your own emotions, especially with the pain that is essential for mourning to be done.

In the Control Room

Whenever a good memory is remembered, Sadness tries, unintentionally, to touch it and ends up “staining” it with blue, which makes Joy impatient, forbidding it from touching anyone. This can show us the strength that emotion has, being able to change the effective load of the same memory. 

For reasons of the plot of the film, Joy, and Sadness end up arguing and are thrown out of the control room together with the base memories, the most important ones that give rise to the islands of personality. At this point, Riley partially loses her identity and is somewhat apathetic, with no reaction. Everything around you loses its color.

It’s Time to Change

In the process of leaving childhood, something important happens to all of us: the mystery of the father-hero. Riley can’t understand how his father could move them to another city, simply canceling out her feeling. We see in the story that your parents are not very well prepared to act empathetically with this maturation process. In the humanization of parents, we have become heroes of our own history. Riley’s reaction is infantilized, governed by the islands built in childhood, but now it’s time to rock those islands and build new ones.

Something Must End For the New to Emerge

The first island to be disintegrated is the island of Bobeira. Nothing else is funny in Riley’s life. She fights with her best friend on the internet and the island of Friendship is gone. In the meantime, Joy and Sadness, lost in the unconscious, find a fantasy friend from when she was a little child named Bing-Bong. The island of Hockey then falls along with the land of the imagination. Little by little Riley is no longer a child.

There is a time when Bing-Bong realizes that he is no longer remembered by Riley and it is Sadness that consoles him, not Joy. He can thus cry and express his feelings and feels much better after he takes the weight off his chest. It is from there that Joy begins to realize that sadness can play an important role in people’s lives.


In the control room, the one who takes action is the Anger, making Riley, childishly, decide to steal her mother’s credit cards, leave the house to return to the city she lived in an attempt to escape the current reality. Her mother tries to call her, noticing 

her absence, and she doesn’t answer: the Family island then disintegrates. Overtaken by anxieties and fears, the islands, one by one, disappear, causing Riley a lot of pain. This is the maturing process, painful most of the time.

Joy and Sadness United

Joy tries to go to the control room alone because she thinks Riley doesn’t need to be sad now, but an accident occurs and she and Bing-Bong end up falling into a large crater, the one of oblivion. It is there that Joy has the opportunity to look closely at the base memory about the Hockey Championship and realizes something that makes her change her mind about Sadness: Joy sees not only the happy part of memory but realizes that it was through Sad that she was able to receive the comfort and affection of her parents and elaborate. Joy cries … as if part of Sadness is also within her and she can now understand everything more clearly. It’s time to gather the strength to get out of oblivion, but unfortunately, it is necessary that Bing-Bong, the last link with childhood, be left behind. Childhood is over and Sadness, alone in the unconscious,

Back to the Control Room

Using all possible resources, Joy seeks Sadness and both manage to return to the command room to put everything in order. Disgust asks Joy to fix the control panel, but Joy asks Sadness to put everything in order, finally understanding her role in the elaboration of our emotions. Sadness then simply shuts down the idea of escape from the control panel and Riley “wakes up” from her state …

When Sadness Makes a Difference

It is Riley’s contact with Sadness that ends the revolt and the fixation of the escape plan. She gets off the bus and goes home, finding her parents afflicted with her disappearance. Joy then acts in a spectacular way: it gives Sadness the base memories and they all turn blue, now impregnated with a new meaning. Riley can then expose his feelings to his parents and cries painfully. He is able to tell them the reasons for his sadness and only then can he receive the empathy and comfort he so badly needs. She then leaves solitude and finds comfort in the family. Sadness takes Joy’s hand and together they control the control panel, creating a mix of emotions, as it is in the hour of greatest sadness in Riley’s life that she finds herself happy again.

A New Phase

Then the adolescence phase begins and new islands appear, more complex, as well as the control panel, which is now much larger and has a new button called puberty. New, colorful memories also emerge, justifying the complexity and richness of emotions.

Now Riley begins to understand reality differently, understands the reasons that made her family move, rebalances friendships and the family gains a new dimension, more united than ever.

We can identify a lot with the film through empathy, which is the ability to put ourselves in the other’s shoes. Through Riley, we can self-recognize and remember several moments in our lives when we react in a similar way. Who doesn’t remember their own adolescence and how painful it is to go through it?

I’ve seen the film at least five times, and every time I watch it, I discover something new. The Screenwriter was very happy to choose the five core emotions and the way he shows the loss mourning (childhood), the beginning of adolescence, and the turmoil of emotions that invade us. But the way in which he gave Sadness a special role in our lives, really made a difference.

Share this post