Pixar’s trailer for its new film, Inside Out, has been making the rounds—I’ve seen it in theaters, on the internet, and during the Puppy Bowl this weekend. It looks like it’s going to be pretty fun (it especially looks like they’re going to have a good time making dolls of all the emotions to sell), but there are also some things that might veer into problematic territory if Pixar isn’t careful.
Our protagonist, Riley, moves to a new town and has to deal with fitting in with a new school and a new town—all pretty regular stuff. However, the cool thing about this movie is that we can literally see into the heads of each character—we can see the physical embodiments of the emotions which control them. Each person seems to have five (primary?) emotions: Sadness, Joy, Anger, Disgust, and Fear. As the characters interact, the emotions in their heads talk to each other to decide what the character should do next
This is a fascinating concept on a number of levels, but the trailer seems to rely on a number of stereotypes: for one, Riley’s mom’s emotions spend their time thinking about a handsome ex-boyfriend, while Riley’s dad’s emotions spend their time thinking about sports (ice hockey in the U.S. trailer, soccer in the U.K. trailer). For a movie meant to spotlight a young girl, it didn’t spend much time on Riley or why she’s feeling so upset. But the trailer scene was most likely chosen to introduce the concept of the emotions to the viewers, so it’s too soon to say. I am interested in the fact that Riley’s mom’s emotions all present as female, and Riley’s dad’s emotions all present as male, but Riley herself has both male and female-presenting emotions. If the male-presenting emotions are just there for the boys in the audience, it’ll be a bit of a copout. Though it’s a kids’ movie and such things are normally viewed as “not-kid-friendly”, I hope Pixar takes the chance to go into some gender issues with the emotions.
The one thing that really gives me pause about this movie is its cinematography. Although much of the story will presumably take place in Riley’s head, there are also going to be scenes outside of Riley’s head, and transitioning between the two can get confusing. As director Pete Docter said:
The film required creating two simultaneous stories — what is happening to the girl and what is happening inside her mind. “One story is hard enough,” [Docter] said. “This is two stories that need to talk to each other.”
Along with that, having five emotions seated at a control panel, looking out at the world through a screen and “moving” the body through buttons and joysticks, kind of makes it feel like a very depersonalized way to tell a story. Is Riley a real person or is she just the emotions controlling her? In other words, if the movie focuses too much on the emotions moving the body and not enough on Riley’s actions outside of the emotions, it will seem like the characters in the story are just moving robots, and I’m not sure that’s the idea the audience wants to leave with.
Inside Out is in theaters this June! Hopefully it’ll be good.