Inside Out

Big Steve and I love going to the movies. We’re always looking for something to entertain us, but also for the occasional deeper message that we can relate to real life. So when Steve wanted us to go see this new, animated movie “Inside Out”, I have to admit I wasn’t thrilled. He said, “it’s gotten great ratings and I think you’ll enjoy it.” Steve has been known to pick some “not so good” movies based on critic reviews, but I must say with this one I was pleasantly surprised. Not only was the movie entertaining with great animation and comedic interaction between characters, it was also very thought-provoking. So much so, it prompted me to put together a few thoughts about some topics from the movie. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, I will try not to spoil anything for you.

The movie involves a happy little girl named Riley who receives news that her father is moving their family from the Midwest to San Francisco. Of course, this is upsetting news to her. Like all of us, Riley is guided by her emotions and the majority of the movie takes place in a fictional “headquarters” in the control center of Riley’s mind. The emotions running her headquarters are Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness. The story progresses showing how each of these emotions come into play in situations throughout Riley’s day, affecting her and those around her.

As Steve and I left this movie, his previous Psychology teaching brain kicked in and he said, “you could write a whole psychological thesis on that movie”. We continued to discuss several ideas from the movie, even several days after seeing it. We talked about how our emotions were working in certain situations. I even caught myself imaging those cute little animated figures going around in my brain. So, I decided to put some thoughts together about the concept of this movie and hope that as you read it you can gather something from it that will help you to understand your mindset or someone else’s a little better.

Inside OutIn the movie, each emotion had a specific job to play in a situation and a certain emotion would emerge as the predominant one that characterized the personality of the person. In Riley’s case, her predominant emotion was Joy, at least up until the time of her move. In our lives, we too should strive to have Joy as our leading emotion. In Romans 15:13, the Bible states “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” As Christians we are called to be joyful and we can obtain that joy through the peace and hope we receive from the Holy Spirit. We’ve all known people who just always seem to be in a good mood and always find the best in every situation (my friend Jenny Diamond comes to mind). This is an endearing personality and definitely beats letting your other emotions (sadness, anger, disgust, fear) determine your demeanor. However, there may be times when these other emotions need to take over the control board.


In the movie, Joy finds out that every now and then, it’s better for a different emotion to take the lead in a situation. In Riley’s case, this emotion was Sadness. Joy realized toward the end of the movie that Riley needed her emotion Sadness to come to the forefront so that she could deal with her sadness and work through it to move forward. One of the things that struck me about this concept is that we were created with all these emotions for a reason. Emotions, when applied in the right quantities in the right situations, aren’t inherently bad. They all play a part in the makeup of our character. We are who we are because of the part each of these emotions has played in our lives. They allow us to deal with the joys and sorrows we experience in life. It is because of Sadness we know the meaning of Joy. It is because of Anger we can experience Peace. It is because of Disgust we can know the value of Contentment. It is because of Fear that we can experience the thrills of life or avoid certain risky behavior. However, too much Fear might keep you from pursuing a dream or goal that God has in mind for you. We need all our emotions to experience life as fully as God intended us to.

Steve and I have spent this summer helping his dad care for Steve’s  mother who is nearing the end of her journey on this earth. We believe God had this specific mission in mind when planting a seed in our minds to travel the country serving others. Each day presents a series of challenges and each day is full of a range of emotions. Like Riley in the movie, our mind’s control center is operating at full capacity.  It’s interesting how so much emphasis and advice is given on to how to raise children when, at least in our experience, issues with aging parents have been more challenging for us. This summer, there have been moments of deep Sadness as we see Peggy’s body and mind continue to deteriorate, and as we watch Steve’s dad and the rest of the family mourn as we say our long goodbye to her.  There are moments of Fear and Doubt as we question whether we’ve made the right call related to her medication, care, comfort, dietary requests, etc. At times there is Anger that cancer exists and that it is winning the battle against her physical being. There are moments of Despair when we can’t seem to find a way to acceptably comfort her. We have felt some Frustration with God, asking him to either heal her or bring her home to the room He’s prepared for her.

On the other hand, there are moments of Thankfulness…that God gave her a long life, that I had many years with a wonderful mother-in-law, that the family is all working on this together, and for all the cards and prayers that have been offered on her behalf. And just like in the movie, we are finding moments when all the other emotions are pushed aside and Joy emerges. There was Joy when Steve’s mom laughed as he sang Old Man River to her with his belly exposed and then she said “put that thing away”. There is Joy when she is able to recall a distant memory from her past or sing the song “Climb Up Sunshine Mountain” that she sang to every grandkid. There is Joy, and a little Sadness, when we see Steve’s dad curled up next to her in her hospital bed in their bedroom. Before too long, we know Sadness is going to come barreling through the door again and take center stage in our emotional control centers. In a sense, it will always remain with us as we will have a hole in our hearts that no one but Peg can fill. And yet, we’re hopeful that, like in the movie, Joy will triumph at the end of the day. There will be Joy that Peggy is in a much better place and that God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) Joy will fill our hearts as we reflect on the incredible love she showed us and all the wonderful memories she gave us. We’ll be Joyful knowing that, as Christians, we will see her again some day.

Back to the movie…we hope that you’ll see this “psychological thriller”, and that you’ll use it as a teaching tool with your children and others. It’s a fascinating look at how we allow certain emotions to take center stage in certain situations. How we handle these emotions influences how our friends and others view us.  May we all strive to handle our emotions in a way that others can see God in us.

– Lil Jan

P.S. For an even deeper look at lessons from this movie, I recommend Joseph Lalonde’s “17 Leadership Lessons And Quotes From Pixar’s Inside Out” which can be found at this link…


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