Gospel According to Pixar: Inside Out

The reviews for Pixar’s latest, Inside Out, are not just hype. I went to see […]

David Peterson / 6.26.15

The reviews for Pixar’s latest, Inside Out, are not just hype. I went to see the movie on Tuesday night, and I’m still processing different parts of it, which to me is always the sign of a goodie. It’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from Pixar: appealing to all ages – wholesome, charming fun for kids and adults but still emotionally rich and thought-provoking.

Here are two things that I thought the movie did really well and stick out as reasons to go see it: the wonderful, gospel-infused treatment of memory and the strong examples of self-sacrificial love.

Before I get into these, a very brief word on the smart premise of the movie (trying not to give too much away). Most of the action takes place inside an 11-year old girl named Riley’s head. The main characters are her emotions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust. Familiar voices from SNL and The Office figure heavily in the cast, and Twin Peaks’ Agent Dale Cooper is Riley’s dad!



For whatever reason, certain memories just stick with us – some pointless and goofy, others awkward and painful. Inside Out engages with this range of memory brilliantly. Riley has a collection of “core” memories, each colored by a different emotion. Core happy memories, for example, would be jumping on the trampoline with mom and dad on a fall afternoon, opening presents Christmas morning, waking up on a snow day, etc. These are easy though, and Inside Out doesn’t just stop at the cheery stuff. It confronts sad, anxiety-inducing memories as well – the ones that creep up on us despite our best efforts to push them away. For me, this conjured up stuff like that embarrassing conversation with a girl in high school, painful sibling interactions or a bad fight with mom and dad. As Riley matures in the movie, her memories do too. They change from being dominated by simply one emotion and start to incorporate several. A tinge of sadness accompanies an old joyous memory, disgust gets colored with humor: it’s a redemptive twist on the painful memories that we can’t shake.


But Inside Out doesn’t try to eliminate all the negative and dreary to fake a bright, always sunny outlook. The movie doesn’t duck and dodge to a happy ending; instead, it admits that sometimes in life, we really struggle to summon joy. It’s difficult to get beyond fear and anger to have real sadness or be fully present with those around us. Just like the powerlessness we feel towards this onslaught of emotion and memory, we’re incapable of overcoming our sinful natures. That just seemed refreshingly honest to me, and, frankly, pretty freeing.


There’s a strong example of self-sacrificial love in the movie that’s just too good not to share (cue the obligatory “Spoiler Alert!”). Down in Riley’s head, wandering through the long term memory bank, we run into her old imaginary friend, Bing Bong.


He’s cut out of the same mold as Finding Nemo’s Dory and Toy Story’s Rex – scatterbrained, prone to melancholy (he cries tears of candy), and irresistibly charming. He’s part elephant, part cotton candy, part pink pony and altogether great. Sadly but not unexpectedly, Bing Bong has fallen from his place in Riley’s immediate memory and he’s somewhere in the long term, with the pit of the unconscious looming in his future. His “death” isn’t left to any over-the-top dramatic gesture, like Batman flying off in his Batwing, bomb in tow, near the end of Dark Knight Rises. Bing Bong just realizes it’s his time to go, and gives Amy Poehler’s character, Joy, the extra push she needs to rejoin the rest of the emotions in Riley’s headquarters. This cycle is evident throughout the movie. Old relics of memory and imagination fall away, and it’s undeniably sad, but they give way to fresh beginnings. The gospel message there is clear.

I hope this reads as a solid pitch to go see Inside Out, cause it’s great. It’s got something for everybody. You won’t be disappointed. See if you pick up the hilarious Chinatown reference toward the end of the movie… Well done Pixar!