Inside Out has got to be one of my very favourite Pixar movies. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. It tells the story of Riley, an 11-year-old girl who moves with her parents from Minnesota to San Francisco. This upheaval in her life is represented by her emotions, personified in the “control room” of her brain: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust.
Always a happy and upbeat kid, Riley starts to feel Sadness; and as Joy desperately tries to prevent Sadness from taking over control of Riley, the unthinkable happens. Both Joy and Sadness are sucked out of the Headquarters and dumped into the data banks of Riley’s memories. The movie tells the story of their journey to get back, and how Riley’s emotions affect her while they’re unbalanced.
Of course it’s smart, funny, heartfelt, and gorgeously animated, like all Pixar films; and for me, as the parent of girls, I love that the lead characters (Riley, and Joy and Sadness, her chief warring emotions) are female. It’s also extremely thoughtful in how it portrays the ways the brain works – the core values that drive each of us and form our identities, the way that memories work, and what happens when our emotions are out of balance.
And I think, subversively, it’s also the first major animated studio movie to feature a lead character who is non-binary or possibly transgender.
I know, right? Ok, stay with me, I have reasons for this.
In one of the most amusing sequences in the film, the camera zooms in on other characters – the mom, the dad, the teacher, a bus driver – to show the same five emotions at work in their heads. In all cases, the emotions are the same gender as the character: the mom’s are all female, the dad’s are all male, you get the idea.
I saw this movie with our daughter when she was herself an 11-year-old girl. As we were leaving the theatre, she blew my mind by observing that Riley must be transgender, because only Riley’s emotions were both genders.
Reader, I hadn’t even noticed this. But it’s true: in Riley’s head, Joy, Sadness, and Disgust are female, and Anger and Fear are male.
Whether it’s something the filmmakers intended or not, I choose to read this as a representation of a kid who is non-gender-conforming at least. Which to me, makes this movie triply valuable as family viewing.