It's not often a children's movie comes out that is not only funny and educational, but explains mental processes more clearly than most neuroscientists can. Although let's face it, if anyone was going to achieve it, it would be Pixar who have a record of making movies that make us laugh, cry, and think (sometimes all at once).
'Inside Out' is the story of 11 year old Riley and her emotions- joy, sadness, fear, anger and disgust- that live in the control centre in her brain. After living in harmony throughout her childhood her emotions are forced into chaos when Riley is unexpectedly uprooted, having to leave her friends, and move somewhere new.
I will happily admit I was one of the first in line to see the film earlier this year, along with my 24 year old brother, and a predominantly adult crowd at the 9pm showing. In a time when mental health is being pushed further and further up the agenda, it seems like perfect timing to begin addressing it in film. Even better, in a hilarious cartoon format!
But not only is this an important milestone in addressing the subject so openly, I also believe it can be used as a tool and reference for parents and children alike. Here's why...
1) It gets children (and adults) talking about emotions
Throughout the film you recognise the way that different emotions behave, as parts of your own personality. Whether it is the explosion of anger, or being paralysed by fear, the movie presents them in such a clear way that children can recognise which is taking control. I have since heard parents asking their children which character is in charge of their brain when they are about to have a strop. It may not have changed their mood, but it certainly got them to stop and think about how they were behaving.
2) It separates the emotions from the person
It has been proven to have a negative effect on childrens' development to label them as the emotion they are displaying. The same can be said in the way we deal with emotions in adults. If you call someone an 'angry person' it is hardly going to illicit a response other than to make them angrier. 'Inside Out' separates emotions into different characters, making it clear that all of them are present, and important, in all of us, and it depends on how we manage them to who is allowed the control at any one time.
3) It recognises sadness as essential
Walking through town this week I overheard a child shouting excitedly 'I got sadness! I got sadness!' He was talking about the toy he got free with his McDonalds happy meal. He was so excited because in a very unorthodox move, sadness is actually the heroine of the movie. It is through Riley recognising sadness rather than trying to suppress, that she is able to move on with her life. The clever way in which the film shows the suppression of sadness leading to other unhelpful emotions taking over, such as fear and anger, makes a very important point about children being able to admit when they're sad. Children being able to recognise and talk about sadness from a young age, and parents knowing that this is okay, and a natural part of development, is a huge step forward in mental health awareness.
4) It lets children know that change can be a big deal
For many children the first time that they are forced to manage difficult emotions is when a big change happens in their life. This could be a house move, as in Riley's story, or a divorce, death, or even the move from primary to secondary school. Change is unsettling and calls into question a person's sense of self and identity. This can happen at any age. The film recognises this. It shows that once Riley begins to lose her islands of identity- friends, hockey etc...everything else begins to crumble. It also shows that this is just transitional, and that with the support of her parents, it is possible to come out of the other side with new islands by allowing her emotions to work through.
5) It can be used as a reference point by parents, teachers and mental health professionals.
Explaining complex ideas about the way our brain works to children is difficult. Let's be honest, most of us don't even understand it ourselves. 'Inside Out' provides the ideal reference point to open up discussions about the way a child is feeling. Instead of making it feel personal, and making them feel ashamed, a child could now explain the way they feel by talking about a character they have seen in a funny film. It removes some of the stigma and intimidation surrounding mental health, making it more normal and accessible to children and the adults they are speaking to.
I'm not going to make the unrealistic claim that one film is going to change the way we approach mental health forever. But If we continue to make children's films and programmes that talk about emotions in such an open way, we could be well on our way to banishing mental health stigma in the next generation.