I am in awe of animated movies.  It is truly amazing the detail that goes into an animated film these days. The subtle shading, intricate details in the background of scenes that most of us never notice, and the little easter eggs hidden in the film from past films – maybe Woody from ToyStory is subtly found in a toy room scene casually propped in the corner. The hair – oh my goodness. I think Merida’s hair in Brave should be considered a seperate character in the film. 

I’m also impressed with the writers ability to delicately layer in moments of humor that the parents might understand but the kids would not – and vice versa. Then there is the story themselves. They do such a wonderful job of using story to convey such important lessons. Of course, story has always been the best way to get someone to see truth…from the parables in the bible – and even before that, the cavemen’s drawings of their lives, story has been how we best learn since the beginning of time.    Story works so well for teaching because it allows us to put aside our ego and defense.  We can listen to a story about someone else and see how they learn an important lesson and then, having seen the value in that learning, we are more able to apply it to our own life.

All of these things come together in a magical way in the new movie, Inside Out. The movie is described in the trailers as: “Riley is a happy, hockey-loving 11-year-old Midwestern girl, but her world turns upside-down when she is uprooted from her Midwest life to move to San Francisco. Her emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness – conflict on how how best to navigate a new city, house, and school.”

From the trailers you know that the movie personifies these emotions and you get to go inside Riley’s head as she processes this major life change to see how her emotions clash and cope together. It’s so well done. At first you see Joy frantically trying to keep everything happy. She is the commander in the Control Center (Brain) and she rallies everyone else to one goal – keep Riley happy! But with such a major life change, Sadness keeps coming in and messing things up. At first Joy is frustrated and continues to try and handle life as she has for so long – you see snippets of memories from Riley’s young life where she is always referred to as happy – asked to be happy – reminded to stay happy. And, she IS happy. But as the movie goes on Sadness begins to remind Joy that she was there in some of those happy moments, too. And therein lies the magic of this story.

In a culture that values happiness over almost all else, it is too easy to think that keeping our kids happy is our goal. As a matter of fact – my birthday wish my whole life has been, “to be happy”. And it worked a lot of the time, but not always. I’ve struggled with depression for a long time, but I avoided acknowledging it thinking I could just make myself ‘be happy’. Sadness is a normal part of life, and that is what Inside Out does such a good job of pointing out. It’s important to let sadness do what it needs to do because most of the time it is sadness that slows us down long enough to know to ask for help. Sadness is what indicates to our tribe that we need them. Sadness serves an important role and without it, we eventually lose out on the ability to experience authentic Joy. As you see in the movie – an attempt to let Joy be in control at all costs, can really lead to some frantic and drastic consequences.

It’s a good lesson that I’m applying to myself – but it is also helping me be a better parent. The other day Elijah got very upset and it had the potential to really turn in to a complete meltdown.  I got down on his level and let him tell me how mad he was and all about why.  Then I asked him how long he thought he needed to let Anger have the control panel.  It took him a second but then he grinned and was able to move on.  Being able to really visualize and name emotions, and to know that they aren’t the boss, is really empowering for a kid. 

It’s going to pop into my head when something has the kids down. Instead of immediately trying to figure out how to get Joy back at the control panel, I’m going to sit down and acknowledge that it might be Sadness’s turn to run things for a bit. I’m going to remind them of the movie and now that they have a more tangible way to think about their emotions, they can allow things to run a natural course and not feel trapped by a temporary emotion.  Best of all, since they got a peek into the mom and dad’s heads,  they know that we all all have all these emotions – joy, sadness, anger, fear, disgust – and none are bad. They all deserve to be appreciated and allowed to do what they are made to do.  

I love a good story. I love that a kids movie taught me to be a better mom and to be a better friend to myself. I’m looking forward to having a great way to talk to the kids about emotions – in a way that they can really understand.

Have you seen Inside Out yet? It will be one we scoop up as soon as it is released!  

Post Script for my foster and adoption parent friends:  The movie also highlights how early memories form personality and it logically focuses on the parent/child relationship – so if you have littles who have had some difficult times you might be ready for some harder questions/emotions after the movie.


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