A Pediatric OT's Take on Inside Out

Have you watched the movie Inside Out yet? My 6-year old has been super excited to watch it, and I must admit that I was looking forward to seeing it too. It’s a great animated film about a girl named Riley and her five emotions, Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust, and about what happens when Riley undergoes a major change in her life and moves from Minnesota to California.

We watched the movie yesterday, and I unabashedly enjoyed it. I’ll even admit to shedding a few tears when… Sorry, not going to give away any spoilers here in case you haven’t seen it yet. It was fun watching the journey that Joy and Sadness took through Riley’s mind, and how the film explored the concepts of memory, the subconscious, the imagination, personality, and even abstract thought.

My favorite takeaway from Inside Out is the concept that all emotions are valuable, that each of them has something to teach us. Fear protects us from danger, Anger helps us stand up for ourselves, Disgust make sure we are not poisoned, and of course Joy helps us operate from a place of happiness. In the movie, the other emotions were not sure what the role of Sadness was, but by the end they realized that she had an important job, too. My takeaway on the role of Sadness is that she helps with developing empathy, as well as letting us know when we need to seek out support and connection with our loved ones.

Another important insight was that when we don’t allow ourselves to feel a certain emotion, such as Sadness, then our other emotions take over in trying to mask it. This often leads to more hurt and disconnection, as when Riley attempted to run away from home. In our larger society, this is seen in the prevalence of many addictive behaviors, and to a lesser extent, the many ways people try to numb and distract themselves from difficult emotions. The movie also showed that memories could be both happy and sad, and that sometimes it is out of the sad times in our lives that our happiest memories also arise.

Also, as an OT I think that the movie Inside Out brings the discussion about emotions into the mainstream pop movie culture. It opens up a way to dialogue with children about their feelings while giving them a frame of reference to relate to. It helps that the movie makes the emotions more concrete, so that kids have a mental picture in their head when discussing them. It also shows that everyone also has their own emotions, which may help some children grasp the theory of mind more concretely. The closing credits had a few more snippets that emphasized this, with even the dogs and cats having their own panel of emotions.

The only issue that I had with the movie is that the emotions were up at the Headquarters of Riley’s mind, and they were the only ones there. What about executive functioning? Logic, reason, self-control? Our mind is not controlled solely by emotions, that is why we developed our whole cerebral cortex. Not only that, Riley had no way to exert control over her emotions, it was her emotions that ran her life. All we see is the emotions making the decisions, and Riley reacting to them.  This movie adds a great deal to the conversation about emotions and self-regulation, but unfortunately lacks a key piece about the part of our brain that helps us deal with our emotions and take control instead of just reacting to outward events.

As a movie, I give Inside Out 5 stars. It was fun, entertaining, and it made me think. Not only that, it sparked some great conversations with my son about emotions and how we deal with them. As a metaphor for how our mind works, it was lacking. Our emotions are important, and should not be ignored, but they should not be the only ones running the show.


Have you watched Inside Out yet? What role did you think Sadness played? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

A Pediatric OT’s Take on Inside Out

3 thoughts on “A Pediatric OT’s Take on Inside Out

  • Pingback: OT Corner: A Pediatric OT’s Take on Inside Out | PediaStaff Pediatric SLP, OT and PT Blog

  • August 12, 2015 at 9:45 AM

    Thanks for a great review! We have not seen the movie yet so this was really helpful. My concern is exactly what you found lacking, no other emotions about as well as no executive functions filtering the emotions/reactions. We have a very hyperactive/ impulsive AD/HD 7 year old girl, and a rough and tumble 5 year old boy, so the heads up will help greatly. We also have a 9 year old that is really dealing with Anger right now (mostly because of 7s impulses!) and have wondered if this character will help the conversations or just demonstrate a volcanic reaction? Pixar has always been gifted at showing Sadness and Grief in a way that my kids have been able to understand/ discuss and build empathy with so now I’m hoping they will do a phenomenal job with Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear.
    Thanks again for the review.

    • August 18, 2015 at 7:54 PM

      Thanks Janett! Did you get a chance to watch the movie yet? While Anger demonstrates those “volcanic reactions” that you mentioned, the movie definitely shows that while there is a place for anger, there is often a better way to approach a situation than just through anger. It doesn’t invalidate the emotion, but it shows that there are other ways to deal with a situation. Hope this helps!


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