Inside Out

Inside Out 1 (200x200)Do you sometimes find it difficult to understand your emotions … much less those of your teenager, spouse, coworkers or friends? Well, Disney and Pixar have just given you a vehicle to explore this issue at a whole new level.

Their newest film, Inside Out, provides an entertaining and thought-provoking way to begin a discussion on how emotions drive our behavior and impact our relationships … for better or worse.

The film revolves around Riley Anderson, an 11-year-old girl who is struggling with several major upheavals in her life, including a move to a new city and enrollment in a new school.

Pixar illustrates her emotional turmoil by taking us insider her brain, where characters representing five primary emotions (Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger) wrestle for control of her words and behavior, as illustrated by this brief trailer.

Riley’s story is simple enough for a young child to follow and yet sophisticated enough to serve as a starting point for discussing the nature of emotions with a child, teenager, spouse, or friend who may be struggling to understand their emotions … or yours.

I found the film to be both entertaining and thought provoking. It’s Disney/Pixar at their best. There were four themes that I especially appreciated.

One was how the movie showed the necessary interplay of emotions for a full-orbed life. (Remember, Jesus himself experienced many different emotions! John 11:5; Matt. 14:14; Heb. 12:2; Mark 1:41; Mark 3:5; Mark 14:34; Luke 22:44)

The film also showed how confusing and overpowering emotions can be, and how they can lead us into conflict if we do not learn how to understand and control them (see James 4:1-3).

Another helpful theme was how emotions such as sadness are shown to play a crucial role in experiencing and expressing empathy and compassion toward others. In a fallen world we sometimes need to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15).

Most of all I appreciated how the movie repeatedly emphasizes the family as the foundation for emotional stability and well-being. When Riley’s world is crumbling and she is on the brink of making an impulsive and dangerous mistake, it’s her emotional bond to her mother and father that pulls her back onto a rational path.

I recommend this movie to you not only as a delightful form of entertainment but also and more importantly as a way to launch a discussion on emotions with the people who fall within your emotional orbit. For example:

  • If you’re married, take your spouse to the movie and then go out for a cup of coffee to discuss how each of you views and experience emotions, and how they impact your relationship.
  • If you’re a parent, take your children or teens to the movie and go out for ice cream afterwards so you can let each child share how they view and experience their emotions. This could be an especially important interaction for a teenager who is just entering the “emotional tornado years” of puberty.
  • You could also go to the movie with a close friend and then talk through some of your deepest questions and concerns about emotions.
  • If you’re a pastor or manager, close your office early one afternoon this week and take your whole team to the movie as an RBA (relationship-building-activity). Then set aside two hours the next morning to discuss how emotions impact your relationships with one another and your interactions with the people you seek to serve.
  • If you are a youth pastor, get the DVD of this film and use it as a relationship building activity and discussion topic for your group.
  • If you’re in a small group Bible study that includes parents and grandparents, use this film for a group “fun night” and discussion theme.

You can prepare for these conversations (and build a biblical perspective on emotions) by reading the following blog posts, which could also serve as launching points for further conversations:

As Scripture teaches and Inside Out so creatively illustrates, emotions are a central part of the human experience. The more fully you understand them, the more successful you will be at harnessing the power of your emotions and using it to propel you forward in loving God with all your heart and loving your neighbor as yourself.

– Ken Sande

PS: If you go to the movie, be sure to stay for the credits. The emotional depictions of teachers, dogs, cats, and a boy meeting a girl are classic!

Reflection Questions

As this movie illustrates, our emotions ebb and flow and will never provide constant stability in a fallen world. If you were talking to an 11-year-old child, how would you explain that Jesus is the only source of lasting stability and joy? (See Inside Out, Right-Side Up: The Roots of Real Joy and Inside Out: Lessons in Sonship, Sadness and Prodigals)

Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like.

© 2015 Ken Sande

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10 Responses to "Inside Out"
  1. An added note about this movie, in case you haven’t already heard this: it is directed by Pete Docter, and he and his wife Amanda are best friends with and in the same Bible Study group as John Barthel (brother to Fred Barthel, who is a friend of Ken’s). For many years Pete has made a conscious effort to connect his faith with his work, and it sounds like he has succeeded (again)! Another added bit: when Pete won an Oscar for “Up”, he took it along to a Bible Study meeting, and they all passed it around and took pictures of each other with it. Great fun, and a fine man! I’m proud to know that family, too.

  2. Thanks Ken!! I saw the movie tonight and I wasn’t disappointed. I found myself laughing and crying. It’s really cool to know the writer is a Christian. I was thinking of the possible spiritual significance during the movie. It made me think of how much our culture combats sadness with pills and the Holy Spirits role in the battle that fights for our joy and protection. I have always been a deep feeler and have had the gift and curse of feeling everything around me. This movie did a great job of showing how God didn’t mess up when he designed our hearts and minds. 🙂

    • Amen, Bethany. Being empathetic can be costly at times but it’s also the key to really loving others. The more I study about the mind, the more I’m moved to worship our Creator!

  3. Thanks so much for writing this. My small group from church is going to see this together tomorrow! Love all your suggestions.

  4. After reading your post, I took my grandkids to see the movie. We had some great discussions about emotions, relationships, and the “train” of executive thinking. The movie is a brilliant way of describing ways that the brain works in real life situations and relationships.

    • Let’s pray that more and more pastors begin to study the brain and lead the churches learning more about this amazing part of his creation!

  5. I have a grandson with autism. I think this movie would be a great springboard for dealing with his own emotions and being more aware of the emotions of others. He’ll be in middle school next year, which will bring a whole new set of emotional challenges. God’s perfect timing.

  6. The reflection question says if you were dealing with an 11-year-old, but I have a 12-year-old and so that’s the age I’m going to base my answer from. At 12, preteens don’t want to be “pre”-anything anymore. They look up to older teens, and peer approval is crucial for their sense of identity. Twelve-year-olds can be critical of themselves and their appearance (usually because they want to look just like their peers). But tottering between childhood and the teen years means that one minute you have a child on your hands and the next a young would-be teen. Emotions can swing wildly!!! Teaching kids, especially pre-teens, who they are in Christ is so important! Teaching them to use the word of God as their rulebook and standard for living. In God’s word they will find out that they don’t need to compare themselves to others and they don’t have to go by their emotions. That they have powerful tools such as the fruit of the spirit (love Joy peace patients kindness goodness faithfulness gentleness and self-control) that can help them take a stand against wrong emotions.

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