Monday, July 27, 2015

Sadness Saves the Day In Pixar's Inside Out - Part II

                                                             Photo Credit: Disney Pixar

The first island, Family, represents secure connections. Because of her attentive, loving parents, this island has always felt solid for Riley. But now, as Riley's parents are preoccupied, she feels neglected and this formally reliable island is shaky. The second island, Honesty, which represents personal values, is also in jeopardy. Riley wants to go back to Minnesota, so she steals her mom's credit card for bus money. The trust that made this island sturdy is now undermined. Meanwhile, the Friendship island crumbles because Riley feels friendless in her new city and wonders if her old friends still like her. The next island, Hockey, which is about personal likes and talents, has taken a hit when she doesn't feel excited about playing and quits her tryouts. And lastly, Goofball island, representing our silly playful nature is about to crumble as well. Her family has always clowned with one another, making goofy monkey gestures; now Riley doesn't even try to be funny.   

As Riley gets more out of sorts, we have a parallel story of Joy and Sadness accidentally getting sucked out of the control tower and landing in long term memory. There's a long sequence about their journey back to the control tower. While I think the crew at Pixar did an amazing job of illustrating how memory works, I think most young kids will have trouble following it. It's abstract, but the story line between Sadness and Joy keeps us engaged. Sadness is so sad that she flops on the floor and Joy has to pull her around. It's mimics the low energy Riley is experiencing, making her sullen and hiding in her room.  

Sadness' depleted energy and sense of helplessness starts to change when she and Joy encounter Bing Bong, Riley's nearly forgotten imaginary friend. Sadness sits down next to Bing Bong and does what she does best.  She listens to him remember some of the fun times he's had with Riley. His sadness is especially strong because he knows Riley has forgotten all about him. Sadness' allows Bing Bong to grieve the loss of his special relationship with Riley and helps him recover. With the support of Sadness, Bing Bong now has the energy to help them find their way back to the control tower. Joy is puzzled and doesn't quite realize what Sadness has done. Yet, she knows it is something unique to Sadness and something that she can't do.   

When Joy and Sadness get back to the control tower, things are whirling out of control: the other emotions aren't able to keep things in balance and there's a crisis to control and Riley is running away from home.  It is at this critical moment that Joy remembers how Sadness helped Bing Bong, so she puts Sadness in control.

Sadness helps Riley return home and talk to her parents about her sadness. Embraced and comforted by her parents, Riley cries and shares all the things that have been hard for her. Being heard and having her sadness acknowledged reassures her of her parents concern and caring.  Sadness is the emotion which, although not fun, helps us understand the value of things we've lost. Riley had good friends that she had fun with and it's hard to not have them close by. She was a valuable member of her hockey team and she misses the fun of being part of that team and knowing she was a valued member. Her family did lots of outdoors activities together and that's no longer happening.  She has lost all these things that once were a regular part of her life.  Without them her life has felt sad and empty.     

Riley needed space to feel sad and talk about what's been hard about giving those things up. Throughout life we all have to manage change and let go of things that have been meaningful. But that process is made much easier if we can embrace our sadness rather than hide it.  And then compassionately allow ourselves whatever time we need to heal.  When we give ourselves that space, we regain our resilience and open ourselves up to new experiences. Riley did this after she shared her heartbreak with her parents. The energy of her sadness got released and new energy emerged that allowed her to successfully join a new hockey team. Riley's new team will be different from her old one. But she'll have her memories, and the possibility of new connections and the knowledge of her capacity to manage change no matter how hard.

How did you like the movie? I'd love to know - tweet me @PeggyKTietz!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Sadness Saves the Day In Pixar's Inside Out - Part I

Photo Credit: Disney Pixar

What a great job Pixar has done in creating a movie about emotions. It's inventive, fun and teaches us that all emotions are okay and necessary. Of course, I love it - the message mirrors that of my book, Yell and Shout, Cry and Pout: A Kid's Guide to Feelings. Like Pixar, I wrote the book to help kids understand the purpose and usefulness of each of our emotions.

Emotions have gotten a bad rap; we tend to consider them troublesome, rather than helpful. Pixar challenges this perspective and shows that emotions help us enjoy life and cope with difficult situations. Life is full of both ups and downs; this is represented in the movie by Joy and Sadness. There is tension between the two until they recognize how they are each unique and can help Riley, but in very different ways. 

Inside Out takes us inside 11 year old Riley's mind. We see her five emotions ready for action in front of a control panel. Joy sports short blue hair and is a kind of perky Tinkerbell. Sadness is a blue blob in a sloppy sweater and big round glasses. Anger looks like a red Sponge Bob. Fear is a frantic long nosed character in bow tie and then there is Disgust with sparkly green hair and lashes. 

In general, Joy is in charge and focuses on keeping Riley happy.  She's creative and persistent in finding ways to make difficult situations better.  The other emotions fill in as needed. Joy is often seen running interference to keep Sadness from influencing Riley's experience, or from coloring her memories a sadder shade. At one point, frustrated by Sadness' negative interpretation of things, Joy restricts her to a tiny circle on the floor.  

Joy's commitment to Riley's happiness is amplified by Riley's parents who have always experienced Riley as their "happy girl."  It's clearly hard for them to see her unhappy. Of course, it's always hard for parents to witness a child's unhappiness. But if we ignore or shield them from difficult experiences, we inadvertently deprive them of the opportunity to master those situations. We also teach them that it's not okay to be sad.  As we see in the movie, when Riley's parents try to get her to be cheerful, when she's clearly not, she feels less understood and more downhearted.

So what's happened to Riley? Her life has been turned up-side down and nothing feels right. Her family has moved to a new state and everything is different and uncomfortable. Her new house is not cozy like her old one, and even seems kind of spooky. There's no backyard swing or pond for ice skating. The kids in her new school look different and she's not sure she fits in. Her best friend back home in Minnesota has already made friends with the girl who's taken Riley's place on the hockey team. This makes her feel as if she's not even missed. 

When she tries out for a new hockey team she hasn't the confidence to do well. Her parents are preoccupied - Mom talking with the movers who haven't delivered any of their belongings; Dad is busy on the phone or away trying to sort out work problems. Riley is starting to feel overwhelmed and her sense of security is threatened. Her usual anchors, represented as islands of her personality, are crumbling. 

Part II coming next week...