Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Erin Olivo, Ph.D.
Erin Olivo Ph.D.

Why I’m Recommending a Kids Movie to Adults

Inside Out teaches sophisticated concepts about emotional intelligence.

When was the last time you liked the same movie as much as a five-year-old?

It had been a long time for me, but that changed yesterday when my son and I went to see Inside Out, the new Disney Pixar movie. We both absolutely loved it!

The Walt Disney Company
Source: The Walt Disney Company

I knew it was going to be right up my alley because it’s about emotions and I wrote an entire book about emotions.

But what I didn’t realize until I saw it, was that Inside Out does more than touch on the basics of emotions—it teaches some very sophisticated concepts about emotional intelligence that adults need to understand better too.

So here’s why I’m recommending Inside Out to all of my patients, and to you too:

All emotions are important, not just the ones that feel good.

The film features five emotions, each anthropomorphically depicted as characters who live in the command center of Riley’s mind, the 11-year-old protagonist. They are Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger.

Much of the film centers on a conflict between Joy and Sadness, as Riley struggles to adjust to her family’s move to a new city.

Joy, who’s used to being in control, keeps trying to push Sadness aside throughout the film. You ultimately learn the life lesson that Joy isn’t the only emotion you need to have a fulfilling and meaningful life.

Through Riley’s journey to cope with the loss of her friends and her life back home, you see that it’s Sadness that keeps her connected to what's important to her in life. You also learn that Anger motivates, while Fear and Disgust keep you safe.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Emotions need to be acknowledged and validated to keep them from running amok.

While Joy and Sadness desperately try to get back to the command center in Riley’s mind, they discover that not only are all of the emotions important—but they each need to be expressed and validated.

When a character from Riley’s imagination is feeling sad, Joy tries to convince him that he’s wrong about his viewpoint and tries to get him to see the bright side of the situation. But that actually makes him feel worse.

It isn’t until Sadness joins him in his misery, by acknowledging and validating how bad he feels, that he actually starts to feel better.

Have you ever noticed how the more you try to push a distressing emotion away the bigger it seems to get? Or how annoying it can feel when a loved one tries to talk you out of feeling what you feel?

It might seem counterintuitive, but allowing yourself to feel your emotions is the first step to being able to do anything about them.

Memories aren’t necessarily accurate.

As Riley experiences life events, her memories are formed and stored like little snow globes playing out the scenes inside. The film very creatively illustrates the impact emotions can have on your memories.

When Sadness touches a snow globe, she inadvertently changes the scene inside, emphasizing the negative aspects of an event.

Being aware of the impact your mood has on your experiences is an opportunity for you to challenge your viewpoint and catch yourself distorting things when you’re feeling distressed.

If I had to offer one criticism of the movie it’s that the emotions of love, shame and jealousy were left out. They might have done this to simplify the narrative, but I teach my patients about the big eight emotion families and you can read about them here.

Inside Out is so detailed in its creative insights about emotions that I’m going to see it again. Have you seen it yet? I’d love to hear what you thought in the common section below.



To stay updated on Wise Mind Living visit

Follow Erin on Twitter

Like Erin on Facebook

© 2015, Erin Olivo, PhD

About the Author
Erin Olivo, Ph.D.

Erin Olivo, Ph.D., is an assistant clinical professor of medical psychology at Columbia University.