I’ve been hearing lots of buzz about Pixar’s new movie Inside Out. Lots of “highly recommend!” and “Great fun movie- and not just for kids!” comments – – but then I realized that most of the people who were saying these things were from, well, a certain demographic.

The rave reviews seem to be coming mostly from the over 50 crowd. It struck me as odd that my buddies with kids (particularly young kids) were keeping pretty quiet about the film. Made me wonder if this was actually an adult movie secretly disguised as a kid flick, so I went to see it myself last night.

Overall, I don’t think it’s secretly a movie for adults — but I do think that the movie is experienced really differently for young kids than for tweens and teens. Maybe it’s even different for grown-ups with young kid in the house than for those who have already gone thought the journey of raising children. In that way, the movie is brilliant because it seems to capture a part of childhood that’s really difficult. It may be easier to watch after one has weathered that storm.

The confusing part? Word on the street is that this is a movie about emotions. I don’t think so. I think it’s a movie about growing up.

Quick overview of the film (limited spoiler alerts… but still…): The basic moral of the story is that emotions are linked and have to work together. Specifically, joy and sadness have to travel together. At some point, you’ve probably seen on a card/Facebook post/heard in a graduation speech that famous Dr. Seuss quote: Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened. That’s basically the point of the movie. The adult in me loved this because I’ve had enough experiences in life to know the delightfulness of bittersweet memories, knowing that I survived those moments and have become a more grounded and happy person because of them. I don’t know if I’d want to relive those times, but I’m so grateful to have had them. It’s an odd dynamic and one that’s difficult to explain. But it’s one that most adults understand completely.A Parents Guide to Inside Out - (cool) progeny

Inside Out is about the development of bittersweet memories in the mind of a child who, until this point, has had experiences that were only categories by one emotion. The piggyback ride was happy. Falling and scrapping a knee was sad. Broccoli was disgusting. Easy peasy. Emotions develop levels of complexity as we age that, as adults, seems common sensical to us. But to kids? This is still weird and a little bit intimidating. It seems to me that a child who watches this movie who is not in the developmental stage when these complexities are emerging might not know what to make of all this. One of my friends told me that her five-year-old walked away from the movie thinking that anger is totally cool (Side note: Anger is played by Lewis Black in the movie. That kind of makes sense to me). Now she’s dealing with a kid who is acting angry all the time. Lovely. So some kids miss the point or find another aspect of the film to get excited about.

I’m wondering, though, how many kids walked away from this movie feeling slightly uneasy?

Dr. Brad Sachs, a local psychologist and author, has offered up a theory that children (and their parents) go though a period of grief as they end their childhood. When I heard him describe this, I was struck by how quiet we are as a culture in not acknowledging the need for grief and bereavement at the ending of childhood. Adults understand it, shed a few tears, smile, and move on. We know it’s okay. For a child, though, facing the time when all of the wonderful parts of being a kid that were so delightfully comforting will slip away —  that’s really scary.

Inside Out does an amazing job of showing the slow slide out of childhood though the storyline of the forgotten imaginary friend BingBong. I gotta wonder, though, is it upsetting for a kid who is still firmly planted in childhood to see this played out on the big screen? If you still fall asleep clutching onto your Boo Boo, how comfortable could you be watching a movie that is basically telling you soon, you will find no comfort in Boo Boo and you’ll have really complicated feelings about it? That seems pretty grim. Recently I had a death in the family, and it occurred to me that the time leading up to the death was much more stressful than the sadness that followed after the passing. Anticipating grief, imagining the pain of the heartache and loss, that’s sometimes worst than the process itself.

But just because the movie might bring up some hard feelings for a kid doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be seen: as a parent, you just want to be aware of what might be happening. In the beginning of the film, a narrator’s voice asks Do you ever look at someone and wonder what’s going on inside of their head? Good to know what might be going on inside your kid’s head when you see this film.

Next question: what to do with it? All of that stuff going on inside your child’s head? Thankfully, the film has that covered for us. About half way though the movie, the imaginary friend BingBong lost his rocket, which was very dear to him. The emotion/character Sadness sits with him, listens to him, and agrees with him that the loss is very disappointing. Then BingBong stands up and says ‘I’m okay now.” Joy is flabbergasted, amazed that Sadness could make anyone feel better. She asks “How did you do that?” Sadness responds “He was sad, so I listened.”

It’s amazing how powerful listening can be.

Bottom line? Know that this movie might be over your kids heads, or it might make them feel uncomfortable in ways that don’t even realize. Sit with that. Being able to be comfortable with your child’s discomfort makes them feel safe. Accept all of the emotions, listen to them…

… and don’t try to put joy in charge of the command center when it’s not her turn.


Images courtesy of the Disney Pixar Website Gallery.