Disney’s Inside Out: Joy through Sadness

Hello, friends! Ever since Disney came out with this movie in 2015, I have been intrigued by its surprisingly deep content, for a kids film. I just watched it recently again this past July and was once again taken aback by its interesting plot and the many ideologies it presents. At once I knew that I had to write something about it but was much too busy to do so at the time. Finally, here it is! My critique/review of Disney’s Inside Out, so let’s get right too it! Allons-y!

The movie centers around a young girl named Riley Anderson, and those that reside in her mind, who make up her character and who she is: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear (my personal favorite). The movie starts with Riley first moments as a baby. The moment after she is born, and that is the exact moment that Joy is born. The very first of her mind “buddies.”

Joy discovers the power of the core memory as Riley makes her first, and then she proceeds to make baby Riley laugh giving the audience an “awwww” moment. Joy thinks that her and Riley will be with each other forever, but her plans are hopelessly crushed when sadness shows up.

From that moment forward Joy is no longer in complete control of Riley, but instead has to share her with Sadness, and eventually Anger, Disgust, and Fear, who show up in Riley’s life as she experiences more. Fear comes about the first time she is in danger. Disgust shows up during her first encounter with broccoli, which of course every kid can sympathize with. Anger shows up directly after that when she refuses to eat the food that is given to her.

Riley proceeds to live a happy and fruitful childhood. She makes friends, plays, and even makes up an imaginary friend named Bing Bong (I’ll get back to you latter buddy 😉). However, the plot doesn’t actually start until she turns eleven, and Joy utters the famous quote that sets the movie off.

“After all, Riley’s eleven now…what could happen?”


This is when the movie officially starts when both Riley and her emotions share a startling reaction when the moving truck shows up and moves her and her family out to the bustling city of San Francisco, CA.

Riley and her family move into a small flat like home that at first glance looks a bit run down. However, with some help from Joy she envisions what the home might look like with all their furniture in it especially what her room upstairs might look like. It is now that Riley hears that the moving truck with all their things is late and will not arrive until the following week. In her mind Joy begins to panic as Riley begins to fret.

This is where I would like to make my first analytic comment. Joy…in these first moments in their new home Joy begins to work in overdrive to make sure that Riley stays happy. When Riley first hears that the moving van will not be arriving until Thursday, she is shocked, but Joy quickly comes to the rescue and gives her a fabulous idea. Riley begins a mock game of hockey with her family, which causes joy for everyone. They laugh together, and Joy sighs a sigh of relief. However, she does not realize that what made this moment so special was the adverse emotions that came before it. A memory is only as special as the context surrounding it. This theme is seen multiple times throughout the movie, and it is something I will revisit again and again.

Anyway, moving on with the plot, Riley and her mother go and get pizza, but of course this is San Francisco; thus, the pizza is healthy and is covered in broccoli. Joy once again helps out by reminding Riley of a fun memory from when they were driving out to California from Minnesota. Once again bringing joy to both Riley and her Mom. It is at this moment that Sadness once again takes control of the situation and touches the memory, making it suddenly turn blue. Immediately this turns the memory from happy to sad, which in turn makes Riley feel sad. The strange and fascinating thing is that this memory is now forever sad and can never be a happy memory again. Hmm…interesting…

Why would Sadness touch the memory in the first place? This is a memory of them as they are driving away from Minnesota after all. The place Riley most likely misses subconsciously. Perhaps Sadness is simply acting out on Riley’s actual feelings. Is it not true that we, as humans, find it a necessity in life to have sorrow or be sorrowful when life calls for it no matter how much we try to be joyful. Perhaps…but I am getting ahead of myself. I must not give my verdict until we’ve seen all the evidence.

Following this scene, Riley attempts to slide down a stair railing, but once again Sadness intervenes, loosening one of her core memories that powers up Goofball Island (I’ll get to explaining the five islands latter). Immediately, Riley feels sad and gets off the railing…until Joy comes to the rescue and replaces the memory that had fallen out, restoring Riley’s joy as she happily slides down the railing. Very curious indeed…and just as a heads up…it is never clear why Sadness began tampering with the memories in the first place.

At once Joy scolds Sadness for her seemingly careless behavior, who responds with this thought-provoking line:

I know. I’m sorry. Somethings wrong with me. It’s like I’m having a breakdown…

Sadness (emphasis added)

The first day of the movie ends with more bad news for Riley, and the fear of a new school the next morning. The following day Joy prepares everyone for Riley’s first day at school with extreme and may I be so bold as to say overly joyful behavior. To ensure success, which in her mind is a day of complete happiness for Riley, she draws a circle and places Sadness within that circle, which she calls “the circle of sadness.”

Riley then heads off to school, but during her first class when she is asked to introduce herself, the memory she recalls is touched by Sadness, instantly turning it blue. To everyone’s horror Riley begins to cry in class, causing Joy to panic as her and the other emotions strain to loosen the blue memory. This marks an important moment in Riley’s life, so she makes a core memory, only it’s blue. It’s sad. It’s not yellow, not joyful like all her other core memories are. Joy hysterically rushes at it, desperately trying to keep it from reaching the other core memories. Sadness tries to stop her when all the other core memories are knocked off of their pedestals, switching off all of Riley’s five islands in her mind. Joy tries to grab the blue core memory from Sadness while both Joy and Sadness and all of the core memories are sucked up the “memory tube” and to Riley’s long-term memory, leaving Fear, Anger, and Disgust in headquarters alone.

In class Riley suddenly and strangely feels a loss of emotion, instantaneously sitting down and seemingly wondering why she is feeling the way she is.

From this moment forward, Joy and Sadness attempt to reach headquarters before Riley makes many destructive choices. However, this is where I would like to change the focus of this post and take a more analytical approach, covering three distinct points that I found interesting, and finally finishing with a conclusion.

Point 1: The Five Islands

During the course of Riley’s childhood and Joy and Sadness’s adventure in her memory, they encounter five distinct islands in Riley’s mind that make up her character and personality: Family Island, Hockey Island, Honesty Island, Friendship Island, and Goofball Island. Each island is powered by a distinct core memory that corresponds with each of Riley’s traits and abilities.

The largest and most important is Family Island, which is also the last island to get destroyed once Riley begins to act on her detrimental idea of running away. The first island to be destroyed is Goofball island when Riley does not respond to her father’s funny notions in an attempt to cheer her up after witnessing her rude and unpredictable behavior at dinner that night.

What makes these islands so intriguing, is the way each one of them corresponds to an essential aspect of who Riley is. Each choice she makes over the course of the film damages these islands and in turn her character until finally the most important of the islands fall: Honesty and Family Islands.

It is a gradual and slow progression that tarnishes her character, and without Joy or Sadness and just Fear, Anger, and Disgust to guide her, things don’t work out as planned, but it leads to a very glorious and emotional ending. However, when these islands are restored at the end of the movie, they come back even stronger and healthier than before.

Point 2: Bing Bong

Bing Bong is Riley’s imaginary friend that she made up when a small child. Joy and Sadness first meet him while trekking through her extensive memory, but nevertheless he is quite an amusing and entertaining character. He is a lovable, huggable, mostly cotton candy elephant, cat, and dolphin (apparently).

He clearly represents the spirit of Riley’s childhood.

However, is there more to him then meets the eye? I would say so.

His loyalty to Riley is undying and eventually when him and Joy get stuck in the memory pit, where all memories are sent to be forgotten, he sacrifices himself so Joy can escape and restore happiness to Riley. Although his true wish is to be remembered by Riley once again, he is willing to sacrifice all that just so she can be happy again…a true friend indeed.

Thus, I believe that Bing Bong is more than what can be seen on the surface level: a huggable fantasy of Riley’s childhood. He represents the true fact that our childhood is a source of our joy that never really leaves us. Even when we put aside out childish ways when the time is right as it says in 1 Corinthians 13:11, our childhood is loyal to us, and its affect on us will always bring us joy far into our adulthood.

Point 3: Sadness

Sadness is the main reason why I decided to write a post on Inside Out in the first place. She is one of Riley’s emotions that is pushed aside most often while Joy takes the lead, yet her portrayal is fascinating.

I would like to bring back the point that I made earlier about Sadness acting out Riley’s actual emotions despite Joy’s constant interference, and as I stated earlier, her actions are never clearly explained.

St. Augustine of Hippo proposes that evil is the absence of good, meaning that evil cannot exist without good.

Could we possibly apply this to our situation of sadness and joy?

Is sadness not the condition that has been laden upon all human beings after the fall of man? Was not joy the condition of man before the fall? Is sadness not the nature of fallen man? One of God’s promises in Revelation is that he will abolish sadness.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:4

May I be so bold then as to propose that joy is the absence of sadness?

It is not until the end of the movie that Joy realizes that joy can only be given to Riley through sadness first. Riley must apologize to her parents for her actions bringing sadness and tears to both parties, but the great joy that comes from this brings Riley and her family closer to each other than ever. The joy is cherished and savored all the more because of the sadness.

God’s promise in Revelation is all the more powerful because sadness is indeed a human condition that plagues us all, but our hope is in Christ, who teaches us how to rise to joy out of our sorrow.

However, please do not mistake joy with happiness. Of course you can have happiness that comes and goes without sadness, but joy is a much more scarce quantity to come by.

Thus, I rest my case that you cannot have joy without sadness first.


Inside Out is not your classic Disney cartoon, but it is definitely not what it seems on the surface level as it proposes many interesting truths that lie deep in its seemingly cheerful content that are rich with theology.

Using the simple, or perhaps not so simple, story of a young girl and her family, Disney artfully portrays the reality of humanity’s struggle with sadness, the loyalties of childhood, and the memories that shape our characters. Here’s is my rating of this movie:

7.0 out of 10.0

Kid Caution: Low – Parental Guidance

Foul Language: Sh*t up, Mo**n, dumb

This movie is great for kids. However, not only is it entertaining, but it makes for a great conversation starter. I encourage anyone who watches this movie to think and look deeper into its meaning, for it is truly fascinating. I enjoyed analyzing this film immensely.

Well, that is all for this time, friends! I hope that you enjoyed reading my analysis of Disney’s Inside Out as much as I did writing it!

Until next time,

Time Lady of Coruscant 😄