Warning, spoilers ahead.
I love Inside Out. I could talk about all tiny touches they put into that movie to make it great, but to me, the crux of that movie, the absolute best part, is the “Belly of the Whale” moment (more on that in another Writing on Wednesday) in the memory dump.
It’s a perfect scene. Not only does it work perfectly for its place in the hero cycle, but the scene, from Joy falling to her escape almost works as a short. It has all the elements of a story on its own, and it would be a good one. But the context of the movie, the setting, the stakes, the character building, make it so much stronger. That moment when Joy is looking through all the memories and tearfully asking “do you remember…” is so incredibly powerful because the movie has done such a good job of establishing Joy’s character. Seeing her broken and sad packs such a powerful punch.
Then the whole sequence where she figures out that there’s a value to sadness is such incredible character growth. That’s the loud message and it’s important enough, but the quieter one, that acknowledging the way you feel gives you the tools to seek help is every bit as powerful.
Then the burst of optimism with the rocket and the sacrifice at the end, the whispered “Take her to the moon,” it’s just an incredible scene. A lot of people have analyzed that scene as Riley (after all, they’re all Riley) letting go of her past so she can have a future, which is symbolic in the context of the movie, but it’s more than that, on two seemingly conflicting levels. One, Joy was saved by Imagination, which is a pretty cool thing in itself. But on another level you could say Joy was being weighed down by Imagination. Only when she let go of imagination, was she able to soar.
Sometimes the imaginary scenario, what life could be, prevents us from experiencing any joy with the way things are. Imagination can be a powerful coping mechanism, it can give you the tools to make the best out of a situation, after all, the vehicle of Joy’s escape was an innovation created entirely from imagination. But there comes a point when imagination can be the very thing that’s stopping you from coping. And that’s a pretty powerful message for a kids movie.
Watch the scene here: