By: A. C. Bido
Joy and Sadness, both contrasting emotions we feel in our lives, are given a different role in Inside Out. The movie, released in 2015, takes place inside the mind of eleven-year-old Riley, who struggles with her family moving from Minnesota to San Francisco, leaving her friends and all the happy memories where she spent most of her life. Her thoughts and actions are explained through the characters representing her emotions: Joy, Disgust, Fear, Anger, and Sadness.
Joy has been in charge since day 1; as early in the movie, Riley's mom thanks her for being so cheerful. But, even though she sees value in her colleagues – Disgust determines her taste, Fear keeps her away from danger, and Anger helps her defend herself – Joy does not seem to understand Sadness' role.
Her attempt to make Riley happy all the time mirrors her parents' desire; Riley is indirectly pressured to be the happy daughter that her parents want her to be. It can also be linked to the societal reinforcement that something is wrong or shameful about being sad. In 1971, Disney opened the theme park Magic Kingdom and called it "The Happiest Place on Earth", showing how humanity is striving for a world where there's only the presence of Joy.
This 'need' of constant happiness is reflected by Joy's complete takeover of her mind, which leads to the rising action of the story: Sadness starts touching happy memories (turning them sad), and Joy tries to make her stop, but both accidentally get ejected out of the control centre and into Riley's mind, leaving the other emotions to guide the child.
As the story unfolds, Joy realises Sadness is her only hope of going back, as she has read the manuals that explain the maze in which they are trapped and knows the way out. Meanwhile, the emotions in control make Riley disturbed, which make her act impulsively and go against her usual self by escaping and attempting to go back to her hometown by herself – representing the changes in behaviour during adolescence.
After overcoming all challenges and returning to the control centre safely, Joy recognises the only way to make Riley stop acting desperate and rebellious is to let Sadness take over. Joy looks back at a happy core memory of Riley celebrating with her hockey teammates and discovers that it came about due to a sad memory of losing the previous game. With Sadness' action, all Riley's happy memories are infected by her, which is the only way to cause the shock she needed to return home. As a result, instead of having happy or sad memories, Riley's memories are divided into several colours, representing the blending of emotions and the transition between childhood and adolescence/adulthood. It is implied that when we are young, everything is simple: kids have either a fun or a sad memory; however, as we grow up, our feelings, thoughts and actions become more complex when all the emotions are in control simultaneously.
Therefore, the sadness 'infection' of Riley's happy memories shows the rupture of the stereotype of seeking constant Joy, contributing to the formation of a new role of Sadness and sorrow, which makes us think more rationally and see the importance of happy moments. Even though we all want is happiness in our lives, we need to face sadness in order to be mature enough to value Joy.