In this animation by Pixar we see how a little girl called Riley copes with a family move from the Midwest to the San Francisco when her father starts a new job. Initially she finds the move difficult and through the film gradually comes to terms with it. The process by which she does so is portrayed as one of conflicting emotions. We look into her mind and see five personifications, of Joy, Fear, Sadness, Disgust and Anger which respond events happening to her as she perceives them, and information fed to her by the subconscious memory. Each battles to be the dominant and so control he mood and actions of Riley.
The film seems to have been universally well received with most reviewers I have seen give it four or five stars. I did not share this view. I thought the story was dull and the imaginary rules by which the competing elements of each emotion responded to the influence of the information seemed inconsistent and so it was unconvincing as an imaginary world inside the mind. You may feel different about that and side with the mainstream reviewers. In the little crowd with whom saw it I was probably the least entertained.
However, I would say that for other reasons, going beyond entertainment, that this is not a film to show your children. I thought it portrayed a flawed anthropology. Read this sentence from the Rotton Tomatoes summary: ‘Like all of us, Riley is guided by her emotions – Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). The emotions live in Headquarters, the control center inside Riley’s mind, where they help advise her through everyday life.’
And therein lies the problem for me. This is a portrayal of the modern obsession with passion and emotion that has been handed on to us from the Romantics of the 19th century and Rousseau in the 18th. In my understanding (supported by my own experience, even as an eleven year old), we are not all subject to our emotions in the way that the reviewer supposes and film makers want us to believe. We have reason, we have a will. We assess all the information and although we might choose to do sometimes, we are not bound to follow the dictates whichever emotion is the strongest. That puts us at the level of animals.
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