Inside Out: A children’s perspective on mental illness

You can’t focus on what’s going wrong. There’s always a way to turn things around. -Joy, Inside Out

Children are often seen as an embodiment of innocence and naivety, not understanding larger and more complex issues like mental health. So when Disney created a 2015 animated film called Inside Out that incorporated elements of depression, it was met with mixed reviews.

The movie personified five key emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. All of these personalities, embodied by distinct characters of the same name, had to work together to maintain status quo inside Riley, the child they belonged to.

When sadness accidentally touches some of Riley’s memories, the five emotions were unable to maintain equilibrium and many of Riley’s memories became tainted with sadness. Riley plunged into what could be identified as a depressive episode, a huge topic for an animated movie geared towards a young (not teenage) audience.

Arguably, the heavier elements of Inside Out resonated more with the parents and older audiences, going over the heads of children. This fact turned Inside Out into a movie that holds more meaning for an adult audience, particularly those personally familiar with the effects of depression.

Due to the naivety of youth, a younger audience is typically not as in-tune with the larger messages the movie portrays. Disney incorporated funny and satirical moments that drew in the attention of younger children. But older audiences were able to look past those bursts of comedy and feel the overarching weight of Inside Out. 

It is true that Inside Out made tremendous strides in representing what depression feels like, but a representation that’s inaccessible to a young audience. Disney did create a movie that different ages and generations can enjoy, but their attempt at creating a movie for children to address depression and mental health fell short.

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