Inside Out is Hiding an Inside Message to the Film Industry

Have you ever watched a movie for the third, fourth, or fifth time and started to see little nuggets of subtext jump out at you? It’s like the old VH1 show Pop Up Video, but about theme and metaphors—and not about whose cat is in a Lisa Loeb video.

It’s Ethan Hawkes’ cat. Let’s proceed.

I have a two-year-old and a four-year-old. We’ve gone through every Disney and Pixar movie two or three times now. Moana, Frozen, and The Incredibles are nearing double digit viewings. During our third watch of Inside Out, I had a realization…

Inside Out is about the movie theater industry and includes a stark reminder about what happens if the industry doesn’t explore all genres equally. This realization led me to an immediate question burning in my mind: Am I high?

The answer? Probably not.

Image Courtesy: Disney/Pixar

The first thematic pop I noticed is when the emotional figures that make up the main character Riley started rolling out her memories. I told my kids that the design of the machine that processes memories looks like a film reel. My kids looked blankly at me then turned back to the movie. I pointed out how the memories were like film archives. They’re sorted into genres. Those genres become pillars of who Rylie is. The core memories are the heralded movies of each genre—and in the movie industry, those would be the films that receive awards, become blockbusters, or are remembered as cult classics.

My kids asked me to be quiet. I continued taking notes in silence.

As the movie goes on, it becomes apparent that the main theme is: It’s important to express all emotions—not just happiness. Riley needs to be sad and express that sadness to be whole as a person.

Is this a message for big movie studios that they need to pursue movies beyond blockbuster action comedies? And that they need to invest in blockbuster dramas like they did decades ago for the health of the industry? 

Image Courtesy: Disney/Pixar

There is an ominous reminder if what can happen if an entertainment industry doesn’t stay healthy. Riley’s emotional figures run into an imaginary friend named Bing Bong. He’s a vaudevillian comic who used to be cherished. Now he’s forgotten. But at one point Bing Bong was a critical steppingstone for Riley’s development—just like Vaudeville was a precursor to the film industry. Vaudeville included a multitude of acts but was at its core a one-dimensional show on stage, focusing on polite comedy. Vaudeville could be seen in hundreds of communities across the country and had overtaken dramatic theater as the favorite of the era. When cinema took over, the theatre industry wasn’t diverse enough. Vaudeville faded and the theatre industry moved to the backstage to make way for projectors.

As much of the industry moves from megaplexes to living rooms, Inside Out appears to be telling film studios that they need to develop complex viewers who celebrate all genres if they want to continue selling out theaters. If they continue to focus on just one genre, moviegoers will stop expressing themselves at the box office.

Like vaudeville investors, studios will be saying:

I thought I’d live forever, but now I’m not so sure.

And they’ll be begging moviegoers to “Stay.”

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