“Inside Out” (Disney/Pixar)

“You lost me when Joy and Sadness took a shortcut through Abstract Thought to catch the Train of Thought”

“Inside Out”
Disney/Pixar. Rated PG. 94 mins. Animated
Directors: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen

Imagine living in a world where “all there is” is only what can be seen. There is no “visible” and “invisible,” no “apparent” and “hidden,” no duality. What you see is what you get, and more than enough.

That was the world of the ancient Greeks, E.R. Dodds argues in his masterful study The Greeks and the Irrational. The world before them was the only world they had. They had no modern notion of psychology.

How, then, did the ancient Greeks accommodate the winds of emotions that passed through this world? How did they account for anger, lust, jealousy, envy–before these even became freestanding nouns?

This is where the Greek gods came from, Dodds concluded. The elaborate and imaginary dramatis personae of Olympus (Hera, Apollo, Aphrodite, et al.)–this was the ancients’ attempt to create an explanatory secondary world. And it really was an effort no different from modern-day psychology that posits freestanding concepts like Compulsions, the Ego, Urges and other capitalized Explanations of the invisible.

This conversion of invisible concepts or ideas into independent, freestanding Things–a process of personification technically known as “hypostasis”–is a human habit, often employed in the service of religion. John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, for example, is a long Christian tract populated by allegorical characters with names like Goodwill, Civility and the like.

Hypostasis is also employed in the education and acculturation of children. A conscience is an invisible thing and quite possibly not a thing at all; and so, for tiny minds and following Carlos Collodi, Disney’s “Pinocchio” presents the conscience as a separately existing creature, Jiminy Cricket. Likewise, baffled by a mother’s intuitive skills, the young are sometimes advised, “A little bird told me.” Even with adolescents, the conversion of the emotional winds of inner life into concrete Nouns can serve substantial purposes in modifying deportment; so, in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, the four sisters wrestle with their “bosom enemies”–Anger, Envy, Shyness, and the like.

Jiminy Cricket from Disney’s “Pinocchio”

Against this background and in this context, Pixar’s “Inside Out” promised to be the most exciting children’s film of the summer. Here was a movie that would take up–and maybe even provide a new way for children to consider without having to read a textbook by Freud–that baffling subject of an inner and invisible world where the winds of emotions blow. It’s very title, “Inside Out,” promised to do just that by telling the story about a young girl named Riley who is manipulated by an inner Control Room populated by cartoon figures identified as Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness. Moreover, the film was coming out of Pixar, those geniuses who had already dealt with emotions so cleverly in “Monsters, Inc.”–ultimately arguing that you can generate as much energy from laughs as you can from scaring.

Well, Pixar, I’m sorry to say you lost me when Joy and Sadness took a shortcut through Abstract Thought to catch the Train of Thought. If alchemy is the process of changing base metals into gold, what would its opposite be? To understand my disappointment with “Inside Out”: Imagine Norton Juster’s masterpiece “Phantom Toolbooth” retold by the folks who brought you “Monsters University.” Alas.

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