‘Inside Out’ Movie Recap (In-Detail): Things To Know Before Watching The Sequel

The scope of imagination showcased in Pixar’s animated movie oeuvre is boundless, vivid, and experimentative. Even with younger minds as their target audience, the movies created by Pixar often tend to be philosophically and emotionally vibrant, defying the limitations of the genre in the most unique ways. After years of enchanting viewers with the emotional complexities of human, non-human, and even inanimate characters, Pixar went even further by crafting a story about emotional expression and personifications of emotions themselves, as shown beautifully in their much-loved animated release of 2015, Inside Out.


Director Pete Docter conceptualized the movie as he observed the coming-of-age journey of his own daughter, imbuing a deeply personal note to his creation in the process. To maintain a certain level of authenticity in portraying the inner trappings of the psyche, he and co-director Ronnie del Carmen even sought help from medical professionals—no wonder the audience found the movie so relatable and genuine as a result. But more than anything, the understanding and importance shown to the well-being of mental health, especially in the case of children—that too in Pixar’s classic charm—made Inside Out a timeless classic in every regard.

Spoilers Ahead


How Did Riley Lose Her Core Memories?

The premise of Inside Out is pretty simple: schoolkid Riley tries to cope with her changed reality as she moves with her parents from Minnesota to San Francisco, and the emotional turbulence that goes inside her mind is what the movie is all about. During Riley’s infancy, Joy was the first emotion that appeared in her mind, followed by Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and, at last, Anger. All these five emotions, led by Joy, work in unison as Riley grows up and contribute to the creation of daily memories. As Riley sleeps at night, the daily memories move to the inner part of her psyche, where they are stored as long-term memories. Among all of these, the most important ones, known as core memories (the movie contributed to the term becoming a Gen Z vocabulary staple), constitute Riley’s personality in the form of personality islands. All the major Islands in the film together define Riley as a growing kid. Just like we tend to cherish the happy memories of our childhood, little Riley’s memories are dominated by Joy, who doesn’t really like the other emotions, especially sadness, to provide with lot of space to function in Riley’s mind. However, trouble arises when Riley’s parents move to San Francisco, leaving everything that was dear to Riley—her friends, ice hockey, the family home—back in their hometown of Minnesota. 

The sudden change in her reality results in turbulence in Riley’s emotional balance, but Joy tries her best to manage the situation by playing the happy memories of the past to make her feel a bit better about her present situation. However, sadness starts acting up all of a sudden, turning some of the happy memories into sad ones, which signifies that remembering the past days only made Riley even sadder. Sadness starts feeling stressed and anxious, implying Riley is having a hard time adapting to the new life, and despite all the attempts by Joy to cheer Sadness out of her miserable state, nothing really changes for the better. Joy continues trying harder to make Riley happy and limits Sadness’s functions to not let Riley feel down again. Unfortunately, as Riley goes to her new school and introduces herself to the class, she has a mental breakdown as sadness once again gets out of her bounds and creates a sad core memory as a result. Joy decides to send the sad core memory to the long-term memory archive, but sadness tries to stop her, which results in all the core memories getting scattered from their operating area. Joy tries to fix things, but along with sadness and all the core memories, they get transported into the long-term memory archive. This triggers the temporary loss of the two most important emotions in Riley’s mind, and all her personality islands turn lifeless and colorless as a result. 


Was Joy and Sadness Able to Return to Riley’s Consciousness?

With joy being absent in Riley’s mind, anger, disgust, and fear get overwhelmed while taking control and try their level best to keep the pretense of Riley being happy, but quite expectedly fail to do so. This results in Riley having a heated argument with her father, and Goofball Island gets destroyed as a result. Joy and sadness observe that some of the memories that have faded with time are being taken to the memory dump, where they will eventually cease to exist. Realizing that Joy cannot afford to stay away from Riley’s consciousness for too long, she and Sadness try to return and get help from Riley’s imaginary friend, Bing Bong, whom Riley has almost forgotten while growing up. 

On the other hand, nothing seems to be going right for Riley, as after having an argument with her parents, Riley has a falling out with her best friend from Minnesota, which results in the destruction of Friendship Island as well. Riley’s mother takes her to local ice hockey selections, but already affected by anger and fear of mingling with new teammates, Riley suffers a drawback there as well, resulting in the destruction of Hockey Island. On the other hand, with the help of Bing Bong, Joy and Sadness catch the train of thought to return to Riley’s consciousness, only to get eventually halted during the night—after all, dreams take over our mind during that period of time, stopping the functionality of thoughts for a while. It should be mentioned that the trio ventures through Riley’s imaginary wonderland the whole while, exploring its fantastical, amusing settings.


Joy and Sadness try to manipulate Riley’s dreams so that she can wake up, which will allow them to resume their journey, but end up getting Bing Bong captured inside the subconscious. While freeing him, they break out Riley’s repressed fear, which causes her to suffer from nightmares, and wake her up. As situation simply continue to grow worse due to Riley’s changed mood, Anger decides to make new happy core memories by implementing the idea of returning to Minnesota in Riley’s mind. This results in Riley stealing from her mother, thereby destroying Honesty Island and leading to a crash of the train of thoughts. Joy desperately tries to get back to Riley’s consciousness by abandoning Sadness, but as Riley makes up her mind about leaving her parents to return to Minnesota, Joy and Bing Bong end up falling inside the memory dump, which signifies Riley’s happiness has been lost further inside her faded memories. 

Were Riley’s emotions able to rebuild her personality islands?

A heartbroken Joy sees all the faded memories of Riley’s childhood and has a breakdown as she laments Riley’s present situation. Eventually, as she looks through one of Riley’s most cherished happy memories, she realizes that she was wrong about excluding sadness from Riley’s consciousness. Riley needs sadness to feel the warmth of joy again, and as a matter of fact, she needs all her emotions working and expressing themselves to be her best self. With this realization, Joy and Bing Bong start their efforts to reach above—to Riley’s long-term memory archive—and Bing Bong sacrifices himself to help Joy reach there. 


On the other hand, Riley has left her home and already boarded a bus to Minnesota, resulting in the last personality island, Family Island, coming crashing down as well, and the trio of emotions in her consciousness—Anger, Disgust, and Fear—realizing all too late that they have messed up. They try to pull the idea out of Riley’s mind but inevitably fail. Eventually, Joy and Sadness manage to reach Riley’s consciousness together, and Sadness is able to remove the idea from Riley’s mind. Sadness’ influence turns all Riley’s core memories into sad ones, and she tearfully reconciles with her parents. At the same time, sadness leads Joy to take over, and the bittersweet core memory leads to the restoration of Riley’s most important personality island, Family Island. 

Similarly, all the emotions mix and match new core memories as Riley accepts her new life and creates new memories. The consciousness command now has space for every emotion, signifying Riley is growing up, and a number of mixed feelings will emerge from her new worldview. New personality islands are formed. The movie ends with Riley participating in a game with her new hockey team and her parents cheering her all the way, as her emotions enjoy themselves in unison. 


A sequel titled Inside Out 2 is going to hit theaters after nine long years since the release of the first installment, which will explore newer emotions as Riley grows up to be a high school student. Expectations around the sequel are already piling up thanks to the brilliance of its predecessor, and as fans, we are sure that the makers will come up with another vibrant, innovative way to delineate psychological complexities.

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Siddhartha Das
Siddhartha Das
An avid fan and voracious reader of comic book literature, Siddhartha thinks the ideals accentuated in the superhero genre should be taken as lessons in real life also. A sucker for everything horror and different art styles, Siddhartha likes to spend his time reading subjects. He's always eager to learn more about world fauna, history, geography, crime fiction, sports, and cultures. He also wishes to abolish human egocentrism, which can make the world a better place.

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