Inside Out: More than just Herman’s Head for kids

Years ago (over 20 years, in fact), Fox did a little show called Herman’s Head which personified the four primary emotions that ran a man as perceived in the early 1990s: Lust, Intellect, Anxiety, and Sensitivity. When I first started seeing trailers for the new Pixar film, Inside Out, I was more than a little convinced that it would be the same basic thing, but from the inside of a tween-aged person.

I was pleased to say I was wrong!

Last night I went to an advanced screening, and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie!

More than just a reinvention of an old show for a new audience (seriously Transformers was just an old cartoon all grown up… and they ruined it, buh-bye to all those childhood memories), Inside Out actually took the concept and made it better! It wasn’t just a handful of emotions running the show. There was a whole production outside of “headquarters” with towns and trains and all the major components of the brain, and the brain’s development.

And of course there were the emotions, too.


Warning: There will probably, most definitely be spoilers beyond this point!

I’ve done a lot of thinking about this movie. I thought about it the whole 45 minute drive home from the theater, for starters, but more than that, I’ve thought about the message it had, and all the subtle little ways it introduces the psychological terms and actual information about childhood development into the movie. As such, it definitely seems more suitable for an adult audience, although it’s decidedly marketed for a younger crowd. Honestly, I think it’s pretty well suited for just about every age group.

Maybe not teenagers, but only because it gives away some of the secrets that they think we don’t know… like when they are actually excited that their parents are around but feel like they can’t express that, hence the eye rolling and the “really Mom?” comments, and general demeanor of disapproval of everything parental. They forget we went through that stage, too.

mother warn her daughter for bad behavior isolated on white

The movie primarily follows Riley’s emotions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. Riley is an 11 year old girl, and the only child of very loving parents… who uproot her and move her from Minnesota to San Francisco. If the move wasn’t problematic enough (missing moving van, dead rats, broccoli on pizza…), on her first day of school, Sadness suddenly feels the urge to touch the memories, which changes them, and thus her first day at the new school creates a new “Core” memory which is based in sadness, while prior to that moment, all the Core memories were happy.

This concept of Core memories is pretty interesting to me. It seems the writers not only watched Herman’s Head in the 90’s, but they’re also Sims players as well. As each of the Core memories creates a part of Riley’s personality, islands in this fictitious brain landscape are created.

The personality islands are very similar to the traits one would choose for your Sims. There’s even a scene in the movie where Riley chooses to slide down the stair railing because of Goofball island, just like in the Sims 3, those with a Childish trait could slide down the railings even into adulthood. In the Sims 4, there’s even a Goofball trait, which I believe takes the place of the Childish trait.

The Sims 4 Traits

Adult Sims have 3 basic personality traits that determine their hopes and whims, but they’re much more complicated than just the five basic emotions that we see in Inside Out.

And there, ladies and gentlemen, is where the moral of the story comes in!

Each of the emotions has a purpose, but they all seem to want to make sure that Riley is happy overall. Let me reiterate that: they each have a purpose, but the goal is to maintain the status quo of mostly happy memories. The lesson that has to be learned is that each emotion is necessary.

When Sadness accidentally causes Riley to form a sad Core memory, Joy loses her mind, and the ensuing struggle sucks all the Core memories (and Joy and Sadness) into long term memory. The movie follows them as they try to get back to Headquarters with the Core memories while Anger, Disgust, and Fear take over running Riley’s interactions.

On the journey back, Joy and Sadness go through long term memory, the subconscious, abstract thought, imagination land, the dream studio, and they hitch a ride on the “train of thought.”

I appreciate how in their travels, the old, childish things are being changed and removed in order to make room for new, teenaged things like the imaginary boyfriend generator. It’s a perfect way to explain some of the changes that are going on inside the mind of someone just before puberty, and how their feelings can evolve and change, even to the point of effecting memory.

As adults, we understand why Riley’s core memories, which were all developed in Minnesota before the move, might become sad memories for her now.


The core memories, which prior to that moment had been all joyous memories, are changing. As Sadness touches the memories, they turn blue, becoming sad, changing Riley’s perception of them. As adults, we understand why this sort of thing happens. Riley will miss the places and people that comprise those memories, but just as children might not understand, her personified emotional components don’t understand how this can possibly be a good thing.

And Joy is almost completely overwhelmed when she realizes that some memories fade almost completely and thus are dumped to make room for new memories!

Of course, that one has a lot of things to learn. Like I said, all the other emotions have a purpose, but the overall goal is to keep Riley happy; basically Joy is in charge, which explains why all sorts of hell breaks loose when she gets lost in Long Term Memory.

But she’s a bit of a bully when things don’t go just so. Up until a certain point in the movie, Joy is a total bitch to Sadness. She won’t let her touch things, and even puts her in a circle, telling her to keep to herself and not let any Sadness out of the circle.


Joy has to learn, through observation and reminiscence, that even Sadness has it’s place. She has to learn that sometimes emotions are more complex than just being happy or sad or angry or afraid or disgusted.

And thus, the first multi-emotional memory is created, and Riley begins to become a full person and not just a child anymore.

It’s done subtly, and in a way that is fun for children and adults, but in thinking back on it, you can see the development as the movie progresses. In the brief exposition, Joy narrates what it was like in the very beginning. When Riley was first born, there was simply a big button that the emotions would push to control Riley.


By the time the true action of the film begins, the console has morphed into something like one of those toddler toys with the whirly gigs and levers and switches, but with the levers of a remote control car. You know, the ones with two joysticks: one to control left and right, and one to control forwards and backwards. Sadness even asks if she can drive a time or two, to go along with the remote control imagery.


But only one emotion can drive at a time.

When we get a look into the parents’ minds, we see that the emotions are much more similar to each other. They’ve become more integrated, and less like their individual selves, working together as a team. Even the console is larger, and all the emotions have their own place.

Also, did you catch which emotions seemed to be running the show in each of the parents’ heads? Sadness for the mom, and Anger for the Dad. Makes you wonder a little about each of their childhood development journeys, doesn’t it?

And about your own maybe a little, too… Of course, those probably change as we grow and evolve, too. I know my little voices used to be run by Joy, but recently I’ve been accused of being run by Anger and Sadness (by Mr. West Coast), and by Fear (by a couple of old friends). Today I’m feeling mostly tired. I wonder which emotion runs that one…

About Elizabeth

First and foremost I am a teacher. What I teach is a blend of grammatical art, literary love, and a smidge of spiritual awareness. My blog tries to combine the best of all three over a cup of tea.

4 thoughts on “Inside Out: More than just Herman’s Head for kids

    1. This one is definitely worth it, and if you’re going with your kiddos, it’ll be a more memorable Father’s Day than if you’d spent it watching some men knock the snot out of each other in some sporting match.

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