How Pixar's 'Inside Out' delivers an important lesson for writers

I'm a huge fan of Pixar, the animated film wizards who have given us, amongst others, the Toy Story series, Monsters Inc. and one of my top 10 favourite movies, Finding Nemo. Any filmmakers who can consistently make a grown man tear up in a cartoon must be masters of the emotions, and Toy Story 3 is probably the most heartstring-pulling film I have ever seen.

Pixar's latest film, Inside Out, takes things in a new direction by taking us inside the head of an 11-year-old girl where we get to meet her feelings and explore her memory. Once again they've managed to put together a completely engaging story for both adults and kids, only this time they've combined their story with some pretty serious science.

Inside Out is ultimately a story about how our mind works, how emotions work together and how a healthy mind needs different emotions, including sadness, at different times. This last point seems a particularly important reality check at a time when eternal happiness seems to be the ultimate goal.

In making the film, the Pixar imaginations have used plenty of colour, movement and humour, but at the same time they have also stuck to the science. While they've obviously used a bit of artistic license, they've been guided by neuroscientists and psychologists to make sure the thrust of their message is consistent with current theory.

Sounds pretty heavy for a kids' movie doesn't it?

But this is where it gets interesting. While this is a movie clearly aimed at young people, the filmmakers have not treated their audience as idiots. They haven't shied away from using scientific concepts like personality, core memory and abstract thought. They've just presented these concepts in a fun way.

And the kids get it. In the cinema I was in, you could hear kids anticipating the action, clearly understanding what they were being 'taught'.

In today's 'click-bait' world in which attention spans are measured in fractions of a second, there is a widespread tendency to assume the audience is stupid. Dumb things down and spoon feed them or they'll switch off. And whatever you do, don't even try to explain something scientific. Our politicians are guilty of this, but so are many newspaper editors and television producers.

With Inside Out, Pixar remind us that people aren't inherently ignorant. Even kids can understand complex concepts if you use a bit of imagination, take the time to explain them properly and don't over-simplify them. This is a message that every writer should keep in mind.

Avoiding the complex because you don't think 'they' will get it is not smart and modern. It's lazy and disrespectful.

As usual, if you have any questions or comments, please add a comment below or contact me.

Posted by