Of course, as it turned out, this is one of those kids' movies that's really not for kids at all. (Bring Kleenex!)
As you may have heard by now, the movie is all about 11-year-old Riley, whose happy life with her parents is turned upside down when they move from Minnesota to San Francisco. Most of the activity takes place inside of Riley's brain, where the control board is presided over by her emotions: Fear, Disgust, Anger, Sadness, and (especially) Joy (all brilliantly voiced).
This was a good movie (definitely a thumbs up -- dh loved it too) -- but it was also a tough movie for me personally to watch, for several reasons.
First, the scenes of little Riley frolicking with her parents were a painful reminder of everything I've missed out on over the past 17 years with our daughter.
Second, Riley's emotions as a little girl uprooted from her home and friends by her father's career move were all too familiar to me. My sister & I lived in 9 different houses in 5 towns in two provinces before we graduated from high school, moving around every 3-4 years because of our dad's job. The longest I ever lived anywhere, prior to marrying dh, was 6 years. The movie brought back a lot of memories, not all of them good.
Third, the movie was sometimes hard to watch because of the lessons it imparts about our emotions -- in particular, Joy and Sadness -- and the roles they play in our lives. Instead of asking Riley about how she's feeling about the move, Riley's mom reminds her daughter about the stress dad is under with his new job, and says "it would be a big help" if she could just keep smiling. Hmmm, why does this sound familiar? Joy (voice by Amy Poehler) frantically tries to keep Riley happy -- and keep Sadness away from the control board. Yet by the end of the movie (SPOILER ALERT!), it's Sadness who saves the day for Riley. Joy realizes that Sadness does have an important role to play in Riley's life, that sometimes we need Sadness, before Joy can return to our lives again.
Dan Kois of Slate finds this message "revolutionary." Reading the Slate article (and I would recommend it), I was reminded of Barbara Ehrenreich's book "Bright-Sided," (which I reviewed here), and the constant pressure we feel in this society to remain relentlessly positive and upbeat in the face of all kinds of truly crappy situations -- cancer, death, stillbirth, infertility. Our grief and sadness make others uncomfortable. Like the character Joy, they whirl around, trying to distract us with upbeat chatter -- when often, what would really help us feel better is for someone to sit down beside us, put an arm around us and say, "hey, that's sad" while we cry -- as Sadness does in the movie.
Lori Lavender Luz saw the movie recently with her kids, and had a similar observation about this key lesson:
We in the ALI (adoption/loss/infertility) community have a tradition of abiding with someone who is enduring a loss or facing a fear. We don’t dismiss the emotions (“it’ll all be OK”) or tell someone to “get over it.” We don’t avoid tough emotions. We sit with a person while she feeeeeeels it. We walk alongside.
Have you seen the movie yet? (Don't forget the Kleenex! lol)