When I was four years old I received worry dolls as a gift. Traditionally made in Guatemala, the folklore says that if the person who has the worry dolls is anxious they can say their worry out loud to the doll, place the doll under the pillow, and the doll will do the worrying for them. I remember holding them in my hand; turning their small bodies over in my palm.
“But Mom, what if a person has too many worries?”
My mom still tells this story, and how with one simple sentence I broke her heart. On the one hand, I was asking to better inform myself about the mechanics of the worry dolls. But I was also asking after something that, in retrospect, I was afraid I would have to deal with.
See I’ve coped with depression as long as I can remember. It’s not always sad or worry, and it’s never been something I can fully communicate to those without any firsthand knowledge. It’s lurked there before I knew what to call it and will likely continue to do so even on my great days.
Which is why I was shocked when I saw so many headlines asking if “Inside Out” was too much for kids. Granted, I saw it as a much-more-self-aware 22 year old who’s pretty well-versed in mental health issues. But I think back to that four year old, who had no vocabulary for what was happening inside her head, no framework for it being unusual (but still ok!), who didn’t know that someday she’d meet people who could put words to the feeling fountain inside her head.
Pixar’s films have always been ambitious, but they’re always earned. With “Inside Out” Pixar isn’t teaching kids anything they wouldn’t know, but rather providing some corroboration with what’s already there.
Perhaps “Inside Out” isn’t for kids, in a way. But maybe that’s why it’s so important that they see it. It touches on something that effects a disproportionate number of people in our society, and it does it without ever really touching on it at all. It subtly gives kids the framework that emotions are characters that are really more like the lights on your dashboard: their activity doesn’t mean that something’s wrong, but it’s worth checking under the hood.
It lets kids know that sometimes Joy won’t be the main one at the controls. But it’s also lets them know that’s ok. That’s a powerful message, and one that’s worth exposing kids to earlier. Because sometimes you won’t have all the worry dolls you need, but it’s still going to be ok.