Beliefs Are Anchors for the Soul in Pixar’s ‘Inside Out 2’

Beliefs Are Anchors for the Soul in Pixar’s ‘Inside Out 2’ June 15, 2024

The alarm sounds, the ground erupts, and the whole world turns upside down as puberty strikes Riley in the Disney/Pixar sequel ‘Inside Out 2.’ As the young girl—whose brain housed the eccentric emotions Joy, Fear, Disgust, Sadness and Anger featured in the first film—hits 13 and on the threshold of entering high school, the newest adventure brings additional emotions and feelings that begin shaping her core belief system.

‘Inside Out 2’ image courtesy of Pixar/Walt Disney Studios.

“Inside Out 2” is a very enjoyable movie, featuring a great cast that includes Amy Poehler, Maya Hawke, Ayo Edebiri, Phyllis Smith, Paul Water Hauser, and Adèle Exarchopoulos, but the film’s focus on Riley’s evolving mental state is even more fascinating. How the complex emotions work together to create a functional young girl surviving the awkwardness of her early teen years is clever and thought provoking, especially considering the introduction of core beliefs.

At one point, Riley’s core beliefs start with “I am a kind person” and this mantra seems to guide her interactions with her friends and family. But as the new emotion Anxiety begins to take controls, that belief system starts slipping, replaced with feelings of insecurity and inferiority and “I’m not good enough.” When these core beliefs are met with experiences that contradict them, chaos ensues.

Although the film doesn’t specifically dwell on the subject of beliefs being religious in nature, believers can identify where tenets of the Christian faith can not only provide a foundation of mental wellness but also a direction for the rest of a person’s life. As they are in the film, they will be tested and perhaps damaged, but depending on the care they receive, will either flourish or flounder.

This is perhaps why the Bible contains so many instructions to encourage ourselves in the faith and encourage each other. It also cautions believers against those who would discourage or try to destroy their faith.

The Psalmist said in Psalm 1:1-3: “ Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers” (NIV).

The writers of “Inside Out 2,” Meg LeFauve and Dave Holstein, cleverly unpack the many layers of Riley’s developing psyche, ultimately punting past the emotions and core beliefs to give Riley full ownership of her choices. They portray every positive and negative experience and emotion weaving together to form a whole, mentally-stable young woman. At the same time, it’s easy to see how random encounters can fracture that foundation.

Skylight, a spiritual wellness platform that integrates mental wellness strategies to aid individuals (specifically GenZennials aged 18-35) dealing with anxiety, stress, and other emotional challenges through a spiritual lens, sees an opportunity with “Inside Out 2” to spotlight the topic of self-care and mental health. The organization offers an app that guides viewers through religious-based mental health practices and encouragement. Skylight is driven by studies such as the recent Gallup study on Faith and Wellness that shows a strong correlation between mental health and religious beliefs:

“In recent decades, numerous academic studies have found a positive relationship between spirituality, religion or faith and favorable health and wellbeing outcomes…Specifically, spirituality has been linked to lower rates of depression, addiction and suicide….The ultimate goal in measuring wellbeing is to maximize positive outcomes and minimize negative ones so people can live the best life possible.”

‘Inside Out 2’ image courtesy of Pixar/Walt Disney Studios.

The study also proposes a link between the rise of mental illness and the decline of religious beliefs: “Globally, experiences of negative emotions — such as sadness, worry, stress and anger — are at their highest level in more than a decade of measurement.” Just as Riley’s world turns upside down when her core beliefs are abandoned, those who abandon their faith could leave themselves open to feelings of depression, insecurity, and hopelessness.

As a father of three girls, the film touched me deeply. I am filled with awareness that my girls are navigating those awkward teen and tween years in the most exciting and anxiety-inducing ways. I am determined to do everything I can do instill in them that there is a heavenly Father who loves them and He has a purpose for their lives, and that their earthly Father loves them, too. Somewhere in their brain, I pray, there is a strong cord of belief generated from those words that will provide an anchor as they grow into young women.

If you’re reading this and you didn’t grow up knowing that God or even your family loved you and this has contributed to a less-than-ideal life experience so far, I encourage you to discover the difference that God can make. Visit Skylight, find spiritual encouragement, and read the Bible to discover God’s love for you and His purpose for your life. Let His love be your foundation to a better life.

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