There is a sad moment in Inside Out like in every other movie and every other story. And I’m not talking about “a” sad moment, but “the sad moment”.
This is the moment when the protagonist loses hope, trust and confidence. Where the obstacles in front of him seem impossible to surpass and the goal is too far to be reached. That is the sad moment in Inside Out.
I say that there is one in every movie because (more or less) every movie follows the same rules: at the end of act two, right before the “big showdown” with the villain, the protagonist will have to suffer through a huge setback.
This moment is incredibly important because, most of the times, it gives the audience the moral of the story. Think about it as a “Before and After” picture.
BEFORE – the protagonist is sad and has no motivation because he has yet to learn the moral lesson of the story.
AFTER – the protagonist understands his mistakes and, by learning the moral lesson of the story, he has an idea that will finally take him out of trouble.
In a story about a guy who needs to learn how to trust his friends, this is the moment when, after isolating himself from everyone else, he realizes that he needs to trust others in order to achieve his goal.
In a story where the protagonist needs to find confidence in himself, the sad moment occurs after that he has failed. He beats himself up for a moment, but then understands that self pity won’t take him anywhere and decides to punch back with new confidence.
Blake Snyder, in his book “Save the cat!” divides this moment into two bits and calls them: “all is lost” and The dark night of the soul”. In the famous “The hero’s journey” Joseph Campbell calls it “Abyss death and rebirth”. And other writers call it with other names, but the essence of it doesn’t change.
This moment is particularly easy for the audience to spot in a story because it visually compelling. In particular, in animated movies, where a director can convey the feeling of sadness through images.
In Disney classics for examples, the sad moment is the one where the depressing/dramatic music starts and the princess falls on her knees loudly sobbing (usually she leans on a well, a bed or some other object).
Snow White does it in the woods
Ariel does it in the sea
Cinderella does it her backyard
Aurora does it in her bedroom
And Belle does it…
… like seriously…
There is the usual “gracious princess falls down loudly sobbing moment”, but the director gave it a spin by abruptly stopping the storm that Elsa had created a few minutes before. Since the storm is controlled by Elsa’s feelings, this ends up being visually stunning and emotionally compelling at the same time.
But now let’s talk about another wonderful scene, the sad moment in Inside out.
The writers of this Pixar movie seem to have accomplished the impossible: to make the feeling of Joy sad. The whole story revolves around Joy, she needs to learn the value of Sadness and let her play her role in Railey’s life.
Joy, like many other real people in the real world believe that never feeling sadness means being always happy. But the truth is that we cannot live our lives with a permanent smile on our faces. Bad things happen and we can’t simply ignore them.
The “Before” picture
Before this gloomy moment Joy used to react to change and trauma by distracting Railey with “good memories” and false expectations. Her first instinct was to keep Sadness away from Railey, making it impossible for the girl to process unexpected events and even appreciate the good things in her life.
Joy has the same attitude when her and Sadness accidentally get lost or face any kind of obstacles while they are far from the Headquarters. Joy never loses her spirit but she also never considers the danger around her or stops to think about the consequences of her actions.
That’s why it takes so long for her to find a solution, she keeps trying to distract herself and her companions with fun places to visit or fun things to do without really paying attention to the problem.
The “After” picture
After losing all hope and falling into the dark pit of forgotten memories, she changes. For the first time during the movie she stops and thinks instead of running around and getting distracted.
The sadness that she is feeling is what allows her to get back on her feet. She failed so that she could learn from her mistakes. She gave up hope so that she could realize just how terrible it would be for Railey to never be happy. She found herself alone so that she could be able to think of a solution without getting distracted.
Thanks to this sad moment, Joy is finally able to think of a plan to bring her and Sadness back to the Headquarters.
This scene is also visually stunning as well. Joy and the core memories are a little light in the darkness of the pit. Also, you can notice that both the happy core memories and the sad core memories shine despite having different colors.
In most movies sadness, depression, hopelessness are visually represented by dark colors. Like the Dementors in Harry Potter and the prisoner of Azkaban (creatures that are supposed to represent depression).
Giving Sadness and her memories the color blue instead of black or grey is a big change that goes hand in hand with the theme. The movie is basically saying “they both shine in the dark because they are both important”.
In every story, there is a moment of heartbreak, despair or grief, because the protagonist needs this moment to go on. This is where the “big change” takes place most of the times when the hero finally says “I know what I need to do”.
The sad moment in Inside Out is probably my favorite because it is the core of the whole story. And a movie that aims to explain to kids why sadness is necessary, could only have a great “sad moment” like this one.