Empathy and Materiality in Pixar’s "Inside Out"

Macarena García González

Summary

Inside Out takes mostly place in the head of 11-year-old Riley who has just moved with her parents from Minnesota to San Francisco triggering a major interior drama. Five major core feelings that would structure everyone’s lives—Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear—struggle to cope with the new events in Riley’s live.  Apart from moving to a different city, missing her friends, and her pastimes (hockey), she has entered the preteen years, those that entail the loss of childhood. The film approaches this crucial moment in a child’s life, by building up a parallel world inhabited by feelings that have feelings themselves.  In this article, I explore how this film about feelings encourages a “feeling with” the characters. The theoretical developments on empathy and narrative fiction stress the importance of perspective taking and have revolved mostly around the question of (multiple) focalization. In this article, I focus on what we may call the ‘material evocations’ of the animated film, which I relate to Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht’s notion of “production of presence” as that spatial relationship to the world and its objects, the tangibility or evocation of tangibility in aesthetic production. I look at how empathy is represented and elicited in the film by paying special attention to some ‘material’ features of the film: the ways objects are anthropomorphized, the rhythm of interventions and, very importantly, the texture and tangibility of animated objects and characters. An analysis informed by material poetics allows us to think empathy and emotions as embodied cognition and as an acknowledgment of interdependency. 

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