The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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The gospel according to Pixar

In 2015, Pixar told us a story about 11-year-old Riley Anderson and the personified emotions that lived inside her mind: Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger. Inside Out was Pixar at its most playful and most profound.

In 2024, Inside Out 2 follows 13-year-old Riley’s tumultuous transition into puberty. Riley’s ‘Sense of Self’ – a symbolic manifestation of her deepest beliefs – is under threat from a whole new set of emotional characters: Embarrassment, Envy, Ennui, and Anxiety.

Once again, the disruption in Riley’s outer life is mirrored in her inner life. Joy (the main character in Riley’s mind) insists that Riley’s Sense of Self must be based on her belief that ‘I’m a good person’. Over the course of the story, though, that belief will be challenged. It’s a harrowing experience for Joy and Riley alike.

Indeed, it’s a harrowing experience to question the belief that ‘I am a good person’. Psychological research describes humans’ amazing ability to cling to this belief, even when we’re presented with contrary evidence.

Like, for example, the times when anxiety overpowers our perspective. Or when envy colours our view of a colleague. Or when we react to a loved one with disproportionate anger. These actions and emotions equally reveal something of our true nature.

The core tension in Inside Out 2 reveals a tension within us all: we want to believe we’re good people, but our lives evidence a messier underlying reality. Will Joy allow Riley to see this and somehow integrate it into Riley’s Sense of Self? Will we?

Both Joy and Riley follow a character arc that Christians will recognise intuitively. To truly understand ourselves, we must choose to see what we’ve chosen not to see. Joy must mature in this way, in turn enabling Riley to ask for – and receive – forgiveness. As with Riley, so with us.

Pixar’s been telling us this story since they first introduced us to Buzz and Woody in the 1990s. Their stories have the same power as many psalmists’ confessions, because they invite us to take the same arc their characters take.

In so doing, we must see in ourselves what we might not want to see. Only then do we understand what it is to repent, only then can we ask for forgiveness, and only then can we form a truer sense of self: flawed but forgiven indeed.

As Christians, we can agree that Pixar’s stories are stories worth telling.

Tim Yearsley
Head of Innovation, LICC

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