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Disney’s Inside Out

by Suzanne Francis


Inside Out addresses questions about change, emotions, friendship, and memories.

Riley has many emotions at work in her mind: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. Joy usually has control of Riley’s emotions, but when Riley has to moves away from her school and friends, Sadness then takes over Riley’s mind. Chaos ensues as Joy and Sadness fight over Riley. They find themselves shot out of Headquarters, trying to make their way back. With her emotions all out of whack, Riley begins to act out and even tries to run away. Finally, Joy and Sadness make it back to Headquarters and Joy takes a step back to allow Sadness to be in control of Riley’s emotions. Riley is able to talk things through with her parents and learns that she is not alone in her feelings.

Read aloud video by WizKid Campus

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Riley is just like any other child growing up, and has to deal with the big change of moving to a new place. After she moves to San Francisco, Riley finds herself struggling to find happiness because she misses her old home and friends. Inside Out gives us a look into the mind of Riley to see the struggle between Joy and Sadness, two of the personified emotions in Riley’s mind. Joy and Sadness accidently leave Headquarters and try to get back as soon as possible to save Riley. Along the way, Joy realizes that she needs to take a step back and allow Riley to experience other emotions besides herself, like Sadness. Once Sadness is in control, Riley is finally able to accept her feelings and talk about them with her parents. This acceptance of all emotions and demonstration of how hard change can be makes Inside Out an excellent story for philosophical discussion. The book addresses issues such as change, emotions, friendship, and memories.

Change can be difficult for children as they seek stability while still trying to learn about the world around them. Whether it be moving to a new place, a divorce, grandparent deaths, or something else, children struggle to cope with sudden changes in their lives. Riley goes through one of these big changes as she moves from Minnesota to San Francisco. She misses her old home and friends and has a hard time adjusting to the new environment. Children who have undergone a big change like this can relate to how Riley feels as Sadness takes over in her mind. They can discuss the changes they have experienced themselves and how they felt when those changes occurred. By talking about times when change can be good and why it is necessary to make changes sometimes, children can learn to cope with these changes and see the silver linings.

We all experience a wide range of emotions depending on the situation, and ideally, we learn to handle them in the best way possible as we grow up. Children have not had the time yet to learn about all of their emotions, and Inside Out provides a fantastic opportunity to discuss these. By personifying Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger, children can watch how these emotions behave and what happens to Riley as each of the characters take over. They can think about how these emotions impact themselves, and why they are all necessary. At the end of the story, Joy realizes how important Sadness is to Riley, and children can reflect on this idea as well. By talking about why it is okay to be sad, children are able to accept this emotion in themselves and think about the right ways to deal with it.

As children start school and begin to interact with more kids, they learn to make connections and develop friendships. Inside Out does not focus on Riley’s real-life friendships, but instead explores her relationship with an imaginary friend named Bing Bong. Through this discussion on friendship, children can discuss the importance of both friends in real life, as well as imaginary friends. By talking through the scene where Bing Bong disappears for Riley, children can better understand the sacrifice and think about what it means to be a friend. It is important that children are able to recognize the fact that they cannot rely only on their imaginary friends, but rather need to make friends in real life to support and be supported by, which is highlighted in this discussion as well.

Inside Out explores memories. Children can reflect on their own store of memories by recounting what they do and don’t remember from the time of their birth. A reflection on the memories they can’t remember from when they were babies can help children in their discussion on forgotten moments. Riley’s mind has a dump where memories are forgotten, and the characters reflect on how that makes them sad. This discussion will allow children to think about their own memories and how they feel about the fact that they will not remember everything. They can also discuss how it can be a good thing that they won’t remember everything, as sometimes we have bad memories that we wish to forget.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion


  1. Have you ever moved? What was that like?
  2. Have you experienced other big changes?
  3. Were those changes difficult for you? Why or why not?
  4. What emotions did you experience during your change?
  5. Do big changes become easier to deal with over time? Why or why not?
  6. Is change a good thing or a bad thing?
  7. Why do we have to have changes sometimes?


  1. What do you think your main emotions are?
  2. Why do we have so many different emotions?
  3. Are all of the emotions important?
  4. Why was it important for Riley to be able to be sad?
  5. Is it okay to be sad sometimes? Why or why not?
  6. What are some ways we can deal with emotions that don’t make us feel good, like sadness or anger?


  1. Why do we have friends?
  2. Why do we have imaginary friends?
  3. Why did Bing Bong allow himself to disappear in order to help save Riley?
  4. Should we always rely solely on our imaginary friends?
  5. How can real-life friends help us?
  6. How can we help our real-life friends?


  1. Why was Preschool World being torn down in Riley’s mind?
  2. Are there things from your past that you don’t remember anymore (like being a baby)?
  3. Why do our memories disappear?
  4. How does it make you feel that you don’t remember everything?
  5. Is it a good thing to forget things sometimes (bad memories)?
  6. Would you rather be able to remember everything or always forget everything (both good and bad memories)?

Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.

Download & Print Email Book Module Back to All Books
Back to All Books Cover illustration for the Disney book Inside Out featuring a colorful illustration of the characters Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust gathered in a group in front of an illustration of key scenes from the movie Inside Out. Download & Print Email Book Module

About the Prindle Institute

As one of the largest collegiate ethics institutes in the country, the Prindle Institute for Ethics’ uniquely robust national outreach mission serves DePauw students, faculty and staff; academics and scholars throughout the United States and in the international community; life-long learners; and the Greencastle community in a variety of ways. In 2019, the Prindle Institute partrnered with Thomas Wartenberg and became the digital home of his Teaching Children Philosophy discussion guides.

Further Resources

Some of the books on this site may contain characterizations or illustrations that are culturally insensitive or inaccurate. We encourage educators to visit the Association for Library Service to Children’s resource guide for talking to children about issues of race and culture in literature. They also have a guide for navigating tough conversations.  PBS Kids’ set of resources for talking to young children about race and racism might also be useful for educators.

Philosophy often deals with big questions like the existence of a higher power or death. Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our resources page.

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