Riley's parents, Mr and Mrs. Anderson, in Inside Out
(Pixar Animation Studios)

The Most Complex Emotional Concept in ‘Inside Out 2’ Has Nothing To Do With Riley

Inside Out 2 tackles many interesting concepts as it delves into a teenage girl’s mind, emotions, and sense of self. However, one of the most complex concepts is one that already appeared in the original movie, too, and has nothing to do with Riley (Kensington Tallman).

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The most complex and arguably the most interesting emotional concept is tackled through Riley’s parents, Mr. Andersen (Kyle MacLachlan) and Mrs. Andersen (Diane Lane). Given that Riley is the star of Inside Out and its sequel, not much is known about her parents. In the first movie, viewers get glimpses of their personal struggles, as the move from Minnesota to San Francisco was hard on all of them. Mr. Andersen experiences stress from his workload, while Mrs. Andersen struggles with her husband’s busy work schedule and Riley’s adverse reaction to the move. However, by Inside Out 2, the family has settled in well in San Francisco, and Riley’s parents appear more involved and supportive of Riley than ever.

Mr. and Mrs. Andersen’s biggest problem in Inside Out 2 is having a teenager on their hands, but they tackle the puberty outbursts good-naturedly and have an even smaller role in this movie than the original. Still, viewers can’t help but be interested in what’s going on in their minds.

Why Riley’s parents’ minds are so interesting in Inside Out

The minds of Riley's parents in Inside Out
(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Occasionally, Inside Out and its sequel will give viewers a glimpse into other characters’ minds. While most have the headquarters with the five primary emotions—Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger—the age, gender, and leadership of the emotions tend to vary. One of the most interesting differences between Riley’s mind and her parents’ minds is which emotion is in control. In Riley’s mind, Joy (Amy Poehler) is clearly in charge, indicating that happiness guides the girl. However, Inside Out reveals that Sadness sits in the command chair in Mrs. Andersen’s mind, while Anger is the leader in Mr. Andersen’s mind.

Inside Out 2 also delves into the parents’ minds, revealing the leadership of Sadness and Anger remains in place. The movies never explicitly explain why this is, and none of the creators have addressed this small detail either, leaving it to viewers to determine what emotional concept is reflected in the decision. A few fan theories have arisen. Some interpret it a bit too literally, claiming it means Mr. Andersen has anger issues and Mrs. Andersen is depressed. A dark and wild fan theory even suggests the couple may be in an abusive relationship.

However, Inside Out’s main purpose is to demonstrate that emotions are complex and that there are no bad emotions. For example, Joy learns to value Sadness (Phyllis Smith) because the latter allows Riley to feel empathy and compassion. As a result, the most popular fan theory is that the emotions in control in Riley’s parents’ minds simply reflect their personalities and experiences. Since Sadness is in control in Mrs. Andersen’s mind, it might reflect how she is such a kind and compassionate person who uses Sadness to her advantage to empathize with and comfort others. Meanwhile, Mr. Andersen’s Anger may illustrate that he is a very assertive and passionate person.

The fan theory aligns with Inside Out’s main theme and demonstrates how adult emotions are different from children’s. While it’s easy for children to be guided and motivated by Joy, it’s more realistic that adults might be led by a more complex emotion that might also be better suited for parenthood or their careers.

Is Inside Out trying to say something more about adult emotions?

Personally, I wonder if Inside Out might be trying to say something about male vs. female emotions rather than just adult vs. child emotions. I couldn’t help but notice that the emotions in control of Mrs. and Mr. Andersen’s minds happen to be the emotions considered most acceptable for women and men. After all, it’s a common stereotype that men are angry and women are too emotional. Unfortunately, men and women are often influenced to follow this stereotype because it’s what’s deemed acceptable.

Far too often, society normalizes anger and aggressiveness in men. Anger is seen as a masculine trait and is less stigmatized than, for example, sadness, so boys and men may even be encouraged to be overt with their displays of anger and aggression. Meanwhile, women are told they must be the empathetic and nurturing ones in society. In Inside Out 2, we see how Riley’s Joy sometimes gets her in trouble because it makes her louder, more confident, and less aware of how others perceive her. Since society often feels threatened by loud and confident women, it’s easy to see why a woman led by Joy might be criticized. Similarly, since anger is seen as a masculine emotion, women aren’t often allowed to be angry, either. Hence, some may resort to the sort of melancholy and quiet state of Sadness.

In Inside Out 2, we also learn that as individuals get older, they get to control their own emotions, such as how Riley beckons Joy to the control stand. So, this means both Mr. and Mrs. Andersen may have specifically chosen Anger and Sadness to take control in their minds. While Sadness and Anger have their advantages, is it possible her parents also chose these emotions because they were influenced by society and the emotions it deems most acceptable for men and women? It certainly would be interesting if Inside Out started to explore how societal pressure can impact the emotions one chooses to live by.

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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.