Does “Inside Out” Get Sadness Wrong?

Two scientists who consulted on the movie have "some quibbles" with how sadness is portrayed.

In the film “Inside Out,” an 11-year-old girl named Riley grapples with a major life event: moving from Minnesota to San Francisco, leaving friends and her home behind. Her emotions are personified by five characters based on human emotion: anger, disgust, fear, sadness, and joy. In this plot, sadness takes center stage in a lot of ways. Writer and director Pete Docter of Pixar reached out to two scientists to help with rounding out these emotions: Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at UC-Berkeley, and Paul Ekman, a professor of psychology at the UC-San Francisco. Both say they have one major hang-up with the portrayal of sadness.

It’s too sad.

Keltner and Ekman in The New York Times:

Sadness is seen as a drag, a sluggish character that Joy literally has to drag around through Riley’s mind. In fact, studies find that sadness is associated with elevated physiological arousal, activating the body to respond to loss. And in the film, Sadness is frumpy and off-putting. More often in real life, one person’s sadness pulls other people in to comfort and help.

Keltner and Ekman applaud the film for portraying a few major insights from the science of emotion—mainly, that “emotions organize—rather…