Dear Pixar: Inside Out and Papercut Deaths

***HEY, YO. There are some spoilers in here. Just sayin’.***

Dear Pixar,

I like you. A lot.

My early childhood was spent in stuffy computer labs, arguing about Oregon Trail. Somehow, we all knew that those five pixels were supposed to be a bear. I can still feel the suspense, watching that one pixel move towards the five pixels, wondering if we had successfully shot the bear and wouldn’t starve. I am that generation, who learned now to program games into a T-91 calculator (yeah, I was a math nerd) and still remembers Atari. Now, it seems like every kid has an iPad and video games give me the jitters with how realistic they look.

You, Pixar, were part of that change. I was 14 when Toy Story came out. You took the graphic animation game and went next level. I was still young enough that Toy Story actually made me feel badly about all the toys I no longer used. I was busy kissing boys and stealing cigarettes but still had my cabbage patch kid on my dresser. Ok that is a lie, because I already thought it wasn’t cool to have toys out, but I had Karna Diane somewhere, I swear. Since then, I’ve watched every single Pixar movie and pretty much enjoyed them all. You’ve kept me happy thinking that there were some people out there who could still really imagine the shit out of things, you know? I’m under no illusions that you aren’t a big company with big company issues, but I like that you’ll touch topics like class struggle, environment and capitalism.

I’m adulting now. I have four kids and, surprise, they really like movies! They especially like your movies, Pixar. It is like you are aiming for their demographic, or something. So I took my kids to see Inside Out last week. It was good. Until it wasn’t.

There I sat, at the peak of the story arc, watching Joy and Sadness hang on for dear life while their buddies inside headquarters tried to figure out how to break open the glass and let them in. It was tense. Would they make it in? Would Riley get back in touch with all her feelings? Disgust had a righteous idea when she made Anger so mad he broke the glass open. Clever.

But why, Pixar, why???

Why did you have to make her call him a moron and then make that mocking impression of him saying “duuuuh”? Why did you have to make people with intellectual disabilities the butt of the joke? I know it is supposed to be all very haha because of course Disgust is Anger’s friend and doesn’t really think he’s like that, but don’t you see what is wrong there? In such a seemingly well thought out movie that seeks to remove stigma against mental health issues, couldn’t you have thought that scene out more carefully?

Look, try a little test. If Disgust had turned to Anger and started making fun of him for being effeminate, and then did the stereotypical limp wrist gesture, would that seem right? Or, what if Disgust had started to talk about how crazy Anger is, how irrational, how unhinged and how he just probably forgot to take his meds that day? Or, what if Disgust had started going on about Anger being short and unattractive, about how no one would ever want to spend the rest of his or her life with such a little, red, stubby dude?

Feels wrong, doesn’t it, Pixar? I think you know this, but let me just be clear: It is wrong to use one group of people to signify and embody what is supposedly is lesser or undesirable. That kind of humor steps on groups of people in order to elevate another and creates stigma and discrimination.

There are actual, live people who can’t help saying “duh” when they speak and sometimes have their mouths open. They are not doing it to be amusing to others, they are doing it because that is how they are. There are real human beings who will score below average on an IQ test. You made a joke at those people’s expense and left that joke completely unexamined.

All across this country, parents are fighting to have their children with disabilities included in classrooms with their peers. Kids are bullied and hurt. Adults are passed over for employment, or paid pennies on the dollar simply because of their disabilites. People are denied life saving medical treatment.

Pixar, for that one moment, you helped make that stigma and discrimination happen. When words moron and idiot are thrown around like nothing, kids learn that it is ok to insult someone’s intelligence. Young kids learn that a good way to make someone mad is to call them stupid and pretend to look like someone with an intellectual disability, because of course it is awful to be that. If brains were really like you depicted in Inside Out, every kid who went to go see your movie would have had a little glowy memory stored that they might bring up the next time they heard the words “special ed” or tried to talk to someone with a speech impediment. And the memory wouldn’t help the kid be kinder or more inclusive, trust me. What Disgust said to Anger was the basic equivalent of using the r-word, simply without uttering the word.

And you know what? I bet in every theater in which Inside Out plays, there are probably multiple kids watching who are getting special education services, or some kind of therapy. What are you saying to those kids, Pixar? That someone should rightly and understandably (literally) blow his top when told he was like them? My son with Down syndrome was sitting right by me that day, thank goodness he’s not old enough to understand, but his sisters were.

You could have done that scene a hundred different ways. You could have had Disgust outright ask Anger to open the window and if he said he couldn’t, had Disgust get all over him about not even being able to perform his one function—getting angry. You could have had Disgust provoke Anger by telling him that it was his fault they were even in that predicament since it was Anger’s idea to run away. You could have had her go after some characterization that was a choice like being unkind, lazy, or rude. Shoot, you could have just had her make fun of his style.

These moments are little, I admit it. It isn’t like the punch to the gut that I feel when I hear short bus jokes or see that stranger stare at my child like he’s contagious. Instead, jokes like the one you made in Inside Out are like little paper cuts. Little stings that remind me that the world thinks that my kid’s existence is something that no one wants. In case I forget, you know. Wouldn’t want that.

Let’s not break up, Pixar. You seem like a decent force for good. After my son was born with Down syndrome, I had a whole new appreciation for Finding Nemo. There are clearly folks over there who have given some thought to what disability means or doesn’t mean (I even personally know of some). You messed up this time though. I loved Inside Out but that scene was a little slice that bled.

So please, create more dignity for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, not less. Don’t let me or my son die of a thousand tiny paper cuts.

Yours truly,



24 Comments on “Dear Pixar: Inside Out and Papercut Deaths”

  1. Beth says:

    Brava! Well written.

  2. “I’m adulting now.” heehee!

    Haven’t seen the movie but love your point. Besides, isn’t the whole “duh” thing a little passe at best? Let’s find another vehicle to mock those we love. I know… Let’s use Republicans! There must be some catch phrase they use that’s mocking fodder. Wait — howzabout religious fanatics? Narcissists? The criminally insane? Come on, there must be someone more worthy of picking on…..

  3. PDBHDK says:

    Was this sent to Pixar? Did they reply?

  4. Kira Morgana says:

    Reblogged this on The World of The Teigr Princess and commented:
    hmmm – this is going to be interesting. My Son (who has ASD) was called a “Downy” by a classmate. He interpreted it as being called “stupid” and went after the other kid with his fists.

    When he told me, I saw red – not just because he’d been fighting, not just because he felt he’d been called stupid, but because the other kid’s use of “Downy” as an insult is an insult to EVERY SINGLE CHILD WITH DOWNS SYNDROME.
    I spelt my feelings out to to the school in no uncertain terms and the other child (who has had a history of such things) was taken out of school.

    I’ll have to consider carefully if I will be putting my money into Pixar’s pocket…

  5. Lauren says:

    I find it interesting that people with ID was what your mind came up with when Disgust was implying that he was stupid. I think that says a lot about your own stereotypes. I don’t think this is a problem with Pixar. You obviously seem to think that imitating stupidity and imitating someone with ID is the same thing. And that’s a real shame. That didn’t even occur to me when I saw it because I don’t think people with disabilities are stupid.

    • jisun says:

      Well I guess that depends on what your definition of “stupid” is.

    • To be honest… I didn’t see it that way in the movie as well. The first thought I had when I read the text was… “really?”
      I understand your point but I am unsure that I see the same undertones and there is no practice in Pixar’s work, so’d we able to draw a parallel or look for a pattern in order to pull such a generalization at the end. Still… I am unsure.

    • Tez says:

      Lauren, there is a BIG difference between saying someone did/said a stupid thing and saying someone IS stupid. As someone who has physical and psychological disabilities I have had to fight all my life to get people to understand this difference, I am not deformed; I suffer from physical disabilities. I am not bipolar; I have a bipolar disease. We don’t say he/she is cancer, we say people have cancer. so why do we have to reduce those of us who are differently abled to a state that is and has been used to punish, discriminate, hurt and intimidate us? Don’t we have any other ways of speaking or any other words in the English language?

      You may think this is a very small thing to be complaining about and I’m so glad to know that you do not equate stupidity to with being intellectually disabled. However, I can testify that that is not the norm. Every day of my life that I ventured outside my home (I am now 70 yrs old) I ran a gauntlet of abuse. The abuse has ranged from the physical, the verbal and the psychological, from being pushed in my wheelchair across the road even though I didn’t want to go to the other side of the street. To being barred entry to places that abled-bodied, people can go, including public places. To being repeatedly slapped and punched, because I was in someone’s way. To being laughed at by groups of people for no other reason than I look different to them. To having names like, gimp, moron, stupid, lame, crazy, etc., hurled at you by groups of teenagers.

      Before you say thing have changed so it’s not as bad as it used to be then think about the following. Today I still cannot access the supermarket closest to my home because the entry is not wide enough for a wheelchair. Three days ago a car driver got very cross and shouted obscenities at my daughter and me all because we took longer to cross the road (we were on a pedestrian crossing). Three months ago, a nurse told me to pull myself together and stop being such a misery even though I was suffering from a full-blown episode of depression. The onslaught never ends and all people with disabilities are champions and heroes for surviving, growing and continuing to fight against oppression in all its forms.

      Perhaps the next time you read an article from someone on the side of people with disabilities, acknowledge you may not completely understand and go stand next to them instead of against them.

    • stimmycat says:

      ‘Moron’ used to be a psychological term for some people with intellectual disabilities, so I think it’s reasonable to interpret that scene as mocking people with ID.

  6. […] What does matter is what she is talking about in her post – did you read it? No? Here it is: Dear Pixar: Inside Out and Papercut Deaths – come back when you are done (I’ll […]

  7. Leigh Ann Arnold says:

    You are so right my dear friend. Hurts and nags like a papercut. Why did Pixar choose so unwisely?

    • jisun says:

      I don’t know, I’ve been mulling this over. Either they really are not careful, or, they *are* really careful. I’m not sure which one I’m hoping for!

  8. Hi! I’m new to your blog, I just saw it as a “related pages” link as I was reading articles on this movie. I have an older brother with low-functioning autism, and I’ve spent my whole life being around and helping special needs children, so I know just how you mean and feel, believe me. I’m also incredibly sensitive to jokes made at the expense of mental illnesses and disabilities (the first time I saw the “limp wrist” gesture used in the conversation, I thought I was feeling my heart being ripped out. And it was by a guy who I knew to be really kind and sweet too).
    I do have to say, though, when I saw Disgust in that scene, I didn’t think she was mocking special needs children. I thought her saying “Duuuuh!” was just mocking him and exaggerating a “This is so obvious; duh!” — I’ve said “No, duh” to my friends before, with the phrase being akin to maybe saying “No way” in a sarcastic tone. I could be wrong; it’s completely possible that the use of the word “duh” originally stemmed from what some special needs kids say (and, if so, that breaks my heart..). But from what my friends and peers have done, and what I myself have done, with that word, I’ve never seen anyone use it with the purpose of mocking those with disabilities. Heck, I doubt any of them even make the connection, just as I’ve failed to make the connection all these years.
    I think there’s a way to tease/mock someone of their intellect without coming across as relating them to special needs people, though of course it’s a fine line. Sometimes my dad teases my younger (normal) brother of being an idiot, and it’s all fine and good teasing, and then one of says something that immediately triggers the “Someone just made fun at the expense of people like my brother” alarm in my head, and everything turns sober from there. So I know what you mean. I just didn’t see that alarm go off when I saw the movie. But, I’m glad I read this article :) I’ve never thought of the word “moron” as being as weighty of a word as “retard”, but I’m glad to know there are those who think that way, cause even though I’ve lived this life for as long as I can remember, there are still things I can learn from how other people feel. So thanks :)
    (I just realized how long that all was. Sorry about that :P TL;DR: I just want to point out that though I have always been painfully and acutely aware of jokes made at the expense of those with special needs (as I myself have an older brother with low-functioning autism), this joke didn’t raise any alarms in my very emotional head — as I’ve known many people to use the word “duh” just as “are you stupid” rather than “are you mentally ill” and I’ve never made the second connection and I don’t think anyone I know has made that latter connection either — and I think maybe that’s why that Pixar thought that would come off as offensive to anyone. But it’s a great point to bring up and I’m glad you did :) )

    • jisun says:

      I think the really dangerous thing about the connection between “duh” and a person with a speech related disability is that, yes, you’re right, not a lot of people really stop and think about where it comes from. But who actually says “duh”? Someone who struggles with speech. And said with a slack face, while making statements about intellect, well, I can’t see it as any other thing. It is the same thing when people imitate arm flailing. That is from people with cerebral palsy or when people stim. But now it is just some kind of universally recognized gesture for “stupid”. We don’t have to all have the same reactions to things. I’m Asian and there are certain things I see that really get under my skin and others I think, meh, could have done better but no harm done. Of course, I think I’m this case there is harm done. But I’m trying to say that I am not trying to go after individuals. I want Pixar to rethink how they portray the idea of intellect. Well, your long comment seems to have caused me to write my own long comment! Welcome. :)

  9. […] That is why parents like Jisun Lee take this kind of thing so seriously, and it’s probably why the word retard is the last big dig making the rounds in high schools and bars. This isn’t a community equipped to defend itself. Hence, what some consider an overreaction to the use of all related terminology. […]

  10. Hmm.. Haven’t seen the movie yet but I think this is a thought provoking and necessary read. Did you send this to them yet? Curious what their response would be.

    • jisun says:

      I know it is being read, but not sure if I’ll get a response. Honestly I would love to talk with them. It is an ongoing thing, I’ve come to realize. I think it is a very worthwhile discussion.

  11. […] to people with intellectual disabilities has been making the rounds on social media, as has the essay referenced in the article.  What has surprised me is the flak both articles are receiving – […]

  12. […] put it perfectly on the blog Kimchi Latkes when she critiqued the new Pixar film “Inside Out.” It’s not OK to make fun of […]

  13. […] using intellectual disability as an insult in the movie (for a great piece on that, please read here) and some about some body size issues due to the Sadness character being overweight. So I went in […]

  14. dragonballgo says:

    Given the subject matter, Inside Out is undoubtedly the bravest story that Disney-Pixar have ever tackled together.

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