Inside Out & 5 Bible Stories

Author: Sarah Beresford

Inside Out & 5 Bible Stories

Sarah Beresford on the connections to Biblical stories found in the latest Disney blockbuster.

I love films.  I am a card-carrying Cineworld Unlimited member and most of the films I watch these days are U or PG rated as I have a nine-year-old daughter. 

This morning we went to see the new Disney Pixar movie Inside Out.  The animated movie tells the story of 11-year-old girl Riley whose world is turned upside-down when she and her parents move from Midwest US to San Francisco.

The film’s main characters are Riley's emotions who, led by Joy, try to guide her through this difficult, life-changing event. However, the stress of the move brings Sadness to the forefront. When Joy and Sadness are inadvertently swept into the far reaches of Riley's mind, the only emotions left are Anger, Fear and Disgust.


If you’re anything like me you don’t want to read any further until AFTER you have seen the film.  Stop reading, open a new tab for your local cinema, look for film times and head off, when you get back you can read the rest of this article (it will still be here), go on,go watch the film and come back.


Welcome back. As one of the Directors of the Catholic Bible School I tend to spot Bible stories and Bible themes in everything I watch and read, and Inside Out was no exception:

1. Moses

There are a few Moses stories that relate to Inside Out.

In particular, there are all kinds of echoes of Moses and the Israelites wandering in the desert trying to get to the Promised Land when Joy and Sadness are wandering around in long-term memory trying to get back to the control centre.

Joy and Sadness wander for what seems like 40 years but Joy, like Moses, keeps hopeful even in the face of Sadness and impossible odds. 

The hazards and pitfalls the film characters face made me think of Moses at the Red Sea and God providing the means for their escape, or when the people were running out of food and water and God provided water from the rock and manna from heaven to fall. 

Moses’ faith, and the hopefulness of Joy, kept them going, kept them persevering.  Imagine how these stories of Moses might have gone had he not been hopeful, had he given in to fear or anger or disgust? 

2. Joseph and Jacob's dreams

The film takes us on a visit to dreamland and I loved the chaotic craziness of the depiction of how that works. 

When Joy and Sadness try to take over Riley’s dream it reminded me of how God can use our dreams to speak to us. 

It’s unlikely that, like the movie,  he will use a Rainbow Unicorn to do that, but he certainly used a dream to speak to Joseph and assure him that he should marry Mary. 

God also spoke to Jacob through a dream with the famous ladder dream.

Do we ever take time to think about our dreams?

3. The Prodigal Son

When Riley returns home after her bus trip the family are reconciled. 

As we read in Luke 15 the father the runaway of the Bible story is out on the road looking for his son. 

In the film Riley’s parents had been doing the modern day equivalent and phoning around all possible sources trying to find her. 

When Riley does return she is initially gripped by fear and says to her parents, “don't be mad at me.” 

How easy it is for us to worry about God’s anger rather than remember his mercy and love. 

Riley’s parents, just like our heavenly Father, fall into a huge embrace with their child and the mingled emotions of sadness and joy we experience in reconciliation, especially when we receive the sacrament, are clear to see.

4. Widow of Nain

As the film develops we recognise, along with the character of Joy, that there is a place for our Sadness. 

Our authentic, honest sadness, our vulnerability, allows people in, allows people to love us. 

In the film they tell the story of Riley’s friends and parents comforting her when her hockey team loses.  It is her sadness that draws out the love from those around her. 

The widow of nain draws out just this reaction in Jesus.  So too does Jairus' daughter, and Mary and Martha when their brother Lazarus dies.

It is in our times of sadness that we are most aware of our need for God.

5. Jesus passion, death and resurrection

Self-sacrificial giving in children’s movies is a very common theme these days and Inside Out is no exception. 

Like Baymax in Big Hero 6 or Anna in Frozen, there is a moment where a much-loved character sacrifices themselves to save others. 

The connection with Christ’s sacrificial act on the cross for our salvation is a very easy one to make.  In Inside Out ‘Bing Bong’ is our Jesus who sacrifices himself to enable Joy to escape and, with Sadness, save Riley. 

The great thing here is that Joy and Sadness acting together are the agents of salvation for Riley. 

Without the sadness of the passion there is no joy of resurrection.  In the passion narrative we see people like Judas and Pilate being controlled by fear anger and disgust. What a contrast to Jesus.

Bonus number 6: Faith, hope and love

Just as an aside the short film “Lava” that precedes the main feature had me completely in tears (I often cry at movies - thank the Lord for tissues) and reminded me of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and the enduring nature of faith, hope and love.


  • Sarah Beresford, along with her husband David, are the Directors of the Catholic Bible School.  Their mission is to help people find God in the words of the Bible and grow in an ever-deeper relationship with Jesus. For more information visit

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