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Welcome to the latest edition of The Arts Edit, the weekly newsletter from The National's Abu Dhabi newsroom rounding up this week's most noteworthy arts and culture stories.



Inside Out 2, the latest film from Pixar Animation Studios, scored the biggest opening of the year over the Eid Al Adha weekend, resonating with audiences around the world.

But while the release is a welcome reunion with the beloved characters introduced in the 2015 original, the new film’s message is more ground-breaking than it may first appear.

In fact, it’s the result of the latest scientific research into how the brain works, which finds that many of us have been approaching mental health all wrong, the film’s consultant psychologists tell The National. Too much focus on positivity, studies show, can be harmful.

Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California Berkeley who worked on the story, says: “There’s new research that says it's not all about joy. We need all these emotions in a complex mixture.

“For people seeking happiness, you’re going to also need some anxiety, some stress and a little bit of envy. There needs to be an acceptance. Don’t condemn your emotions. Don’t go to pharmaceuticals right away. Just listen to them instead.”

The film follows a 13-year-old girl named Riley and the emotions that guide her. As she hits adolescence, she’s suddenly overwhelmed with new and seemingly negative emotions, which end up becoming necessary to her development when embraced correctly.

In the view of Lisa Damour, clinical psychologist and bestselling author of The Emotional Lives of Teenagers, who also consulted on the film, this is a message that many people need to hear.

According to the psychologists who consulted on the film, anxiety is often misunderstood, which leads to bad mental health outcomes. AP
According to the psychologists who consulted on the film, anxiety is often misunderstood, which leads to bad mental health outcomes. AP

“A lot of teenagers and a lot of parents are operating with this idea that you're only mentally healthy if you feel good,” says Damour. “And that is not how we've ever understood mental health.

“What is so important about this film is that it represents the reality that natural functioning involves a whole lot of emotions that are not particularly comfortable, but they are valuable. They are protective. They are growth-giving. And they all have a place in our lives and are not on their own grounds for concern.”

In an era in which mental health conversations have become the norm but many are self-diagnosing with social media and pop psychology, film can have a powerful effect in shaping our culture’s understanding of key issues.

Even the scientists wish they’d had such a powerful tool in their lives years earlier.

Keltner recalls watching the film’s climax at the premiere last week: “I was crying. I was like: ‘I wish I had told my daughters that 10 years ago’. What a great lesson!”

Find a full breakdown of the science that backs up the film’s message here.

The film was not only shaped by the latest science, however. Director Kelsey Mann actually assembled a group of teenage consultants, nicknamed Riley’s Crew, to make sure that it was true to the experience of the contemporary teenager. Find more here.

Razmig Bedirian, in his glowing review of the film, said that it’s a triumph that overshadows the first. It's also another stellar entry into Pixar's track record of compelling soundtracks.

And, as Faisal Salah writes, the film also marks a course correction for Pixar overall.

William Mullally
Arts & Culture Editor


Palestinian author tackles immigrant stereotypes

Susan Muaddi Darraj is the daughter of successful immigrants who served as the inspiration for her latest novel, she tells The National.

They left their home village of Taybeh, near Ramallah in Palestine, in 1967 to make a new life in America. There, they worked hard, saved well and put four children through university. But they were in the minority.

“The immigrant success story is more rare than people imagine,” Muaddi Darraj tells The National. “I am interested, in my novel, in the majority of immigrants – those who arrive and continue to struggle.”

Behind You Is the Sea by Palestinian-American author Susan Muaddi Darraj. Photo: Swift Press
Behind You Is the Sea by Palestinian-American author Susan Muaddi Darraj. Photo: Swift Press

That novel is Behind You Is the Sea, a powerful and poignant portrait of three Palestinian immigrant families in Baltimore. It unfolds through linked tales that highlight the trials, upheavals, aspirations and expectations of a wide range of characters.

“I love experimenting with voice,” Muaddi Darraj explains. “The characters in my novel take control of their own chapters, and you get to experience the world through their perspective. This form also allows me to illustrate for the reader just how diverse the Palestinian community really is.”

Find more here.


Meet the man behind Dubai's most catchy jingles

Lebanese composer Ahmed Haffar, known as the Voice of Dubai, is one of the region’s leading sonic brand strategists. Haffar’s near decade-long portfolio is full of the quirks, and even beauty, of the trade. Current and former clients include Etisalat, Dubai Police, Saudi German Hospital and the Dubai Festival City district. He claims his biggest hits are the jingles for Dubai companies Insurance Market and Service My Car, both renowned for their flamboyant operatic male vocals.

This is not an exaggeration, as these jingles are recognisable even to those without a car or a clear memory of where they were heard. Speaking to Saeed Saeed, Haffar nods in satisfaction and affirms another tip of the trade.

“Sometimes I just want to annoy you,” he says. “I designed them to physically annoy people and that’s just one way to create the memory recall I am looking for.”

Welcome to the world of sonic branding, where art and commerce coexist and miniature melodies are a big business. Dating to the early 1920s, the concept began in the US with the popular emergence of the radio and the use of advertising jingles. It also partly marked the golden age of Hollywood, when large film studios used sound signatures, such as MGM's lion roar and Warner Bros' triumphant fanfare, as powerful marketing tools.

Voice artist and composer Ahmad Haffar at Mindloop Studios in Dubai. Antonie Robertson / The National
Voice artist and composer Ahmad Haffar at Mindloop Studios in Dubai. Antonie Robertson / The National

The digital revolution at the turn of this century brought audio markers to personal computers and the internet, resulting in what is now considered the holy grail of sonic branding: the Windows 95 start-up jingle with its six-second keyboard flourish by British composer Brian Eno. That it remains memorable decades after the programme became obsolete shows the power of a craft blending market research with an almost counterintuitive approach to composition, something businesses of all kinds go to Jaffar for.

“But being memorable is not enough. More helpful answers, for example, would be that they want to be fresh, risk-takers, energetic or luxurious. These are things that give me some kind of reference and the work really begins from there.”

Find Saeed Saeed's fascinating deep dive into Jaffar's process here.



  • French Montana at Coca-Cola Arena, Dubai – June 22
  • Take That at Etihad Park, Abu Dhabi– October 25
  • AR Rahman at Etihad Arena, Abu Dhabi – November 2


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Updated: June 21, 2024, 9:54 AM