In late March, journalists in Toronto (including We Got This Covered) got the chance to see an exclusive sneak peek of one of 2015’s most anticipated films, Disney and Pixar’s Inside Out.
The animated comedy, opening in North America on June 19, tells the story of Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias), an adolescent girl moving to San Francisco and trying to adjust to a new life. However, much of the film is not seen through Riley’s eyes; rather, most of it takes place in her mind, as five central emotions guide the young girl. Amy Poehler leads the voice cast as Joy, the bubbly ringleader in the emotion-based headquarters. Joining Poehler is Lewis Black as Anger, Bill Hader as Fear, Mindy Kaling as Disgust and Phyllis Smith as Sadness.
Pete Docter, the film’s co-writer/director, and Inside Out producer Jonas Rivera were both present to introduce the film and answer some questions after our screening (which consisted for the first hour of Inside Out).
Docter, who also helmed Monsters, Inc. and the Oscar-winning Up, explained that the film was inspired by his daughter, Elie. (Elie Docter voiced the young Ellie in Up.) As Elie grew older, Docter says that the peppy joy that had once been constant began to fade away and he wondered what was going on inside her head as other moodier emotions became omnipresent.
“It’s about me and my kids,” Docter told the group of nearly 50 press and industry types before screening the 56 minutes. “And I hope you recognize yourself in it.”
That morning, Docter and Rivera shared some other insights about the making of Inside Out:
- The film was pitched as Pixar’s version of the Seven Dwarves.
- The animation in the film returns to a classical cartoon style, akin to the work of Chuck Jones and Tex Avery. Each of the five emotions and various other characters in Riley’s mind has an exaggerated texture and movement.
- The writers and story department at Pixar did a lot of research on the human mind, deriving much of their material from the work of American psychologist Dr. Paul Ekman. Ekman created a list of basic emotional labels that fit universally recognized facial expressions. The main six: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise. (For those keeping score, Inside Out only keeps the first five of those six as central characters in Riley’s mind.)
- If one looks closely at the “memory globes” in Riley’s head – tangible spheres that hold an emotionally-charged memory – they may see cropped-up slices of scenes from Up.
- There was a lot of discussion on whether to have the emotions in Riley’s head be male, female or both. Eventually, they decided on a balance, for both contrast and comedy. In a dinner scene that has already been featured in trailers for the film, the emotions in Riley’s mom’s head are all female, and the ones in her Dad’s mind are male. This was to make the scene easier to follow, as it jumps around to four different settings (and features 18 characters).
- Amy Poehler spent a day with the film’s writers going over the screenplay, and ended up adding new ideas and lines of dialogue into the draft. “The biggest problem with the whole film, I think, was figuring out Joy and making her appealing and not off-putting,” Docter said. “Usually, people who are just relentlessly positive… You’re like, ‘Go home, get out of my face!’”
- Production designer Ralph Eggleston designed San Francisco to be “a city under wires,” creating a visual motif of connectivity that echoes with the scenes in Riley’s mind.
- Docter reached a crisis point a few years into the film’s production right before a rough screening of the film. A hike over Father’s Day weekend made him think about the relationships in his life, and the people who are the closest to him. “I realized, the ones that mean the most are people I’ve been happy with, but also people I’ve been fearful for or mad at or sad along with,” he said. “I suddenly came upon this realization that the subject matter of our film is actually the key to the most important thing in our lives, and that is relationships and how emotions are really key to bringing people together.” He ended up pitching a new idea for the ending to Rivera and co-director Ronaldo Del Carmen that reinvigorated the filmmaking process.
- The creative team held a screening for families of the Pixar staff, just to make sure the sophisticated subject matter was clear to a young audience. The next day, they heard a story from the technical director, whose son had a phobia of diving. The kid jumped right off the diving board the next day, to the family’s surprise. The boy said, “I felt like fear had been driving [me] and I told him to step aside.”
We cannot divulge too much about the story developments or give a firm opinion on the film from just seeing the first half, but the first hour of Inside Out should delight and beguile all audiences, not just families. The animation is top-notch, the voice talent (which also includes Richard Kind, Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) superb and, unsurprising given the subject matter, Inside Out has a strong emotional core.
Definitely keep an eye out for this one when it hits theaters on June 19, 2015.