MEET THE LITTLE VOICES INSIDE YOUR HEAD.
In 2009, director Pete Docter had completed and released the phenomenal Pixar film Up when he started noticing things about his preteen daughter Elie. She was becoming more shy and reserved, going through a process that Docter recognized from his own childhood. As he looked into the science behind what it is in our minds that form a personality, the idea for a new movie started taking shape. It was a gamble for Pixar, becoming the first project that lacked input from two of the company’s key figures, Steve Jobs (who passed away in 2011) and John Lasseter (who was busy elsewhere). There was also concern over how to market a film like this, Pixar’s thematically most ambitious.
When Riley is born one day in Minnesota, she enters life with a set-up of emotions – Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger, who are all manifestations in her mind, or Headquarters as it is known to this motley bunch. They all influence Riley in different ways, using a control console. When the girl is 11, she and her parents move to San Francisco, and things begin to happen. Joy and the other emotions have never quite understood the purpose of Sadness, but suddenly she’s becoming more active in ways that look accidental.
When she causes Riley to cry in front of her class as she’s describing a memory from Minnesota, Joy is horrified to see this core memory turn “blue”. Riley’s memories consist of little orbs that carry the specific colors of each memory’s dominant emotion. Before this new sad memory orb reaches the central hub where it is stored, Joy tries to get rid of it… but then disaster strikes.
Adults will relate in more ways
It’s not the easiest story to recap, especially when you consider how this is a movie that’s meant to be understood and appreciated by children. Hopefully they’ll enjoy the surface (colorful characters, the 3D action, the comedy) and maybe even grasp part of the message, which is it’s OK to feel sad sometimes; there’s nothing wrong with that. Adults will relate to this movie in more ways, as it will remind them of their own childhood, make them think about how their own kids are developing and understand some of the science behind it.
Docter and his collaborators spent a lot of time crafting the concept and consulted psychologists, including Paul Ekman who has written about our core emotions in the past. Turning them into characters in the movie is a smart and fun idea, although there are moments when the boisterous comedy of each emotion, except Sadness, becomes a tad strained or overly noisy. Still, the filmmakers found the perfect cast to bring their personalities to life. The most memorable character however is Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend (who’s part elephant, part cotton candy, among other things), an absurd figure who becomes of invaluable help to Joy later in the film; Richard Kind is hilarious and heartbreaking in that role.
It’s interesting to see how Docter’s films are connected, from how a child’s fear was explored in Monsters, Inc. (2001) to kids bonding with older generations in Up; as in those movies, there’s also always a fun, creative adventure, be it in a city of monsters, or South America, or deep inside the mind of a little girl. The film’s depth of emotion is reinforced by Michael Giacchino, who has once again written a beautiful theme that is cleverly variated throughout.
The last truly great Pixar film was Toy Story 3 (2010), and the studio seems to have gotten sequels on its brain just like the rest of Hollywood. Which is why it’s a relief to see an original project like Inside Out work out so well. It is a true Joy to watch.
Inside Out 2015-U.S. Animated. 94 min. Color. Produced by Jonas Rivera. Directed by Pete Docter. Screenplay: Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley. Music: Michael Giacchino. Voices of Amy Poehler (Joy), Phyllis Smith (Sadness), Richard Kind (Bing Bong), Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling… Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan, Frank Oz, John Ratzenberger.
Trivia: Poehler and Hader are credited for having written additional dialogue.
Oscar: Best Animated Feature. Golden Globe: Best Animated Feature. BAFTA: Best Animated Film.
Last word: “We had earlier versions where they had a microphone at the console, and would suggest things she should do or say. That got us into a big problem. The story is told from a parent’s point of view. We needed Joy to have this loving relationship with Riley. If Riley’s a big robot Joy can control, that’s a lot less understandable, so we stripped all that out. It also mirrors the way our own emotions work. We don’t choose to be angry, it happens to us, but what we do with that is up to us.” (Docter, The Dissolve)