An interview with Pixar director and animator Pete Docter about “Inside Out,” which earned an eight-minute standing ovation at Cannes.
“ ‘Up’ was kind of a love letter to our grandparents,” said Pixar director/animator Pete Docter, about his last film. “This one is kind of a love letter to our children.”
He’s talking about “Inside Out,” which opens in Seattle theaters June 19 — and which, last month, reduced a capacity audience at the Cannes Film Festival to tears and, said Docter, an eight-minute standing ovation. The film centers on an 11-year-old girl named Riley, and on the emotions — Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust, each of which has a distinctive voice and personality — that govern her actions. Much of “Inside Out” takes place, literally, inside Riley’s head as she moves across the country with her family, copes with newfound misery, and takes a few cautious steps toward growing up.
Docter, who’s been with Pixar for 25 years and also directed “Monsters, Inc.,” was in town earlier this month to present his film at the Seattle International Film Festival. He said the initial idea for the film came from observing his daughter Elie (known to Pixar fans as the voice of Young Ellie in “Up”).
Opens Friday, June 19, at several theaters. Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action.
“She was quite a rambunctious little kid, really goofy and funny,” he recalled. “When she turned 11, we started hearing from her teachers, ‘Elie’s a quiet child,’ and we were like, ‘She is?’ She definitely went through some changes, and I sort of got sad because I realized I’m not going to be sitting on the floor playing dolls anymore. That got us thinking about this idea — what’s going on inside her head.”
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From that came the idea of making emotions into characters — a concept that seemed tailor-made for Pixar. “Animation has really unique properties as a medium — you can get away with certain things that you couldn’t really in live action,” said Docter. “The believability of characters, you can push them very far, they can be very broad, but you still believe them. Most of the time with live-action comedy, if it gets too broad, you laugh at them but you cease to believe in them as characters and care about them as much.”
The emotions work at Headquarters — Riley’s control center — and squabble constantly for prominence. Docter said the filmmakers did extensive research and consultation with psychiatrists, psychologists and neurologists to isolate five emotions central to an 11-year-old.
Actors, led by Amy Poehler as Joy and Phyllis Smith (“The Office”) as Sadness, came along late in the film’s five-year process, and added their own stamp to the characters. “I think part of the strength of this cast was not only their acting but their writing,” said Docter. “Almost all of them write, in some capacity, so we really leaned on that.”
Reflecting on the “Inside Out” journey, Docter noted that “We started out thinking, we’re telling a story about this kid growing up. And then we realized, we’re really telling a story about us, watching our kids grow up, and the struggle that we all have with that.” Appropriately, “Inside Out” ends with a dedication: “This film is dedicated to our kids. Please don’t grow up. Ever.”