Pixar’s Inside Out is a year away, but on Thursday at the DGA Pete Docter gave a sneak peek and we were also treated to the premier of the next short, Lava, a lovely Hawaiian-themed musical directed by animator James Murphy. They’re a good match and will screen together on June 19, 2015, but I believe Inside Out has the potential to be Pixar’s most profound movie in its exploration of how the mind works metaphorically.
Inside Out is about the difficulty of adolescence, when sadness replaces joy. In fact, Docter explained that the inspiration came from his own daughter Elie (who provided the voice of young Ellie in Up). He couldn’t figure out why she was so sad and had lost that wonderful sense of joy. So being an inside/out kind of artist, Docter was compelled to make a movie about this fascinating topic: a road trip inside the mind of an 11-year-old very much like his daughter named Riley, in which her five emotions act like the Seven Dwarfs in protecting her psyche as she grows up: Fear (Bill Hader), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Joy (Amy Poehler), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Anger (Lewis Black)
Docter and producer Jonas Rivera screened the first five minutes (a delightful setup still in progress) as well as the hilarious dinner table scene about the battle of wills inside the minds of a sullen Riley and her confused parents, which was shown recently at CinemaCon and last year at D23 in very rough form.
Going imaginatively inside the mind has provided Docter and Pixar with the opportunity to embrace a classic, hand-drawn animation style more fully than ever before (with a nod to Disney’s Milt Kahl and Warner Bros.’ Chuck Jones and Tex Avery, among others). The world is an elaborate candy-colored theme park that’s part “Small World” and part Apple, according to Docter. “Headquarters,” which looks like a giant Pachinko game, contains color-coded, translucent short-term memory balls that are stored and then sent to long-term memory storage elsewhere (overseen by The Forgetters). There’s also “Imagination Land” (a giant amusement park comprised of Riley’s daydreams), a production studio that makes Riley’s dreams, and an abstract area, and a Train of Thought that can easily get lost if you’re not careful.
Speaking of getting lost, Joy and Sadness wander off during the second half of the movie and must find their way back to HQ, otherwise Riley will be emotionally unbalanced. Docter told me afterward that Inside Out is really told from a grown up point of view. In other words, it’s really about Joy and Sadness learning to co-exist in all of us.
In terms of the unique character design of the five emotions, Docter and his team came up with forms of energy comprised of particle simulations on top of self-illuminating screens. These are as squashy and stretchy as you will ever see at Pixar, and they even leave wisps of particle trails. And I understand that Poehler’s Joy (who reminds me of Tink) is the star of the movie and proved the most challenging to develop and animate.
Meanwhile, Murphy played the love song to Lava on his ukulele to get us in the mood before screening his work (produced by Andrea Warren). The short is a lovely ode to the tropical paradise of Hawaii and, in particularly, the beautiful and majestic volcanoes that just want someone to “lava”. Voice work is handled by singers Kuana Torres Kahele and Napua Greig.