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Immersed in Movies: Pete Docter Talks Dinner Scene and Growing Up in ‘Inside Out’

Immersed in Movies: Pete Docter Talks Dinner Scene and Growing Up in 'Inside Out'

There’s nothing that epitomizes the greatness of Inside Out more than the dinner scene. It introduces Riley’s unhappiness moving to San Francisco and provides a glimpse not only inside her mind but also inside her parents’. It’s a brilliant study in conflict and contrast: the difference between our outer and inner worlds (read more about the production design, camera/layout, and lighting). Pay close attention, and you’ll notice that Sadness helms her mom’s headquarters and Anger rules her dad’s. It’s all about growing up, which Pete Docter delves into in our latest conversation.

Bill Desowitz: This is a complex moment that sets up Riley’s unhappiness and her inability to express it to her parents. How did it come together?
Pete Docter: It’s interesting you picked that one out because that was probably the first sequence that really worked. And it was early in our storyboarding that that one sparkled. And we showed the whole movie and there was kind of a malaise until that scene came on and then the audience comes alive. John said make that and in any Pixar production that was the earliest approved sequence. So with that we struggled to build the film around it because we knew there was entertainment there. And we did make chiropractic changes as things went on, bit it really was an example early on of the opportunity that this film afforded, which was the juxtaposition of the outside and the inside. And I think that’s reflective in family dinners and I’m totally guilty of being at dinner but not really being at dinner…mentally. ‘Cuz I’m still thinking about work, usually, as opposed to sports. I don’t think about sports too often.
BD: It’s interesting that Riley’s dad is thinking about soccer despite being consumed by his stressful work situation.
PD: I know. And we tried it but it wasn’t as funny. So the frivolousness about hockey we rationalized as the relieving of stress. I think we even had a line a little while about explaining that. But, again, who really cares? If it gets a laugh and it makes some sort of logical sense. So that was a key that guided us even in Riley’s larger story: the outside events could be really small but have a big impact inside. So it’s not like life or death. But she hung up on her friend but inside there’s a cataclysmic earthquake and one of the islands of her personality shatters and falls away. And that seemed to work: the greater the difference between those two, the more interesting things became.
BD: Ultimately, it’s about growing up and you use Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend, as a metaphor.
PD: Yeah, he’s the spirit of childhood and was a great discovery because that gets to the heart of what it was we were talking about in the film: holding on to childhood and not wanting to grow up and knowing that it’s necessary to grow up. It’s a struggle that seems to play out in a lot of things we make at Pixar and the films that we respond to.
BD: And yet the film is dedicated to your kids with the hope that they never grow up. Metaphorically, anyway, because they should always retain their childlike spirit.
PD: Right. And Joy will continue to help Riley keep that sense of imagination and playfulness.
BD: What has been your takeaway?
PD: All the films I’ve worked on have changed me in some way. It’s almost like the process of thinking about this stuff day in and day out is like meditation where you’re ruminating on the same kind of themes and ideas.
BD: What was the journey with Monsters, Inc.?
PD: Monsters was about the love of work vs. love of kids and home and trying to find a balance there. I think at the time I was spending a lot of time at work and then having a baby of my own got me thinking, “Whoa, there’s more to this.” That ended up changing me a lot too.
BD: And Up?
PD: Up was about escaping the world, wanting to get away from everybody because I still get overwhelmed and topped off and can’t to anybody and just want to hide under the table. But, of course, what real life is about is connection. Escapism is nice, but, ultimately, what is going to change you and make a difference in your life is connecting with people.
BD: And Inside Out?
PD: Inside Out is about connecting with people and I think that’s the reason why Sadness is there. It’s only through the emotions that are negative that we are able to deeply connect with people.

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