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Immersed in Movies: Talking the Adult Appeal of Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’

Immersed in Movies: Talking the Adult Appeal of Pixar's 'Inside Out'

With next week’s arrival of Inside Out on Blu-ray, it’s a great opportunity to delve into Pixar’s most adult-oriented movie, which has been passionately embraced both critically and commercially and obviously enters the Oscar race as the strongest contender. Inside Out has grossed $355.3 million domestically, making it the third highest grossing movie of the year, the third highest grossing Pixar movie and the seventh highest grossing animated movie of all time.

Granted, Inside Out  concerns 11-year-old Riley, but it taps personal fears for Pete Docter and validates that it’s OK to be sad. “We get asked, especially at colleges, ‘When are you going to make a movie for adults?’ But that’s not how we think: these are the kinds of films that we wanna make,” Docter explained. 

Still, Inside Out explores memories, loss and introspection with great maturity. “There’s a simplification that’s attractive in animation,” Docter continued. “It’s as though there’s a shiny, bright exterior, which I think allows you to talk about some deeper stuff, which I’ve tried to do. I guess our approach has been to make sure there’s something intriguing that gives us a reason to go work everyday.”

“It’s funny: some of these R-rated horror movies feel more cartoony than what we do in a way,” conceded producer Jonas Rivera.

But until Docter landed on the conflict between Joy and Sadness late in production, he didn’t have the emotional payoff that he was looking for. “This film really had a lot of interplay,” Docter suggested. “The story had a literal effect on the set. When we would change one thing — sometimes even small things — let’s make Riley break up with her friend a little later in the movie, then that would mean we had to move the Island of Friendship and Personality for continuity reasons, even in scenes in headquarters because you see out the window. It was a lattice of things connecting with each other.”

“Movies are big jigsaw puzzles…a long to-do list that you have to put in the right order. And those require a War Room-esque strategy to dig through it,” offered Rivera.


Josh Cooley, who was head of story and directed the short on the Blu-ray/DVD combo, Riley’s First Date?, said they did about 10 different plots and built 10 full versions of Riley’s mind over the five-year period. “You’re telling three stories at the same time: Joy and Sadness, Riley and all the other emotions up in headquarters, and they all had to connect to each other. There were times when we went too heavy on the emotions and you’d lose Riley as a character. She has to take charge.”

In the clever short, we go inside the mind of Riley’s friend from the hockey team, as well as Riley’s parents. The conflict here, though, is between the boy and her father, who bond over AC DC.

“That idea came from the first time I met my father-in-law. He was a little standoffish. He asked me what I was into and I said music and was in a band and he said he played drums and we started to connect. And AC DC is a band that’s been going for years. And I went to their concert [recently] and there was a 7-year-old in front of me and an 80-year-old behind me,” added Cooley, who is now having a blast co-directing Toy Story 4 with John Lasseter, another adult-oriented twist about the love story between Woody and Bo Peep. Cooley also enjoyed the concluding kiss between Riley’s parents, his own adult moment. “I wanted to pitch that for the film but needed the right time to make it work.”

But if Docter could animate his own mind, what would that be like?

“Probably looks wise, like we ended up in the film. I think Fear would be driving more than he does in the movie because I tend to have a pretty healthy sense of self-doubt. I wrote some stuff but I never drew it out. A little different at work and at home. On a good day, you have Fear driving a little bit and then Joy takes over. Once you get under way and past the fear, then at home and at work, I’m surrounded by great people that just allow you to have good experiences. Joy ends up running things quite often.

“And, thankfully, I’ve had a pretty amazing life where I’ve not had a lot of tragedy and loss. And I think there’s something about going through a creative endeavor and the problem solving that’s like summer camp.”

Meanwhile, Docter has already started developing the premise for his next movie, which made Rivera sit forward, like Inside Out. The director believes that animation is still just scratching the surface of story possibilities. “As long as it makes people sit forward and say, ‘I’ve never seen it.,'” Docter said.

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