It isn’t merely about winning another Oscar for Pixar — Inside Out represents a new milestone for the studio and for Pete Docter. It’s their most imaginative and adult-themed movie and ups their storytelling ethos and animation aesthetic.
And we can point to the defining moment when Joy discovers that one of Riley’s remaining core memories is a favorite of Sadness: the hockey team rallying around Riley. Turns out it began as a sad memory because Riley missed the goal and lost the game. But then her parents consoled her and contacted the team to come and cheer her up. This represents a crucial revelation/reversal for Joy that dramatically alters her journey after understanding the importance of Sadness in Riley’s life.
This leads to Joy helping Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend, find his rocket wagon. But when he’s distraught after losing his favorite toy to the Memory Dump, Sadness consoles him, which further demonstrates her strength and results in Bing Bong’s ultimate sacrifice.
I discussed these two scenes with Docter.
Bill Desowitz: The key dramatic moment is Joy’s discovery of the double-edged hockey core memory. How did that come about?
Pete Docter: We knew early on that Joy would have to have some sort of epiphany in this moment and she would reawaken her sense of what Riley really needs and the priorities would straighten. We struggled for a long time how to visualize that, and Ronnie del Carmen, who conceived of the Memory Dump, to begin with, came up with this idea of a memory that was a happy one, but then rewinding backwards to see that there was sadness that led to the happiness. And it was only because the purpose of sadness — and this largely came out of the research — was to slow you down for purposes of self-analysis and healing, but it also displays to other people that you might be in need of help.
So that led us to doing this scene where Riley is sitting alone and then Mom and Dad come out and comfort her and then the whole team comes. Out of this sadness comes a re-connection, which is what Joy needed to know to go back and do the right thing. It was probably into year four when all of the pieces came together. The colors of memories showing the emotional charge of them — we had that early on in the film — but we took advantage of that by taking what was, a happy memory, and showing that this was actually borne out of a sad memory.
Once we came up with that, then we had to do little set ups like, when Joy is first introducing the idea of memories, she rewinds them. There’s another reminder of that when she introduces the Double-Mint gum. “Let’s watch it again…” The audience knows that memories are rewindable. That gets us to wiping the tear off.
BD: And the song you can’t get out of your mind.
PD: Yeah, so you camouflage it with these setups. But, ultimately, then it works with the tear and the wiping that and accidentally rewinding it.
BD: Which leads us to Bing Bong: the imaginary friend and discarded childhood memory.
PD: Bing Bong we thought of as an out of work actor who is desperate to get back on stage. And so he’s willing to do anything it takes to get back. He’s only too happy to lead Joy because she can help him re-establish himself. In a sense, he’s kind of a mirror character for Joy. He represents certain things that Joy wants. As an ally, she wants to follow him. But he’s Joy to an extreme. He still thinks of Riley as three-years-old and wants to do play time, which doesn’t really work. In fact, we had more of this in earlier drafts of the film and we wrote it out because we wanted to root for Joy and want the same things she does.
But once that all came into focus, that he was the spirit of childhood, I recognized, though, that what needs to happen is that he ends up sacrificing himself in order for Riley to grow up. And Joy, as the most important character, needs to get back into Headquarters.
BD: Joy needs to learn this too because she doesn’t want to grow up either.
BD: Which leads us back to references to Peter Pan and Tinker Bell.
PD: Exactly. He was a great discovery because he gets to the heart of what we were talking about in the film: holding onto childhood and not wanting to grow up but knowing that it’s necessary to grow up. It’s a struggle that plays out in a lot of things we make at Pixar in the films that we respond to.
BD: It’s interesting that you end with: “To our kids: May they never grow up.” But you mean this metaphorically, right?
PD: Yeah, which I feel is represented in the sense that he says take her to the Moon for me. Just because he’s gone doesn’t mean that Riley will never have that sense of imagination and playfulness that he represented. And Joy’s going to try and continue that.
BD: And Joy uses imagination to get back to Headquarters.
PD: Building on the past in order to get Sadness back there.
BD: And how would you characterize her journey?
PD: Deep down, she has an understanding of what Riley needs but isn’t able to articulate it in a clear way. She’s also very intimidated by Joy and doesn’t want to do the wrong thing. So, though she wants to touch the memories, she’s very timid and insecure. And that was a real key to that character because her growth throughout the film finally allows her to claim her birthright in a sense. She’s the most advanced character in the film. She knows in the first act what needs to happen; she’s not able to do it, of course, until the third act.