This is the first year since 2005 in which Pixar isn’t releasing a new movie. That’s a shame, but if what I just saw is any indication, it’s going to be worth the wait. Last night, I had the opportunity to attend a special presentation of Disney-Pixar’s new film Inside Out, which is directed by Up and Monsters, Inc. helmer Pete Docter. The movie hits theaters one year from yesterday, and Docter and his producer Jonas Rivera were on hand last night at the Director’s Guild in Hollywood to introduce some of the early footage from the film and give us an idea of what to expect from their innovative new project, which combines some of the best aspects of previous Pixar films into an entirely unique concept.
Inside Out is the story of Riley Anderson, a fun-loving, precocious little girl who lives with her parents in Minnesota. But the film’s protagonists are Riley’s emotions – Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) – who operate from a control room in her head, seeing what she sees and controlling how she behaves based on which emotion takes control of a kind of mainframe decision-making panel in the center of Headquarters.
After Docter and Rivera finished Up, they started to think about their next project. “How do we push the limits and take audiences to a place they’ve never been before?” Docter recalls thinking. The answer came when his own daughter turned twelve and her personality dramatically changed; she became increasingly moody and withdrawn, leading the director to wonder what was going on inside her head. Inside Out is an exploration of that theme, and he and Rivera have spent the past four years working on it.
On a visual level, this is different than anything Pixar has ever done before. Traditionally, the studio has made great strides in keeping their animation based in physics and reality, but because of the setting of this film – “the mind, not the brain,” Docter clarifies – they’re not beholden to the rules of traditional environments. The emotions, for example, aren’t made of flesh and blood – they’re made of thousands of tiny glowing energy particles. Their movement is inspired by old Chuck Jones and Tex Avery cartoons, so they’re a lot more fluid than the more realistic characters in previous films.
Headquarters, which Rivera describes as “a combination of It’s A Small World and an Apple store,” is filled with couches, a break room, and a ’70s-era deco style, and while the design of Riley’s mind was based on tons of research the team did into how the brain works, this won’t look like your typical depiction of the inside of someone’s head.
As Riley goes through her day, little snow globes of memories appear as if through a bowling ball retriever and are stored on a short term memory shelf, while core memories go toward forming Riley’s overall personality. It’s obvious that memories play a big part in this movie – Docter said that the long term memory part of Riley’s mind is the biggest set they’ve ever built.
I can already tell this is going to be one of the most emotionally resonant films Pixar has ever made, and just from seeing the first five minutes of the movie, it’s clear Joy is like a third parent (vaguely reminiscent of Marlin from Finding Nemo), completely invested in Riley’s every move and desperate for her to be happy, and she – and therefore, the audience – are going to be devastated when Riley’s attitude changes as the film progresses.
But the main reason for that change is because of an event that causes Joy and Sadness to fall out of Headquarters and get lost in Riley’s mind, travelling through different theme park-style lands in order to try to get back where they belong. They catch a “train of thought,” venture through Imagination Land, pass through Dream Productions (a Hollywood-style movie studio in Riley’s head that generates cinematic dreams), the land of abstract thought (in which everything looks like a Picasso painting), and even Riley’s subconscious. While they’re gone, Fear, Anger, and Disgust are running the show, and this is coupled with a move from Minnesota to San Francisco, so you can guess what that combination means for Riley’s personality.
The film is also laugh-out-loud funny. In a clip they showed us that takes place later in the movie, a sullen Riley is eating dinner with her parents, and the film zips from a wide shot of the family having a conversation into each of their heads to reveal their respective emotions making decision that steer the conversation. A huge miscommunication between Riley’s mother and father is a highlight, as it showcases the differences between what happens in a woman’s and man’s head and their completely different perspectives on how they see the same event. I won’t ruin the jokes for you, but it’s hilarious and universal, and perfect encapsulation of how Pixar makes movies for everyone, not just children.
We also had the opportunity to see a new short film called Lava, which will debut in front of Inside Out next year. It’s a musical story of two volcanoes who sing to each other, and while I didn’t like it as much as many of the studio’s other shorts (or Walt Disney Animation’s Paperman, one of my favorite animated shorts of all time), it’s cute enough and features a song with a tune catchy enough to get stuck in your head.
Overall, Inside Out looks like a visually stunning and emotionally profound film that, as is typical of Pixar’s filmography, aims to be something truly special and memorable. The voice actors are perfectly cast, and with Michael Giacchino providing the film’s score, I can’t wait to see the rest of it.
Inside Out hits theaters on July 19th, 2015.
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