Labour of love for Inside Out's directors

Labour of love for Inside Out's directors
INNER JOURNEY: What started out as a movie about a girl and her emotions - (from left) Sadness, Anger, Fear (back row), Disgust and Joy - turned out to be something completely different, and much more personal, for the directors.
PHOTO: Walt Disney

Joy, sadness, anger, disgust and fear - we all feel these emotions.

Now, imagine all these emotions are little people running around inside your head, guiding you, keeping you safe and helping you make all the decisions, big and small, in your life.

Pixar Animation's latest movie, Inside Out, is all about those little emotions. Set mostly inside the mind of 11-year-old Riley, we see how the five emotions - Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) - guide the girl through life, as she tries to adjust to her parents moving to a new city.

According to director Pete Docter, Inside Out started out as a movie about a little girl, but it turned out to be something completely different, and much more personal, for him and co-director Ronnie del Carmen.

"We thought we were telling the story of a girl growing up. But it turned into a story about us, watching our kids grow up," said Docter, who was in Kuala Lumpur with del Carmen for the South-east Asian leg of their worldwide Inside Out promotional tour.

"My daughter was turning 11 when I started the film, so I was essentially living the film! I got the idea for Inside Out by watching her. When she did turn 11, she got more quiet and reserved. There was suddenly a big change in her life," Docter recalled.

"That was a real good place to start, because it was a very emotional moment for me. Then, I talked to Ronnie about that, and he has kids who are older than mine, and he was like, 'Oh yeah, just wait…it gets worse,' " he said with a laugh.

Said del Carmen: "My kids have already moved out of the house, so I have this vacuum in my life. Pete is about to embark on that journey, so I feel bad for my friend!"

The duo already know how to make people cry, having made the Oscar-winning Up back in 2010. The emotional heft of that film meant they had a reputation to live up to this time round.

"But really, we don't set out to make people cry! Because this movie is about emotions, we do want for it to be as emotional as possible, so people care about our characters. I want audiences to care about what Joy cares about," explained del Carmen, who was head of story on Up, which Docter directed.

Still, Docter said that they had to do quite a bit of research to understand what emotions were in the first place.

"We talked to a lot of psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists and experts like Paul Ekman, who was very pioneering in his research on facial expressions," Docter said.

"These guys really helped us understand how many emotions there are, what their functions are and why we have them. Many times, a lot of these emotions, which we think are negative, are actually very useful - they can help connect us and heal us. Sadness is really crucial to empathy, for instance. We tried to put all that in the film."

Inside Out does feel like a movie targeted at parents rather than kids, something Docter and del Carmen acknowledged. Del Carmen, who has a 28-year-old son and a 25-year-old daughter, said he wished he knew all that stuff when he was raising his kids.

"I would have been able to understand better what emotions are for," he said. "We are all in charge of our own emotions. Emotions just make you feel something and prepare you to defend yourself sometimes. But they're not you."

Docter and del Carmen started writing Inside Out after they had completed Up, and the movie eventually took more than five years to complete. During the process, they actually made several versions just to see what worked best.

"We made it three or four times over with completely different things in it," said Docter. "There was one version where Joy had a memory, wanted to throw it and have it forgotten; and another where she went on her journey with Fear instead of Sadness."

Thankfully, they decided to go with Sadness as Joy's companion rather than Fear, a decision that Docter said made a lot more sense.

"I like to think of Sadness as the hero of the movie. Joy is, of course, the main character who learns and grows. The reason we chose her is because we all want to be happy in our lives and we can all learn and grow with Joy," said Docter.

"But life is a bit more complicated than that - you can't just be happy all the time. By the end of the movie we wanted Joy to learn that, and we realised Sadness was really the key to that."

From Toy Story to Up and even the latest, Monsters University, most of Pixar's movies have had a strong emotional core, and del Carmen said that is because everyone at the company wants to make movies that resonate with people.

"To this day, all of us at Pixar care about the movies we grew up with. You can watch Dumbo, and even if it's the first time you're watching it, when that Baby Mine sequence shows up, it just makes you so emotional, because it's done so well. And it makes you feel so bad for baby Dumbo and his mum.

"Our goal is to make movies like that, movies that would matter to people years later."

Inside Out opens in Singapore on Aug 27.

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