The creators of Inside Out must be feeling pretty smug right now. Ever since their movie debuted at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, they’ve been the toast of Hollywood. Five star reviews have flooded in and critics have exhausted their dictionary of superlatives to heap praise on Pixar’s latest hit which journeys inside the head of 11-year-old Riley.
Written and directed by Pete Docter and produced by Jonas Rivera, the film stars Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling and Bill Hader and is already being mentioned alongside such greats as Toy Story, Up and WALL-E – a comparison all the more impressive given that Docter played a part in creating all of the above.
So, with three – make that four – of Pixar’s best loved films under his belt, what does he consider the key ingredients for a hit animated movie? “I think you need amazing and compelling characters – obviously our voice talent helps us to create that – but there’s also a huge staff of writers and story people. And I think you want a world that seems intriguing and interesting and to me that’s part of the fun, especially with original movies – you get to discover this whole place that you didn’t even have any idea existed.”
“I think the audience craves just truth,” adds Rivera. “No matter how fantastic the premise may be of the movie – talking cars or emotions that are in our head – I think people want truth and if we can deliver that in a fun and entertaining way, people seem to respond to that.”
That’s not to say Inside Out’s central conceit is simple. Docter’s idea was born out of watching his pre-teen daughter growing shy, prompting him to imagine what happens inside our heads. Following a period of research with a psychologist, he landed on the idea of a film following the five different emotions governing our thoughts: joy, sadness, fear, anger and disgust.
The finished product is a marvel, filled with visual gags for youngsters, but also littered with endless references that will have adults howling with laughter. And any fears the filmmakers had that their youthful audience might not grasp the complex interaction between emotions were swiftly swept aside when one Pixar worker returned from an early screening with an incredible story.
“He said his son was taking swimming lessons and had been afraid to dive off of the diving board up until seeing the film,” explains Docter. “The next lesson he jumped off because he said he felt fear had been driving up till then and he asked fear to step aside. We flipped out at that – it was like this receipt that it was working.”
So, with gigantic takings across the pond – a figure only set to rise once the film is released in the UK on Friday – you would assume there’s a sequel already on the cards. “Basically the answer is no,” admits Docter. “After five years of working with these characters and their world, we’re excited to look around and see what else is out there. We’re going to pitch another couple of things to John [Lasseter, Pixar’s creative director] next week.”
“We love the movie, we love the characters, but we’re kind of ready for something new,” says Rivera. “This movie was born out of that after Up. When we finished Up, we were just talking – what do we want to do? Let’s just do something totally different that looks different and feels different and that recharges us, so we’re kind of in that headspace now.”
Although – perhaps wisely – he adds: “We’ll never say never, I guess.”
Do the pair have any real-life figures they’d like to venture inside the head of? “George Washington,” says Docter, “maybe just because he’s such a mysterious figure. He seems so aloof or removed, I would love to know what was his inner life and just a bit more about him as the father of America. The other guy it would be weirdly creepy to see is Hitler because he probably thought he was doing well but he was manipulating people in a fearful way. I wonder if he was conscious of that or if it just came naturally?”
“I was going to say Walt Disney,” adds Rivera. “I would just love to see that. Walt was a great optimist and a nostalgist which is joy – a foot in the past, a foot in the future.”
Personally, we’d like to go inside the heads of these two as both are privy to the top secret storyline that last year convinced John Lasseter to return to the Toy Story franchise. Docter was even there for the brainstorm that inspired it…
“It was a meeting that was supposed to be on a project that we were working on where I met with John and Andrew [Stanton, writer of the first two Toy Story films] and somehow the conversation turned to this other idea that was coupled with some other ideas that John had brought to the table. Suddenly the conversation is going off and running and he got super excited about it.
“There’s obviously a big concern about it because the first three ended so wonderfully and tied together nicely but the nice thing for me is it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be ‘and then’ – it’s more like this is a whole new element of it.”
Unsurprisingly, they’re both remaining tight-lipped about the storyline itself – “there are characters you’ve known and loved and there are other new characters as well,” is all they’ll say – but, adds Rivera, “Toy Story is so important at Pixar, it’s our Mickey Mouse. We’re very excited about it.”
In the meantime, they’re riding the wave of Inside Out – and no doubt readying their tuxes for next year’s awards season.
Inside Out is released in the UK on Friday 24th July