When cartoon makers sneak inside your head to draw the mindscape, expect all crazy colorful things.
Dream Production comes out as a color-saturated Hollywood studio on a silver screen. Here, a crew of minions shoot a scene with an iridescent-haired unicorn diva until the nightmare of a leviathan clown called Jangles strides in and tramples everything.
The Subconscious and its guarded threshold looms one floor below, housing a pre-teen’s terrors – jungles of giant broccoli, a spooky basement staircase, Grandma’s vacuum cleaner and Jangle’s sleeping place.
Train of Thought is a lilac locomotive creating its own tracks in mid-air to deliver daydreams, ideas and other thoughts to Head Quarters (HQ).
A short cut to its station – where Abstract Thoughts are formed – dangles a “Danger” sign. Anything that enters – Emotions and imaginary friends – de-constructs, fragmenting into two-dimensional shapes and cubist lines.
Imagination Land shows itself as a theme park with a forest of French Fries and attractions, such as imaginary “boyfriend generators”.
At HQ– the mind itself – a handful of Emotions – color-coded little people called Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust, push buttons on a console as the heroine, 11-year old Riley Andersen, goes through her day.
At the end of her waking hours, this quintet sends Memories – crystal balls shaded in the emotions they carried – into a labyrinth of floor-to-ceiling storage housing millions of others: Long – Term Memory bank.
Forgetters, part of the facility’s maintenance staff, toss away faded and irrelevant balls in a the slag heap called Memory Dump while the most important “Core” Memories get storied in a hub at HQ to power five “islands”, each reflecting a facet of Riley’s personality – Friendship, Family, Goofball, Honesty and her great passion, Hockey.
Riley was happy until her dad took a new job and relocated the family from conservative Minnesota to stylish San Francisco.
Uprooted, Riley faced a foggy alien city, candy-colored Victorian houses and broccoli pizza. In class, on her first day at her new school, she broke down and cried.
Both Joy – the sunshine-yellow, Tinker Bell, alpha ringleader lording over the console of Riley’s “Head” Quarters, and antithesis – morose, slowpoke, blue Sadness, were sucked out and stranded outside Riley’s psyche.
Left with just three emotions – Fear, a bow-tie wearing purple noodle with eyebrows levitating above his head, Anger, a puny red guy whose head explodes in fire literally when he blows his fuse and Disgust, the opinionated broccoli-shaped fashionista scrutinizing everyone and everything Riley encounters, our pubescent heroine suddenly becomes sullen and withdrawn.
It’s quite simplistic, really, after Inside Out’s film makers trimmed down the wide gamut of human emotions into just five.
Admittedly, “Researchers say we have anywhere from four to 27 emotions, depending on whom you ask,” Director Pete Docter acknowledged. “We toyed with adding Pride. Or Schadenfreude, who delighted in the pain of others. But it started getting crowded in there. We ultimately landed on five Emotions that pretty much make all of the researchers’ lists.”
As could be expected, the Emotions bickered with each other constantly.
“They’re like the voices in our heads,” he explained. “When we were just getting started on this film, we looked around—at our kids, friends, co-workers—and we realized that everybody has a default temperament. We all go through periods of being happy or sad, but certain people are just happy or angry. Riley is one of those happy kids. So Joy had to be the first Emotion to show up, and she has a very special bond with Riley.”
“Joy has 33 beautiful seconds of being the only one there,” says Amy Poehler, who lends her voice to Joy. “Then Riley starts to cry and Sadness shows up. Joy realizes that she’s going to have to share Riley with all the other feelings and emotions.”
Interestingly, Director Docter’s own daughter Elizabeth’s (Elie) transition from childhood to puberty inspired the film. “My daughter did the voice of young Ellie in ‘Up’ (the film which transported audiences to South America in a house flown by balloons).”
“She was a lot like the character at the time, that spirited, spunky kid with hair out to there. But by the time we started ‘Inside Out,’ Elie was 11 and she’d become quiet and withdrawn. It made me think, ‘What’s going on in her head and why is she changing?’”
But then Docter recalled that era in his own life. “It’s a big deal,” he says. “The innocent bubble of childhood bursts and you feel like you’re thrust into an adult world where you’re judged and expected to behave in a certain way. You want to be cool, but you’re not really sure what that means.”
The film’s dramatic conflict is in how opposites Joy and Sadness team up to get back to the Control Room of Head Quarters, amidst disintegrating islands, elusive Trains of Thought, past the yawning abyss and the terrors of the Subconscious, to get Riley’s life back on line.
Yet the weirdest thing is that the Emotions themselves feel a gamut of other emotions. Joy doesn’t burst with pure fun and delight. She showed resentment, fear, worry, impatience, frenzy, sorrow, remorse. Sadness also morphed with fear, bewilderment and many others.
Emotions, like colors, have different gradations. They vary in intensity. But these Emotions transgressed their own boundaries and transformed into other emotions.
Still, for me, the most poignant moment of “Inside Out” was when Bing Bong, Riley’s invisible companion, a goofy, pink cotton candy dolphin with cat’s whiskers, elephant trunk and raccoon tail, who personified all that she loved as a kid, elects to fade away into the slag heap of dead memories, so that Joy can return to Riley’s psyche.
Of course, the theme of the movie is that Joy and Sadness co-exists in a normal, healthy psyche.
It’s a duality. Light and dark – yellow and blue, sunshine and night, are different sides of the same coin. One can never do away without the other. Life can’t be all joy, just as it can’t be all sadness. Humans need contrast. It’s ok to be sad.
Ultimately, “Our goal, right off the top, was to make it fun,” says producer Jonas Rivera. “My kids have seen it and all they talk about is Anger. They think he’s really funny. And the journey that Joy and Sadness take is one big, cool adventure.”
“I think adults—parents—will see it in a completely different way. It’ll still be fun, but there’s something deeper in it for them.”
Well, “Inside Out” also depicted how various minds – teeners, adults, canine and feline—are wired.
The Head Quarters of Riley’s Mom features Emotions donning her red glasses. And they still harbor romantic fantasies about a handsome Brazilian helicopter pilot.
Inside Dad’s mind, his Emotions sport his signature mustache and like him, they are prone to distraction, particularly if there’s a hockey game on.
As far as Riley’s concerned, for the moment, her Emotions scored a victory as she entered puberty – her Islands of Personality has regenerated and expanded. Even the console in her Head Quarters has grown lots of new buttons to push.
But Joy paid a heavy price. In order for Riley to grow, Joy has to allow Sadness to touch and color her pubescent core memories.
The next half century will even be tougher as Joy teeters closer and closer to the Memory Dump. Darkness always lives alongside the Light.
CAST OF CHARACTERS:
Amy Poehler was Joy; Bill Hader, Fear; Mindy Kaling, Disgust; Lewis Black, Anger and Phyllis Smith, Sadness.
Riley was voiced by Kaitlyn Dias. Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan provided the voices of Mom and Dad.
“Inside Out” was directed by Docter, produced by Rivera, co-directed by Ronnie Del Carmen and executive produced by Lasseter.
The screenplay was penned by Docter, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley from an original story by Docter and Del Carmen. Michael provided the score.