Emotions are hard at work in Inside Out

Do you ever look at someone and wonder what is going on inside their head?

Disney•Pixar’s super-sensational Inside Out ventures inside the mind to find out and is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD.

Based in Headquarters, the control center inside 11-year-old Riley’s mind, five Emotions are hard at work, led by light-hearted optimist Joy, whose mission is to make sure Riley stays happy. Fear heads up safety, Anger ensures all is fair and Disgust prevents Riley from getting poisoned—both physically and socially. Sadness isn’t exactly sure what her role is, and frankly, neither is anyone else.

Inside OUt

Loaded with Pixar’s signature charm, “Inside Out” features a mind full of memorable characters, poignant moments and humor. “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,” continues Rivera. “It’ll still be fun, but there’s something deeper in it for them. That’s something Walt Disney always wanted to do.”

Meet the Emotions

With a sunny hue, Joy is light-hearted, optimistic and determined to find the fun in every situation. She sees challenges in Riley’s life as opportunities, and the less-happy moments as hiccups on the way back to something great. As long as Riley is happy, so is Joy.

JOY’s goal has always been to make sure Riley stays happy. “In the moment Riley is born, Joy appears—she’s the first one there,” says director Pete Docter, who co-wrote the screenplay with Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley from an original story by Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen. “She has a very special connection to Riley and she treasures that bond.”

According to Docter, they picked Joy as Riley’s main Emotion because they felt Riley was the kind of person who was naturally happy—minus a few bumps along the way. They also felt it mirrored that one true desire every parent has for their children. “We want our kids to be happy, enjoy life, embrace everything,” he says. “Life doesn’t always work out that way and we have to adjust—which is a lesson for all of us, including Joy.”

FEAR’s main job is to protect Riley and keep her safe. He is constantly on the lookout for potential disasters, and spends time evaluating the possible dangers, pitfalls and risk involved in Riley’s everyday activities. There are very few activities and events that Fear does not find to be dangerous and possibly fatal.

According to storyman Josh Cooley, filmmakers instantly connected to Fear. “He was one of the easiest characters to write because everybody is driven by Fear at some point in the day,” Cooley says. “We had no trouble imagining how Fear might react to a given situation: He overreacts.”

ANGER feels very passionately about making sure things are fair for Riley. He has a fiery spirit and tends to explode (literally) when things don’t go as planned. He is quick to overreact and has little patience for life’s imperfections. “From the beginning, I could just picture Anger, both in writing and design,” says Docter. “We knew what we could do with him and how he could be funny.”

“Red just seemed right,” says executive producer John Lasseter. “He explodes with anger all the time, so we decided it would be fun to have flames come out of his head when he gets really mad.”

DISGUST is highly opinionated, extremely honest and prevents Riley from getting poisoned— both physically and socially. She keeps a careful eye on the people, places and things that Riley comes into contact with— whether that’s broccoli or last year’s fashion trend. “She wants to make sure that people won’t taint Riley with their toxic behavior or bad clothing advice, as well as steering clear of untested food combinations,” says co-director Ronnie Del Carmen.

Disgust always has the best of intentions and refuses to lower her standards. “She’s very opinionated and not afraid to share it,” adds Del Carmen.

None of the other Emotions really understand what SADNESS’s role is. “Sadness actually questions her own role,” says Del Carmen. “What is she good for? She’s an insecure character who wants to help, but is faced with the notion that she might actually be bad for Riley.”

Filmmakers had an affinity for the Emotion, even if she is often blue. “Sadness is indecisive and tentative, but so sweet and loving,” says Docter. “She loves Riley and wants nothing but the best for her.”

“The Emotions are kind of like the voices in our heads,” says director Pete Docter. “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 or what have you. 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.”

When Riley’s family relocates to a scary new city, the Emotions are on the job, eager to help guide her through the difficult transition. But when Joy and Sadness are inadvertently swept into the far reaches of Riley’s mind— taking some of her core memories with them—Fear, Anger and Disgust are left reluctantly in charge. “Think about that,” says executive producer John Lasseter. “An 11-year-old is left without Joy and Sadness—only Anger, Fear and Disgust. Does that sound like any 11-year-olds you know?”

Joy and Sadness must venture through unfamiliar places—Long Term Memory, Imagination Land, Abstract Thought and Dream Productions—in a desperate effort to get back to Headquarters, and Riley. Along the way, they meet some colorful characters—from the Forgetters, who are Mind Workers in charge of sorting Riley’s memories, to Riley’s imaginary friend named Bing Bong, who is searching for a way to make Riley remember him. “He was a favorite when Riley was a little kid with an active imagination,” says Docter. “But these days, he’s like an out-of-work actor who’s desperately trying to make his comeback.”

The inspiration

Writer and Director Peter Docter poses for a portrait in promotion of the new animated feature with Disney, "Inside Out"  in Beverly Hills, Calif. on Sunday, June 7, 2015. (Photo by Rebecca Cabage/Invision/AP)

Writer and Director Peter Docter

What is she thinking?

It’s a question that has gone through the minds of parents worldwide who are attempting to raise teenagers— and it’s one that occurred to Oscar-winning director Pete Docter as he witnessed his own daughter Elie growing up.

“My daughter did the voice of young Ellie in ‘Up’—that spirited, spunky kid with hair out to there—and she was a lot like the character at the time,” says Docter. “But by the time we started ‘Inside Out,’ Elie was older—about 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.”

Cue the emotions.

From the beginning, Docter loved the idea of going inside the mind, challenging the imaginations of many of the same filmmakers who took audiences to Monstropolis and later to South America in a house flown by balloons. “I thought it would be fun,” says the director. “I wanted to explore the abstract version—not the brain, but the mind. I thought it was perfect for animation. And if this was going to be a story about emotions and it’s done by the same team that did ‘Up,’ it had to be emotional.”

Ultimately, this idea of emotions as characters sparked the story of “Inside Out”—with daughter Elie as the inspiration for Riley, an 11-year-old, hockey-loving Midwesterner whose life is mostly happy until her family relocates to the big and unfamiliar city of San Francisco. Her Emotions—led by energetic Joy—are on the job, eager to help guide Riley through this difficult transition. But while Riley’s life is what gives her Emotions purpose, filmmakers say that “Inside Out” isn’t really Riley’s story.

“It’s a very personal story about what it means to be a parent,” says producer Jonas Rivera. “As a parent, there are so many perfect moments when I wish I could make time stand still forever. But that’s not right. That’s not our job. Our job is to be their guides.”

“As our kids grow older, we tend to miss those days when they were little and would sit on our laps and hug us,” adds Docter. “And while all parents want their kids to go out into the world—I’m happy for my kids and want nothing more than where they are right now—it’s bittersweet and a little sad when childhood passes by. That’s a key element to this film.”

So filmmakers called on Joy—who bounces and glows (literally), overflowing with optimism—to tackle the evercomplicated task of raising Riley—metaphorically—along with the other Emotions who contribute their own unique perspectives. “Joy has been there the longest—Riley was born happy,” says Rivera. “But the cross-country move is really upsetting and Joy finds that she’s getting less and less time at the wheel, so to speak. She just can’t let Sadness mess up all the hard work she’s done over the years.”

The journey Joy takes with Sadness is eye-opening. “Joy realizes that Sadness may have a purpose in Riley’s life after all,” says Docter.

According to Docter, the key to happiness—in the movie and beyond—is likely in how you define it. “Joy is able to learn and grow and reconsider what she thinks happiness is,” he says. “In the beginning, it’s all about laughter and ice cream—and there’s nothing wrong with that. But life shows us that it’s so much deeper.

“As I was making the film, I realized that family and close friends are what make me happy,” he continues. “Sure, those are the people who I share fun times with, but they’re also the people who I’ve been angry at, scared for and sad with. It’s really the depth and complexity of all these emotions that bring a real connection between people.”

Doing Their Homework

Pixar filmmakers are known for the research they do—whether it’s becoming an expert in automotive design for “Cars” or trekking to Scotland to inform the breathtaking backdrop in “Brave.” The artists and storytellers behind “Inside Out” wanted to immerse themselves in the mind, studying memories, human emotions and how they evolve during adolescence.

They worked with scientists, neurologists, psychologists and other experts to better understand how the mind works. Dr. Dacher Keltner, co-director of the Greater Good Science Center, is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, where he directs the Berkeley Social Interaction Lab. “I’ve spent 25 years of my career studying human emotion,” he says. “I’m interested in how we express emotions in our faces, voices and in touch.”

Among other things, Keltner’s expertise helped filmmakers choose the Emotions to feature. “Researchers have different ideas of how many emotions we have—there are anywhere from four to 27, depending on who you ask,” says Docter. “Dr. Keltner’s work suggests that there are 21, with emotions like boredom, contempt and embarrassment. There were so many possibilities in terms of character. It was fun to explore. We ultimately landed on five Emotions that pretty much make all of the researchers’ lists.”

Keltner also helped to define the Mind World in terms of how the Emotions worked together to help Riley cope with the changes in her life. “I just saw the movie and I was blown away,” he says. “I think it’s extremely hard to put into words how the emotions inside your mind affect how you behave in the world and how you see the world. The film achieved that remarkably well. I loved the dynamic tension between what’s happening inside the psyche and what’s going on outside in the world.”

Filmmakers studied adolescence and how a pre-teen might deal with traumatic events. So it was no accident that Joy and Sadness were the two Emotions that went missing. “It all lines up with being an adolescent,” says co-director Ronnie Del Carmen. “Riley changes and no longer feels happy—then she can’t express empathy. She becomes your typical sullen teen.”

Says Keltner, who’s a father of two daughters who’ve survived their pre-teen years, “Part of adolescence—part of growing up—is loss. Loss of friends, loss of childhood—it’s necessary to human development. The way that ‘Inside Out’ really grapples with Riley’s feelings of loss and how her family ultimately surrounds her in that experience is really powerful.”

According to Keltner, acceptance is an important takeaway from both the movie and a host of scientific studies of emotions. “I believe that our emotions oscillate,” he says. “There will be a time when your mind is filled with fear—a second or two—before shifting to anger. The movie portrays that struggle over the control panel that I feel to be true scientifically. But one of the key lessons is that you have to embrace all of your emotions. You have to realize that they’re all part of your normal, everyday mind and that’s OK.”