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SALT LAKE CITY — We Pixar fans are plenty excited for 2015. Not only do we get two animated features this year, “Inside Out” and “The Good Dinosaur,” but both films are entirely original.
We’re not talking “Monsters, Inc. 3," though who are we kidding, we’ll get excited about that as well. But 2015 is a year to celebrate what made us love Pixar in the first place — those totally new, heartwarming adventures that continually set the bar for what family entertainment should look like.
Well, this week, KSL.com caught up with “Inside Out” director Pete Docter and producer Jonas Rivera during their visit to Salt Lake City. Though we’re not at liberty just yet to tell you about “Inside Out,” we can give you some highlights from our conversation.
On coming up with the idea of “Inside Out”
Pete: It's funny. The very basic concept at the beginning, even before I pitched it to (turns to Rivera) you guys, was using emotions as characters. That just seemed like such a no-brainer for animation fun that that was kind of my toe-hold into it. I thought like, if you get Anger and Fear, and I didn't even know what other emotions there were at that time, they felt like characters that would be fun to write for and funny to watch.
Jonas: Didn't you have Joy as Optimism at first?
Pete: Yeah, I think I had Anger, Fear, Optimism, and then some other potential characters. So a lot of the nuts and bolts came in the development of the story which took three, four years to do.
Jonas: But it started with, this will be fun. It wasn't. Let's challenge ourselves, or we have a story over here. It's, "this is a fun thing to do."
Pete: It was really a very personal thing in a couple ways. My daughter was 11 when this film got its birth, and she was changing a lot. She was a very spunky, spirited little kid, and then she was starting to become more reclusive and quiet. That also rang bells for me because as a kid, I moved to Denmark right at about age 11. It was a very difficult time because I felt like, "I don't understand any of the rules here," right at the time when it's the most important thing in the wiring, we need to socially connect with other people. I felt the least prepared to deal with that. I think a lot of those elements went into the bucket there.
On telling a story from a totally new perspective
Pete: Well, when you open the hood, it's the same, I think, across the board. All of our films have a central relationship that ends up affecting and changing a main character. Joy, in this case, is our main character. That was not easy because early on we felt like, can emotions emote other feelings than what they are? Should Anger always be angry at everything, and Joy always joyful and so on? That might end up being correct scientifically, but it was too limiting as storytellers. Jonas: And also, even though Joy is the protagonist, her story is nothing without the stakes meaning so much to Riley. She loves Riley.
Pete: We sort of had twin protagonists in a sense because we have the outside story of Riley. She's completely unaware that this whole struggle of and world is going on inside of her, and then there's Joy. The two stories had to talk to each other. As we developed the film, we realized when one world affects the other or vice versa, each one of them exponentially get more interesting. Early on, we didn't have, say, the islands of personality. We realized what's really at stake here is Riley's personality. That's what as parents we value. That's why it's sad when my daughter is changing. How do we represent that physically? After a bunch of false starts and things that didn't quite work, we ended up with this idea.
On finding a tone that’s both fun and honest
Jonas: I think we've found or we've at least worked toward that sweet spot of honoring the movies we love like the classic Disney animated movies, the Dumbos or the Lady and the Tramps. They’re just really fun and entertaining but have this emotional core to them. I don't know, they hit you and stay with you for a long time. That's what I'm after. They tend to be full of emotion and truth and that's why when Pete pitched ("Inside Out"), the concept was one thing, but the fact that it was based on observation on his daughter made it real. That's a personal, truthful thing, so no matter where we take it, I know it's always got that core, and that's really important when you're trying to honor the fact that you have this job where you get to make something and put it in the world. You want it to be legit. It has to be real or why do it?
On Travis’ favorite scene in the movie
Travis: You get to a point with every film, I think, where you know what the adventure is. You know the linear story that you're trying to follow. But my favorite part is when Riley's mom comes in, and she throws in a very confusing thing which is, "I'm so proud of you," which is coming from a real place and an honest and seemingly healthy place, but it may not be for Riley. There's no answer for it. I love you how guys did it in "Up" and you did it in "Inside Out" and kudos to you, but I think that talks to what you were just saying about incorporating those honest moments.
I think we've found or we've at least worked toward that sweet spot of honoring the movies we love like the classic Disney animated movies, the Dumbos or the Lady and the Tramps. They're just really fun and entertaining but have this emotional core to them.
–Jonas Rivera, Pixar
Pete: For us it was a reinforcing, just at the moment, Joy was losing her viewpoint and her statement on the way things should be run, she was having to step back from the console, and the other guys are going to now start to complain and get angry and things like that. Mom comes in and says, "You know what I really love is when you're happy." So Joy's like, "Oh, OK. I should continue to be in charge." That was really the driver behind that sequence because it reinforced Joy to give it a little more interest to that. Jonas: It's Joy’s "Told you so," kind of.
Pete: Yeah, which of course in the end might be wrong on mom's part as well. We wrote that a couple times so that it didn't feel too manipulative or like you say, it's honest from mom's standpoint. She is valuing the fact that Riley's happy and upbeat about the move.
Travis: And I love that all of your emotions were confused at the same time. Nobody knew what do with that situation, including the audience.
Jonas: Including the filmmakers.
On balancing heavy topics in a family film
Jonas: There's sort of a jury. It's not me. I'm part of it. I mean I'm the producer of the film so I certainly try to be the canary in the coal mine. All the filmmakers, the writers, the directors, the producers, the story artists, we constantly screen the film to each other, and we're very critical of the films. That comes through, so you can see patterns. You get, I don't know, the structuralist writing, directing film notes. Then the other thing we do is we bring in departments that don't normally give notes, so I'll bring in finance or security, honestly, because then you're simulating what a real audience might see, and we look at patterns. It might be, oh, yeah, no one likes Joy or whatever it would be. If 50 people said they didn't understand what this may mean, so it tells us maybe what the story needs.
Pete: It has been interesting. I think back on "Up," we had that sequence we called "Married Life" at the beginning where we had a beat where they can't have kids. We did take some people looking at us saying that was too far. You guys pushed it too far. So we did an exercise of cutting it out. Interestingly, not only did you not care as deeply in that sequence, you didn't ultimately care as much on the whole film because that darkness was missing.
Jonas: Yeah, and it's like six seconds.
Pete: We said all right. It might be difficult for somebody, but I think it's necessary to really invest in the story.
Jonas: I had a friend of mine ... All my friends always tell me, "Ah, I love it!" But with that part specifically my friends said, "Yeah, man, that one got us."
On working at Pixar
Jonas: Pixar is pretty special because we push, and I'm proud of the films we make, but we're able to do that. John Lasseter pushes us, and it's pretty rare, I think ... People ask me, how did you pitch even a movie like "Up?" I said, I don't know. You pitch it to John. He was up for it, and we made it.
On Pixar tackling a Marvel or Lucas property
Pete: It's impossible to say "never" or "yes." I think what it would take, like all the films, is an interested, talented person to make it happen. If John Lasseter said, "I really want to see a combination of Marvel and Pixar," then it would happen. So far, we all have these independent towers that we work in. We cross-pollinate once in a while, but most of the time we're just off in our little tower.
Jonas: It's cool. Where that does happen strangely, and this is something we're passionate about, is the parks. All of those are going to show up in Disneyland and Disney World. It's kind of cool. I don't know, there's just something about all the characters live there.
Pete: That is interesting. Do the Marvel comic characters belong next to Star Wars?
Jonas: Right. I don't know. Even Merida. Does Merida stand next to Cinderella? I don't know.
We can’t say enough about how much we enjoyed talking to Docter and Rivera. In the coming weeks, we’ll let you know how much we enjoyed the film as well, but until then, it’s a good year to be a Pixar fan.
Travis Poppleton has been covering movie news, film reviews and live events for Deseret News and KSL.com since 2010 and co-hosts the FlixJunkies podcast. You can contact him at email@example.com.