Pixar turned to female exployees to make sure ‘Inside Out’ rang true

My first trip to Pixar”s Emeryville campus was 13 years ago. That alone was enough to give me pause when I was invited to the “Inside Out” press day. I”ve done it. I”ve taken the tour. I”ve seen the campus. I”ve met the artists and I”ve seen their amazing work spaces and I”ve had a chance to walk through pretty much every department. I remember standing outside the server room my first time up, looking in at the brain of this remarkable company, amazed at how those racks of black technology represented this collision of all this amazing human artistry. My other hesitation, honestly, was because we were told that we”d be seeing “part” of the movie. I”ve grown wary over the years of seeing movies in chunks because you can”t really react in any meaningful way since you”re not seeing something that”s complete.

Pixar”s at an interesting moment in their history, though. They”ve never seemed more vulnerable. There was this remarkable streak they had where it seemed like they couldn”t make a false step, and while I think they”ve continued to make good and even very good movies, the last few years have certainly seen a wider variety in quality. The sequel business has been good to them financially, but it has been far less exciting to watch. Even a great sequel like “Toy Story 3” is, at best, a step sideways creatively.

What got me on the plane and up to the Bay Area was the idea that there”s some original work coming, and from some of my favorite people at the company. Pete Docter is a tremendous talent, and he”s got some of the very best people in the business working with him to bring this very emotionally daring film to life.

By now, hopefully you”ve seen the trailers for “Inside Out.” The newest trailer is embedded at the top of this story, and the first time I saw that, I got choked up. Something about the second half of that trailer and watching that little girl wrestle with emotions she was unable to manage that broke my heart as a parent. I suspected that the man who made the whole world cry with the first ten minutes of “Up” was going to do something special with the notion of exploring the inner life of a child.

Now that I”ve seen the first hour of the film, it”s safe to say that they”ve done something very special indeed. Over the course of a long day at the studio, we walked through the lighting, story, cinematography, and design departments, and we spoke to the filmmakers about the entire process. We watched the way they approach every step of things, from the first idea to the final delivery, and it was a reminder of just how much thought goes into every frame of every one of their films. The full film has screened at both CinemaCon and Cannes, both of which happened after our press day, and it sounds like the reactions to the full feature have been incredibly strong, including a review from our own Greg Ellwood.

We also saw “Lava,” the short film that will be playing in front of “Inside Out” when it opens theatrically. “Lava” is a musical love story about a volcanic island who is alone in the middle of the ocean, singing about what he hopes will happen, the love he believes he”ll someday find. It”s one of the most direct and delicate shorts the studio”s ever released, and it seems like a perfect match for a feature film in which emotions are actual characters.

While I wouldn”t review a film based on seeing an hour of it, and I wouldn”t even technically review that hour, I can tell you that my reaction to it was as strong as my reaction to any of Pixar”s films. The main voice cast seems to be perfectly chosen, with Amy Poehler pretty much born to play the personification of Joy. There”s a character who hasn”t really appeared in much of the marketing so far, played by Richard Kind, who I found very sweet and sad. There are some big and bold visual ideas in the film, and some heartbreaking imagery.

There is one subtle touch that we discussed a few times over the course of the event, an interesting thematic detail. When you see the Headquarters inside Riley, the 11-year-old girl who is the main character in the film, it is clear that Joy is the one who is in charge. The other emotions like Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black) all play their parts, but Joy is the one in charge. When we see inside the heads of Riley”s mother (Diane Lane) or Riley”s father (Kyle McLachlan), we see that there are different emotions in charge, and it hit me pretty hard when we see which ones they are.