The Washington Post

‘In­side Out’ ex­plores angst of ado­les­cence

- BY MICHAEL CAVNA michael.cavna@wash­

The shift is sharp enough to make grown men weep. One day your child bounces with the rel­a­tively grav­ity-free air of in­no­cence and joy. And then, just like that, a dif­fer­ent life form moves in, sim­i­lar in ap­pear­ance but not quite in spirit.

Con­grat­u­la­tions, Dad. It’s an ado­les­cent.

Pixar film­maker Pete Doc­ter knows this road map well. It played out about five years ago when, as for most all par­ents, it spurred twin, par­al­lel sen­sa­tions.

“My daugh­ter is chang­ing,” Doc­ter says he thought when his Elie was 11. “She used to have this happy, goofy spirit.

“But she be­gan to move to­ward be­ing more quiet and more reclu­sive.”

It wasn’t just his daugh­ter’s shift and drift that stirred his emo­tions. As most par­ents can at­test, it has a prism-like ef­fect, a sense of re­fracted dual­ity, as you stare squarely at the present while re­flect­ing on your past.

“It was two things,” Doc­ter re­calls of that time. “It trig­gered my own fears. I was pretty nerdy as a kid, and things stressed me out. I won­dered: ‘How do I fit in and what do I say? What are the so­cial things I should do?’ And then, in fifth grade, my folks moved us [from Min­nesota] to Den­mark. It was all that.

“Watch­ing my daugh­ter made me a lit­tle sad,” Doc­ter con­tin­ues. “As a par­ent, I was play­ing and be­ing a part of that ‘pre­tend-play.’ And that was go­ing away [at 11]. That was a big part of the film.”

“The film” is “In­side Out,” Pixar’s first orig­i­nal movie since 2012. Doc­ter’s five-year la­bor of love is his first di­rect­ing ef­fort since the bril­liant, Os­car-win­ning “Up.” In “In­side Out” (in the­aters Fri­day), the fam­ily of 11-year-old Ri­ley moves from Min­nesota to San Fran­cisco, and the girl must leave be­hind her friends and school and hockey team, even as an un­fur­nished new home is cold and bare and un­invit­ing.

Yet Doc­ter’s vi­sion is not sim­ply a tale viewed from a movie’s typ­i­cal phys­i­cal per­spec­tive. The film­maker was sparked by an age-old ques­tion — “What in the world are you think­ing?” — but he had the abil­ity to seek an­swers with new-age tech­nol­ogy. The CGI-an­i­mated “In­side Out” spends most of its time in­side Ri­ley’s mind, in a col­or­fully ab­stracted place where five emo­tions chat­ter and quar­rel at Head­quar­ters: Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), Sad­ness (Phyl­lis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Dis­gust (Mindy Kal­ing) and Fear (Bill Hader).

“One of the big de­ci­sions I made early on was to say that the movie is set in the mind, not the brain,” Doc­ter says by phone from the Los An­ge­les area. “There are no blood ves­sels and den­drites — it’s a bit more ab­stract.

“Freud and Jung and neu­rol­o­gists kind of break down the mind very dif­fer­ently, and re­search for the film was es­sen­tial,” Doc­ter con­tin­ues. “This film kind of mixes the two.”

At the air-traf­fic-like con­sole that is Ri­ley’s men­tal HQ, Joy runs the show and the han­dling of “core mem­o­ries” — at least un­til dawn­ing ado­les­cence seems to im­bue Sad­ness with ac­ci­den­tal yet in­flu­en­tial pow­ers, Then, when Joy and Sad­ness end up out­side Head­quar­ters, des­per­ate to catch a Train of Thought back where they be­long, our 11-yearold girl is ruled by con­flict­ing Fear and Dis­gust, with ex­plo­sions of Anger — in ways that fit­tingly play out like blended blasts of sar­casm. Those three tem­po­rar­ily rul­ing emo­tions — less nu­anced here than Joy and Sad­ness — are played as pure “types.”

“I’m a pretty anx­ious per­son,” says Hader, a for­mer “Satur­day Night Live” stand­out, ac­knowl­edg­ing his easy fit to play Fear. “And he’s a mid­dle-man­age­ment kind of guy — we just put a bow tie on him. He’s an archetype per­son who ex­em­pli­fies this main emo­tion.”

Line for line, “In­side Out” may well be Pixar’s fun­ni­est film yet, even amid its tear-jerk­ing mo­ments. Doc­ter gives much of the credit to his comedic all-stars. “We have amaz­ing comic tal­ents,” he says of all these NBC- and Com­edy Cen­tral-honed stars. “We played around a lot of times, and the hu­mor was [of­ten] in the way things are said. Some­times, the words on pa­per were not that funny, but when some­one like Mindy said them. . . .”

The cast re­turns the fullthroat­ed praise. Black says of Doc­ter: “He’s a ge­nius. It’s un­be­liev­able. And it’s re­ally an­noy­ing.”

Af­ter punc­tu­at­ing that last line with a laugh, Black ex­pands: “It’s just, more than any­thing, this over­all sense of, he knew what he was go­ing for — just watch­ing him [ex­pertly] fill in the blanks for his vi­sion.”

“He is a ge­nius,” Hader echoes about Doc­ter. “And he’s in­cred­i­bly mod­est — he’s kind of like Jim Hen­son: Mod­est and very sweet, and he does this amaz­ing thing of let­ting you do your thing. . . . He’s very in­tu­itive. He’s not think­ing: ‘ This is some­thing the kids will love, and will get gi­ant week­end box of­fice.’

“He’s a real artist. He thinks: ‘ This is what moves me.’ And this is per­sonal to him.”

Per­sonal enough that you can de­tect re­flec­tions of Doc­ter’s life arc in his cin­e­matic dossier. A quar­ter-cen­tury ago, he was only sev­eral years into adult­hood him­self when, as a newly minted 21-year-old grad of Cal Arts, he be­came one of Pixar’s first hires. By the time he di­rected the stu­dio’s “Mon­sters, Inc.,” hav­ing chil­dren at home was al­ready in­spir­ing his story de­ci­sions.

“I think be­ing a par­ent,” Doc­ter says, “has af­fected ev­ery film I’ve worked on.”

And ush­er­ing two teenagers through ado­les­cence pro­vided the truths to which he can al­ways re­turn cre­atively.

“That was a core thing through­out the whole film: Try­ing to tap into that dif­fi­culty — that kids grow up and it’s sad and it’s beau­ti­ful and it’s nec­es­sary.”

And what does Elie, now that she’s 16, think of the 11-year-old Pixar char­ac­ter she helped in­spire?

“She saw it a cou­ple of months ago,” Doc­ter says, “and she said [plainly]: ‘Good movie, Dad.’ ”

No em­bel­lish­ment. No overex­cite­ment. Just the di­rect­ness of a high schooler hurtling to­ward adult­hood.

Sounds per­haps like per­sonal in­spi­ra­tion for Pete Doc­ter’s next movie.

 ?? DIS­NEY/PIXAR ?? Sad­ness, Fear, Anger, Dis­gust and Joy are char­ac­ters in the mind of a child in the film “In­side Out.”
DIS­NEY/PIXAR Sad­ness, Fear, Anger, Dis­gust and Joy are char­ac­ters in the mind of a child in the film “In­side Out.”
 ?? AN­DREAS RENTZ/GETTY IM­AGES ?? Di­rec­tor Pete Doc­ter’s work on the Pixar film “In­side Out” was greatly shaped by his ob­ser­va­tions of changes in his daugh­ter, Elie.
AN­DREAS RENTZ/GETTY IM­AGES Di­rec­tor Pete Doc­ter’s work on the Pixar film “In­side Out” was greatly shaped by his ob­ser­va­tions of changes in his daugh­ter, Elie.

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