Recently, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera, Inside Out director and producer respectively, to pick their brains about the making of the film. We expected to hear about the inventive character design, the dynamite cast, and whatever technological advancements Pixar has cooked up lately, but we were not planning to be floored by the personal, relatable inspiration behind Inside Out.
When Pete and Jonas set up the screening for us, Pete started talking about his daughter Elie. (Pixar fans will recognize Elie as the namesake and one of the voices for Carl’s wife in Up.) He talked about how outgoing and silly she was as a child, the friendly sort of girl who would introduce herself to strangers without fear: “Hi, I’m Elie! What’s your name?” At age 11, however, Pete observed that Elie’s “childhood joy took a vacation.” As he reflected on the changes that every parent must see in their growing children, he couldn’t help but wonder what was going on in inside her head, and thus, the world of Inside Out was born.
As Jonas explained: “The minute he pitched it about her [Elie] changing, I thought, ‘Oh gosh, I’m right behind you, man.’ My daughter’s nine now and I’m seeing it. And I thought, everyone’s either had a kid or been a kid—there’s something that will resonate with everyone. So, it really became this exercise of parenting and us three [Pete, Jonas, and co-director Ronnie del Carmen] talking ourselves through that.”
More than just an exercise in parenting, Inside Out helped Pete work through his own childhood memories. “I still have, sort of, remnant issues from having difficult times in junior high. I think to some degree that’s why I’m in animation, you know, because it was so hard talking to other people. It’s a lot easier to sit in my room and draw, because you still have something to say…so all those things kind of came together to make it a very personal film. Watching my daughter sparked memories of my own childhood.”
To give you a sense of how long this process has been, Elie Docter is now 16. What began as an observation from Pete is now a fully developed world of the mind, complete with the starring emotions of Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust. Every human in the film has this roster of five emotions, but uses them in different order, which in a simple way, explains how “childhood joy” can take the backseat as we grow up. As Pete said, “That’s what the film is about. It’s probably one of the more difficult things in our lives, is growing up.”