Go Inside Pete Docter’s Mind: 5 Disney Classics That Inspired Inside Out

For eagle-eyed Disney fans, Disney•Pixar’s Inside Out, about a quintet of emotions that steer a young girl named Riley through turbulent times, offers a cornucopia of inside jokes, Easter eggs, and hidden shout-outs. (Seriously, this is a never-distracting bonanza of references.) But to focus purely on those, especially before the movie comes out, would be an infraction that borders on the criminal. So before we do a deep dive into the movie’s various references, visual tips-of-the-hat and hidden gags, we want to talk about the Disney classics that helped inspire Inside Out in a fundamental way.


And to help us in this discussion, we chatted with co-writer/director Pete Docter and producer Jonas Rivera. Together, they told us about the Disney classics that helped inspire Disney•Pixar’s Inside Out, a movie that, as far as we’re concerned, is already a classic.


Monsters, Inc.

Sulley and Boo_Monsters Inc

There’s a section of the movie where emotions Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) travel to the section of Riley’s mind that generates her nightly subconscious entertainment. This place is called Dreamland Studios. And it bears an uncanny resemblance to an early version of Docter’s previous feature Monsters, Inc. In this version of the beloved classic, monsters Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) are entertainers, not scary things-that-go-bump-in-the-night. When we brought this up with Docter, he seemed surprised that we knew this (he also seemed to barely remember this version of Monsters, Inc.) himself. “Yeah, you’re right!” Docter exclaimed. “We had a very early version where they did that for entertainment.”


Reason and Emotion


A far more esoteric inspiration came in the form of Reason and Emotion, a beautifully animated short film (running about eight-and-a-half minutes) that depicts reason and emotion as anthropomorphized characters inside the human head. It was produced during World War II, when the Walt Disney Studios was occupied by the American military, making it a unique time capsule of a rarely talked-about era. The parallels between Reason and Emotion and Inside Out are obvious but Docter was drawn, specifically, to some of the animation. “Growing up with Illusion of Life [the reference book by original Disney animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas], there are some great Ollie Johnston drawings in there,” Docter recalled. “I remember them referencing that short as being a great chance to show off this character of emotion. It was a great tour-de-force of animation. So, I don’t know, that’s stuck in my head.” Rivera also admitted that, “Yeah, we looked at that,” before adding that he loved the Leonard Maltin-curated DVD where you can currently find the short. (We agree: it’s great.)


Cranium Command

Cranium Command

Many have pointed out the superficial similarities between the setup of Inside Out and Cranium Command, an attraction that was housed in the now-defunct Wonders of Life pavilion at Epcot Center. That attraction featured celebrities portraying various parts of the body that control functions, and the casting is charmingly ‘90s (Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon, for instance, play the Right and Left Ventricles in the form of their Hans and Franz characters from Saturday Night Live). But the emphasis is on the physiological, not emotional, even if the core is somewhat the same. What is really amazing, though, is that Docter worked on Cranium Command as a young animator. “It was only months later that I realized, Hey, this is kind of close to Cranium Command. It was not even close,” Docter explained. “We were really pushing to get away from the physical.” Still, Docter looks back on the experience fondly. “That was a cool experience. I was supposed to be a development intern. But Charlie Fink, who was the head of development, said, ‘Well, there’s nothing going on, so we’re going to put you on this short film that Rob Minkoff is directing.’ He ended up being taken off and replaced, because he went off to do the Roger Rabbit shorts, so he was replaced by Kirk [Wise] and Gary [Trousdale], and that was the first thing that they directed.” Rivera interjected: “I remember it being really funny.” Docter then continued: “I was the first animator on and since I was just a development intern, this was with Minkoff, he gave me a really good speech and said, ‘Look, I know you can do really funny, well-timed animation but what you need to work on is your draftsmanship skills. Can you pull off Disney-quality craftsmanship but with the timing you bring to your short films? Can you do that with these characters?’ And I said, ‘Okay!’ I ended up with a couple of the shots in the show.”


Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs


One reference point that has been bandied about during the long lead-up to Inside Out has been Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney’s original animated classic. This mostly has to do with the similarities between the emotions and the seven dwarfs, in terms of clearly identifiable characters. But producer Rivera explained that they were going for something a little more ethereal. “When you first pitched it, you said that these characters could be really clear, get-able, on the first frame you know who’s who,” Rivera said, shooting a look to Docter. “And to me, I just went to the Seven Dwarfs. So we watched that. We even went over to the Walt Disney Family Museum and looked at the model sheets. Like how amazingly appealing and clear those characters are.” Rivera then shared a recent personal anecdote. “I took my kids to Disney World a couple of weeks ago and it was like, There’s the Grumpy T-shirt. If we do our job right, 80 years from now there will be an Anger T-shirt in Disney World or on the Disneyland that’ll be on the moon,” Rivera said. “So it wasn’t narratively or structurally but there’s an inherent charm to that movie and a grace that I was hoping we could eek out in this movie.”


John Sibley


Another reference point for Docter was John Sibley, an original Disney animator who worked on over 40 Goofy shorts and who is well known for his elastic animation style (he started off as an in-betweener on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and went on to work on big sequences for some of the most beloved features). “I was a big fan of John Sibley, who is this unsung animator who did a lot of Goofy animation, like the “How to…” cartoons,” Docter explained. “And to me he was always able to capture this wonderful, loose, weird kind of movement that felt physically believable but more extreme than what any actor could do. And I thought – that’s what I want for our guys. Like if you saw Amy Poehler moving the way that Joy moves, her limbs would break.” Rivera quickly added: “It would be horrible.” Docter continued: “And I’m not sure you’d believe it anyway. We can get away with stuff that you can’t in real life and really push it, make it even more exaggerated and super-charged.”


Inside Out is in theaters this Friday.

Posted 6 years Ago
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