For the last two years, perhaps the most mystery-shrouded project at Pixar Animation has been the next film by "Monster's Inc." and "Up" director Pete Docter, a story set inside the brain of a young girl.
At the D23 Expo in Anaheim over the weekend, Docter and his producer, Jonas Rivera, revealed more about the quirky, ambitious movie during Disney's animation panel, introducing its cast, showing test footage and finally giving the long-untitled project a name — "Inside Out."
"Inside Out" follows an outgoing 11-year-old girl named Riley whose family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco just as she's hitting the turbulent emotional waters of adolescence. (It's surely no accident that Docter, a native Minnesotan, is the father of a teenage daughter).
That's where the conventional setup ends — Riley isn't just the protagonist of "Inside Out," she is also, as Docter explained, the setting. The other main characters are emotions who live inside Riley's mind — Anger, a short red square with a necktie voiced by Lewis Black; Disgust, a querulous green sprite (Mindy Kaling); Fear, a thin-shouldered purple wimp (Bill Hader); Joy, a perky yellow fairy (Amy Poehler); and Sadness, a round blue mope with glasses (Phyllis Smith). The emotions govern Riley's actions, store her memories and compete for control over "headquarters."
By focusing not on superheroes or talking animals but on the decidedly complicated realm of the human mind, "Inside Out" will be both a creative gamble for its filmmakers and challenge for Disney's marketing department. Is anyone doing pre-awareness surveys on Anger? Surely Fear is trending among young and old audiences alike.
But Docter has a history of pulling off at least one improbable success — his 2009 movie "Up," about a cantankerous 78-year-old who ties a cluster of balloons to his house, grossed $731 million and won the Oscar for animated feature.
Like "Up," which had a silent mini movie within it about the life and death of its main character's wife, "Inside Out" plays with a seriocomic tone.
A rough scene Docter screened for the D23 audience showed how the emotional avatars will work in "Inside Out." During a family tiff, the action cuts back and forth between the real world of the dinner table and the internal monologues of Riley and her parents — as Riley mopes, Mom's emotions are distracted by the memory of a Brazilian helicopter pilot she once dated, and Dad's are zoning out on a hockey game.
The film also visualizes types of thoughts as places in the mind — "Abstract Thought" looks like a Picasso painting, "Imaginationland" like a Disney theme park and "Train of Thought" a choo-choo of sentience.
"What always excites me is finding a story that can only be done in animation," Docter said at the panel. "It has to have an element of truth to it, though."
"Inside Out" opens June 19, 2015.
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