Doing a movie that depicts the conflicting emotions and the unique state of mind of a teenage girl is hard enough in traditional live action story telling. Animating these emotions and uniting them into a cohesive human personality is particularly tough and presents its own set of story problems.
Disney Pixar Movies's Inside Out took five years to develop. A few of those years were spent straightening out character and plot problems that prevented Inside Out from moving forward in a thematically cohesive way.
The director Pete Doctor (Up) whittled the teenage experience down to five basic emotions each with its own character: Joy, Fear, Sadness, Anger and Disgust. The story revolves 11-year old Riley and her emotional adjustment to moving to San Francisco. Joy (Amy Poehler) is the lead emotion which has "Headquarters" in Riley's brain.
Inside Out's editor Kevin Nolting described some of those changes in an interview with Carolyn Giardina of The Hollywood Reporter.
“The concept was so great, but the plot was hard to pin down,” Nolting told The Hollywood Reporter. “We went through two or three major story lines before we landed on the one we have.”
“In earlier versions, Riley [already] lived in San Francisco, and the story was basically about growing up and having the arc be Joy realizing that the emotions have to work together. The appreciation of Sadness came much later,” related Nolting, who also edited Docter's previous Pixar film, the Academy Award-winning Up.
“In the second version it was Fear who went off with Joy, and Sadness didn’t play that big of a part in the story,” Nolting continued. “It was about Joy clinging to this childhood version of Riley. On her first day of middle school, Riley would embarrass herself by acting very childish. This was all Joy’s fault because she wouldn’t let Riley grow up. She was like the overprotective parent who didn’t want this happy kid to ever feel any pain. And we ran with that for over a year. The story revolved around Riley [and] a high school party. The changes over the next two years were just radical.”
Animated films are usually carefully story-boarded before the actual production process begins. In Pixar's case the storyboards are previewed for approval by Pixar's creative brain trust which includes Disney Pixar creative chief John Lasseter. These creatives serve as unbiased eyes that spot problems and further help shape the story in the right direction.
The turning point, the editor said, came “probably one and a half years into the process” while they were readying to show their progress to the brain trust. “We were still struggling with the story and had this brain trust screening coming up. We ran the whole movie for ourselves and realized it still just wasn’t working. Pete went for a walk on a Sunday and he came back and realized that Sadness was the key to the story. We called off the screening and rewrote major parts of the movie. That was the point where we landed on the current story.”
The scene during which Joy and Sadness land in the “memory dump” and go through Riley’s memories became key. The Pixar team made that the pivotal scene during which “Joy realizes Riley needs Sadness, and she has to get Sadness back to headquarters.
"From that point on, it was a matter of fine tuning,” Nolting said.
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