2014 marks the first year since 2005 that audiences won't be treated to a new Pixar film. That's a remarkably sobering thought; the annual Pixar release has become something of an institution in that sub-decade production streak, as sure a sign that summer has arrived as the usual glut of big, tentpole blockbusters that clogs up multiplexes. A June without a fresh offering from the Disney off-shoot is missing something, like the fourth of July without fireworks, or perhaps a birthday without a cake.
Pixar knows it, too, and so they're putting in the work now to remind us that they have projects coming down the pipeline for 2015. That's "projects", plural; The Good Dinosaur, initially planned for 2014, wound up being pushed back to November 2015 while Inside Out remains on the docket for a June 2015 premiere. Between these, little has been said or seen about the former - likely because it's still being polished and tweaked by animators - but the latter has become quite the topic of conversation since receiving a full synopsis just a couple of weeks back.
That summary makes the film seem conceptually conventional; it's about a young girl, Riley, struggling to cope with the stresses of moving to a new city. The twist, of course, is that Inside Out takes place in her mind, and her emotions (Joy, Disgust, Sadness, Anger, and Fear) represent its primary cast. But according to Pete Docter, returning for his third stint in the director's chair (following Up and Monsters, Inc.) the movie is much more than just a creative spin on a boilerplate plot. In point of fact, it's based on something much more personal.
Docter staged a presentation for Inside Out at this year's Annecy International Animated Film Festival, which Variety was lucky enough to attend, where he showed off (unfinished) bits and pieces from the film, talked about the research performed in service to its narrative, and generally brought the house down. Turns out that Docter isn't just interested in high-concept abstraction for its own sake. He has a story from the heart to tell, encapsulated with the following quote:
I thought I was making a film about my daughter, but the truth is, I’m more making a film about myself in relation to my daughter and understanding that. The film is told from a parent’s point of view, and being a parent, I just sort of slipped into that, I guess. It’s definitely made me think again about the way I grew up, my adolescence, and even on a day-to-day basis what I’m doing and why.
That's as good a starting point as any for telling a story about growing pains and childhood, and from the sound of things, Docter wants to back up the anecdotal basis for Inside Out with very real science (though the intention, according to him, isn't necessarily to make a scientific picture). If he's using his own experiences as a father and an adult as the foundation for the film, then the numerous theories on the functionality of the human mind are the mortar. Everything else - the retro-futuristic portrayal of the inside of Riley's brain, the colorful anthropomorphized characters that steer the ship of her emotions - is all style.
Considering the spiral of sequelization that Pixar has undergone in the 2010's - begun with Toy Story 3 (admittedly only their second sequel at the time of its premiere), temporarily capped off with last year's Monsters University, and to be continued with 2016's Finding Dory, a possible Incredibles sequel, and an inevitable third entry in the Cars series - all of this should be taken as good, if not great, news. After all, Pixar made its name on original, inventive storytelling rather than franchising. Seeing them get back to that with Inside Out is exciting. Hopefully, it'll be worth the wait.
Inside Out opens in US theaters on June 19th, 2015.