'Sadness Is Like A Superhero': Amy Poehler On Pixar's 'Inside Out'

'Sadness Is Like A Superhero': Amy Poehler On Pixar's 'Inside Out'

10:23am Jun 24, 2015
"[Sadness is] such a funny opposite energy to Joy, who is literally jumping up and down," Poehler says. "And Sadness just wants to lie down and kind of feel her feelings." Poehler plays Joy (left) and Phyllis Smith plays Sadness in the new film Inside Out
"[Sadness is] such a funny opposite energy to Joy, who is literally jumping up and down," Poehler says. "And Sadness just wants to lie down and kind of feel her feelings." Poehler plays Joy (left) and Phyllis Smith plays Sadness in the new film Inside
Disney/Pixar
  • "[Sadness is] such a funny opposite energy to Joy, who is literally jumping up and down," Poehler says. "And Sadness just wants to lie down and kind of feel her feelings." Poehler plays Joy (left) and Phyllis Smith plays Sadness in the new film Inside Out

    "[Sadness is] such a funny opposite energy to Joy, who is literally jumping up and down," Poehler says. "And Sadness just wants to lie down and kind of feel her feelings." Poehler plays Joy (left) and Phyllis Smith plays Sadness in the new film Inside

    Disney/Pixar

  • Joy (Poehler) and the other four emotions take turns at the controls of a console in 11-year-old Riley's head.

    Joy (Poehler) and the other four emotions take turns at the controls of a console in 11-year-old Riley's head.

    Disney/Pixar

A new animated feature from Pixar aims to do the near-impossible, as any parent would tell you: get inside the mind of a preteen girl. Inside Out is about an 11-year-old girl named Riley, but the real stars are her emotions — five colorful characters representing joy, sadness, anger, fear and disgust.

Pete Docter, the creative force behind Up and Monsters, Inc., wrote and directed the film, and actress Amy Poehler plays Joy. Both of them laugh about one of the biggest challenges of the movie: deciding how many emotions to include.

"We started by talking to all these scientists about which emotions are there, and there's no consensus, which is kind of baffling" Docter tells NPR's Renee Montagne. "So some guys would say, 'Well there's three basic emotions.' And then someone else would tell us there's 27 basic emotions. ... I almost bought them, but then the room got too crowded so we cut it back down to five."

In the movie, Riley's emotions see the world through Riley's eyes and take turns at the controls of a console that determines how she feels at any given moment. Joy is the star, but Sadness is the key to the movie's meaning: Riley was all about Joy until she's torn from her blissful childhood home in Minnesota by her father's new job in San Francisco. As Riley's childhood friends and fun recede, Joy struggles to keep control and Sadness starts giving Riley the blues.


Interview Highlights

On Joy

Poehler: Joy goes through her own journey in the film: She realizes that she has to also be sad. And so when we were working on the character together, it was like: What level are we at in the beginning? Can we modulate that? And how does she change?

Docter: Joy was a really hard character — of all the characters in the movie, the hardest one to write — because people who are just relentlessly positive and upbeat at all times, you kind of want to smack them, you know? You just don't take them seriously. You don't trust them. And I remember we had that discussion when we first met. We were struggling with that. One of the keys that we tried to do together was to show a kind of a vulnerability at times, that she doesn't just react to horror by saying, "Let's go!" You know, she has a moment of letting it sink in ... so you really feel it before she then powers on.

On Disgust

Docter: Disgust is about keeping you from being poisoned. And that can be either physically — like don't eat the gross food — or socially — don't wear that disgusting dress because your friends will mock you. ... And that's especially big amongst teenagers.

On Sadness

Poehler: It's such a funny opposite energy to Joy, who is literally jumping up and down. And Sadness just wants to lie down and kind of feel her feelings. And there's a beautiful moment in the film where Sadness sits down next to a character, and he's upset about something. And Joy's first instinct is to kind of distract him and cheer him up and talk over him. And Sadness sits down next to him and says, "I'm very sorry that you lost something that you love. That must make you very sad." And frankly, it's like a pamphlet on how to speak about loss, because it's just someone sitting next to you and saying, "I'm very sorry that you're sad and you lost something that you love, and that must be hard." The end, you know? So Sadness is like a superhero.

On how the movie's lessons have resonated with Poehler's kids

Poehler: It's such a great tool to be able to talk to young people. It's very hard to sit a child down and say, "How are you feeling?" ... I have young boys and they say things like, you know, "Isn't it funny how Anger doesn't listen?" And I say, "Yeah, you know that was kind of like what was happening the other day with you at school." You know? Or they say, "I think that I'm like Fear when I don't want to go to bed." ... It's like one step away from their actual feelings and they feel really safe in talking about it.

And also in the film there are these core memories, this idea that we all have these memories that shape us and we remember them. And I asked my son what his core memories were. And he listed off five things — some were big and some were small. And just to hear a young person tell you, like, "My life so far," it's fascinating.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

A new animated feature from Pixar aims to do the near impossible - get inside the mind of a preteen girl. "Inside Out" follows the story of 11-year-old Riley, but the main characters are her emotions - five colorful creatures.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "INSIDE OUT")

AMY POEHLER: (As Joy) I'm Joy. This is sadness. That's anger.

LEWIS BLACK: (As Anger) What?

POEHLER: (As Joy) This is disgust.

MINDY KALING: (As Disgust) (Groans).

POEHLER: (As Joy) And that's fear.

BILL HADER: (As Fear) (Screams).

POEHLER: (As Joy) We're Riley's emotions.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

MONTAGNE: Pete Docter wrote and directed the movie. He was also the creative force behind "Up" and "Monsters Inc." I sat down with him and actress Amy Poehler, who plays Joy. Both of them laughed about one of the biggest challenges of the movie - how many emotions to include.

PETE DOCTER: Well, we started by talking to all of these scientists about which emotions are there. And there's no consensus, which is kind of baffling. So some guys would say well, there's three basic emotions. And then someone else would tell us there's 27 basic emotions. And we're like what? OK, we're going just have to...

POEHLER: That guy was just trying to sell you some extra emotions. He had some emotions he needed to unload.

DOCTER: (Laughter) That's right. I almost bought them, but then the room got too crowded, so we cut it back down to five.

MONTAGNE: In the movie, the young girl Riley's emotions operate out of Headquarters. They see the world through Riley's eyes and take turns at the controls of a console that determines how she feels at any given moment. Now this is the rare animated film that's about a regular girl who is not a princess. But why make it about her emotions?

DOCTER: We're trying to put our own life experiences up on the screen, so this film spoke to me. And I feel like a lot of folks I talked to, a lot of women, were really concerned in junior high with social issues. And that was totally me. I was not into sports and things, but the thing that stressed me out was like did I say the wrong thing? Am I wearing the wrong clothes? All that kind of stuff. Also, when we talked to psychologists about this whole thing, they said there is no one on Earth more socially aware and attune than an 11- to 17-year-old girl. And that was pretty striking and made us think OK, we're hunting in the right area here.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "INSIDE OUT")

POEHLER: (As Joy) The first day of school, very, very exciting. I was up late last night figuring out a new plan. Here it is - fear...

MONTAGNE: That's Amy Poehler as Joy, someone used to being in charge. But that begins to change as Riley leaves childhood behind and heads into the more complicated world of adolescence.

POEHLER: Joy goes through her own journey in the film. She realizes that she has to also be sad. And so when we were working on the character together, it was like what level are we at in the beginning? Can we modulate that, and how does she change?

DOCTER: Joy was a really hard character - of all the characters in the movie, the hardest one to write because people who are just relentlessly positive and upbeat at all times, you kind of want to smack them, you know? You just don't take them seriously. You don't trust them.

POEHLER: Right.

DOCTER: And I remember we had that discussion when we first met because we were struggling with that. One of the keys that we tried to do together was to show a kind of a vulnerability at times that she doesn't just react to horror by saying let's go. You know, she has a moment of letting it sink in and, oh, my - you know, so she really feels it before she then powers on, you know.

MONTAGNE: Joy is the star.

DOCTER: Right.

MONTAGNE: She's at the center. She's the protagonist...

POEHLER: She's literally the star. They base - they based her off of a star, you know? All the emotions have colors and shapes assigned to them.

MONTAGNE: She also has blue hair.

POEHLER: She has blue hair and sadness has blue hair, which is very cool that they share the same hair. Now, Pete, was that on purpose or did someone make a mistake in the lab?

DOCTER: In the lab.

(LAUGHTER)

POEHLER: I don't know how animation works. You guys run it through a lab, right?

DOCTER: Right.

MONTAGNE: You picked four other emotions as your core emotions. Disgust, though, is a funny one because disgust appears as a green-eyed mean girl.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "INSIDE OUT")

POEHLER: (As Joy) Disgust, make sure Riley stands out today, but also blend in.

KALING: (As Disgust) When I'm through, Riley will look so good, the other kids will look at their own outfits and barf.

MONTAGNE: You kind of think at first - I must say - why is she in there?

DOCTER: Well, disgust is about keeping you from being poisoned and that can be either physically, like don't eat the gross food or socially - don't wear that disgusting dress because your friends will mock you.

MONTAGNE: And that's a good thing.

DOCTER: Yeah, and that's especially big amongst teenagers, right? (Laughter).

MONTAGNE: The emotion, though, that is the key to the meaning of the entire film is sadness. Riley is torn from her blissful childhood home in Minnesota when her father's new job takes the family to San Francisco. As Riley's childhood friends and fun recede into memory, Joy struggles to keep control, and Sadness finds herself unwittingly giving Riley the blues.

POEHLER: It's such a funny opposite energy to Joy, who is literally jumping up and down. And Sadness just wants to lie down and kind of feel her feelings. And there's a beautiful moment where Sadness sits down next to a character, and he's upset about something. And Joy's first instinct is to kind of distract him and cheer him up and talk over him. And Sadness sits down next to him and says I'm very sorry that you lost something that you love. That must make you very sad. And frankly, it's like a pamphlet on how to speak about loss because it's just someone sitting next to you and saying I'm very sorry that you're sad and you lost something that you love, and that must be hard. The end.

MONTAGNE: Do you think kids will pick up on the loss that's in there as much as, obviously, adults do?

DOCTER: Yeah. I mean, I think they do in a different way and probably not as deeply leveled ways because they haven't lived as much life as adults have. But I do think kids are almost more in tune with emotions than adults are. We've spent a large part of our lives trying to reconcile the fact that it's not OK to drop on the floor and throw a fit because I can't have ice cream, right?

POEHLER: It's fascinating the conversations that I've been hearing young people have after the film. They're just thinking about how they're thinking. And it's very hard to sit a child down and say how are you feeling? And they say you know, I'm glad you asked. You know, it just...

(LAUGHTER)

POEHLER: ...Doesn't happen. But you can - you know, I have young boys, and they say things like, you know, isn't it funny how Anger doesn't listen? And I say yeah, you know, that was kind of like what was happening the other day with you at school. You know, or they say I think that I'm like fear when I don't want to go to bed or something. It's like one step away from their actual feelings, and they feel really safe in talking about it.

MONTAGNE: Thank you both.

POEHLER: Thanks, Renee.

DOCTER: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: That is Amy Poehler and Pete Docter. She is the star and he is the director of the movie "Inside Out." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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