Pixar President Ed Catmull thinks the studio's next film, Inside Out, has the potential to be the next Up, "among our most original and affecting," he wrote in his book Creativity Inc. Although the animation hub has produced some of the most memorable movies of the last decade—with 14 consecutive No. 1 box office hits and $7 billion in worldwide ticket sales—some of its more recent films (see: the entire Cars franchise) have paled in comparison to monster hits like Frozen coming from Disney. But the project formerly known as The Untitled Pixar Movie That Takes You Inside the Mind sounded promising.
If a sneak peek director Pete Docter showed at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival is any indication, Pixar has indeed found its rhythm again with Inside Out. The movie takes place in the subconscious of a girl named Riley. The characters are a group of emotions played by an all-star cast including Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, and Bill Hader. Docter calls them "our version of Walt Disney's Seven Dwarfs." Throughout the movie the emotions interact with each other, as Riley adjusts to a move from a small town to San Francisco.
Here's Variety's Peter Debruge describing the first scene, which Docter played for the audience at the festival:
The inventive opening scene extends from the moment of Riley’s birth and the creation of her first memory to the introduction of its five main characters, ending with an encounter between Joy and Sadness where the former can't seem to figure out Sadness' role in the operation.
From the clip shown at the festival, Debruge said the movie could prove as meaningful as Dante's Divine Comedy, giving us a way to visualize human thought and emotion in a way like never before.
Part of the success of Inside Out, and many Pixar movies, is owed to the Pixar Braintrust, which offers creators a candid critique session from colleagues. As Catmull explains in his book, a group of 20 picked apart a 10-minute preview of the work in progress. While many of the scenes got laughs, a lively and honest discussion still followed. "I understand that you want to keep this simple and relatable," Brad Bird, a writer at Pixar told the director, "but I think we need something that your audience can get a little more invested in." He continued:
Pete, I want to give you a huge round of applause: This is a frickin' big idea to try to make a movie about," Brad continued, his voice full of affection. "I've said to you on previous ﬁlms, ‘You're trying to do a triple backﬂip into a gale force wind, and you're mad at yourself for not sticking the landing. Like, it's amazing you're alive.' This ﬁlm is the same. So, huge round of applause." Everyone clapped. Then Brad added, "And you're in for a world of hurt.
While most people would get defensive, the Braintrust not only allows people to talk honestly about a movie, but the most successful creators have to be willing to hear the criticisms. "Candor is only valuable if the person on the receiving end is open to it and willing, if necessary, to let go of things that don't work," Catmull writes in his book. Braintrust sessions have fundamentally changed movies, like Toy Story 3, for the better.
From the limited previews, it looks like Pixar's unique creative process has led to another winner. The movie is slated for release in June 2015.
[Image courtesy of Pixar Animation Studios]