Writer-director Peter Docter ’s upcoming film is set in a place where few men have dared venture: the mind of a pre-pubescent girl. Pixar’s Inside Out—out June 19—was inspired by the Up director’s young daughter Elie, whose entry into adolescence transformed her from a mischievous girl into a “quiet” pre-teen. “[As parents] we were like, ‘Wow, that’s so unlike her, what’s going on her brain?’” recalls Docter, who made his directorial debut with Monsters Inc. “And that’s what lead to the heart of the story—the question of what goes on inside our own minds.”
With Inside Out, Docter tackles the story of 11-year-old Riley, whose father’s new job uproots the family from their small Midwest town to bustling San Francisco. Immersed in a brand-new school surrounded by unfamiliar faces, Riley struggles to understand her unpredictable emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith), who operate in a high-tech mission control center located in Riley’s mind. The feature alternates between scenes in Riley’s real-world environment and the far-flung depths of her mind, as explored by Joy.
“[Joy] goes to places like dream productions, where dreams are shot live every night in this massive Hollywood studio with a back lot, props, and costumes,” says Docter. “Hopefully there will be multiple places where everyone just goes, ‘Whoa.’”
And while the original idea for the film was inspired by events at home, Docter’s extensive research on emotional intelligence with neurologists convinced him that traditional human-like forms just wouldn’t do for his expressive characters.
“Emotions are completely bonkers, so we wanted to convey that,” says Docter, who eventually settled on a design featuring “energetic points of light” reminiscent of firing neural pathways. Perky, blue-eyed Joy was the toughest emotion for Docter to nail, which has amused Poehler, the actress playing her. “The brain of a young girl is a funny, complex, and miraculous thing,” the Parks and Recreation star says.
Below, check out EW‘s exclusive first look at the trailer for the mind-bending animated film.