Judging by a slew of rave reviews from critics and an impressive opening weekend at the box office — it’s now estimated to reach $92 million in ticket sales across nearly 4,000 theaters nationwide as of Saturday morning — Inside Out appears to be the epitome of a perfectly crafted Pixar film. The feel-good feature tracks the story five quirky emotions that live inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley: Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). Though one might rightly expect that a film about the inner workings of a pre-pubescent girl’s brain would be somewhat complicated to make, designing the main character of Joy unexpectedly became the greatest challenge for director Pete Docter (Up, Monsters, Inc.).
“There are many, many flavors of Joy,” Docter told EW earlier this year. “Without a doubt, she was the most difficult character to create.”
It took nearly 18 months for Docter and his team of six designers to arrive at the final version of Joy, taking her from a giddy gamine sketched in black and white to a blue-haired sprite in a yellow smocked dress.
“Pete was always concerned with Joy not being annoying. There’s a certain point where if someone is overly happy all the time, they become really annoying,” character designer Albert Lonzano shared with EW in an interview this March. That being the case, the Inside Out design team decided to explore “a lot of different avenues” of Joy’s personality, Lonzano explained. “A tomboy, being kind, mischievous, kind of a rascal-type …[and we wanted to] play around with Joy, like what does she look like when she’s sad?”
Ultimately, Docter considers Joy successful, and not because her pixie cut captures her sweet sensibility just so. “This character drives our lives,” remarked Docter.
“I think that’s why I was super excited about the concept from the beginning, because with animation, you can express feelings stronger than with real people.”