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Pete Docter puts emotion in motion in ‘Inside Out’

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Director Pete Docter poses to promote “Inside Out,” based in part on his own childhood memories. INVISION/AP/REBECCA CABAGE

Directed by Pete Docter, the new “Inside Out” is the most inventive, most beautiful, most profound film Pixar has turned out, and it may be the finest movie you’ll see this year.

Speaking recently at Pixar’s Emeryville headquarters, Docter (“Monsters Inc.,” “Up”), says he was inspired by his daughter, who, when she turned 11, began to remind him of his own uneasy childhood.

“Inside Out” tells the story of a girl, Riley, whose family moves from rural Minnesota to San Francisco. Meanwhile, her emotions, Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust, deal with total chaos inside her head.

A move to Denmark with his family while in the fifth grade was particularly hard on Docter.

“It was right at the time when I was awakening to the idea of social cues that I needed to pick up on and how to fit in,” Docter says.

“Coming back was equally tricky,” he continues. “It’s kind of why I got into animation, I think. Much safer to sit here and draw, rather than have to talk to people.”

Deep into pre-production, though, Docter wasn’t quite sure where his story was going. “Joy has been out of headquarters, and I didn’t know what she was rushing back to do,” he says. “I was thinking I should just quit to save them the trouble of firing me.”

But then he started thinking about how much he would miss his friends.

“It hit me that, yeah, I’ve felt happy with my friends, but also been angry with them and shared sad times with them, and been scared for them,” he says. It was then that the film’s human themes revealed themselves.

In creating the emotions depicted in the film, Docter’s research with psychologists and researchers revealed anywhere from zero to 27 measurable emotions.

Before settling on five clear characters, Docter toyed with a few others: “We had Schadenfreude who would laugh at other people getting hurt, and then we had Ennui who didn’t care, but the cast got really big,” he says.

At the center of the story is Joy, brilliantly voiced by Amy Poehler. Yet, even there, Docter had trouble. “It just doesn’t feel genuine if you’re always happy and positive,” he says. “You kind of want to punch them in the face. But Amy said, ‘I think I can help you.'”

The ultimate theme of “Inside Out” is that happiness all by itself is irrelevant – and impossible.

“It’s interesting watching audiences,” says Docter, “because adults will get things that kids don’t and vice-versa, but little kids seem to get it — and love it — more immediately than adults do.”

Inside Out
Starring: Voices of Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader
Written by: Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, Pete Docter
Directed by: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen
Rated PG
Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes

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