HOLLYWOOD — Excuse Pete Docter if he’s finding it hard to contain his enthusiasm.
Although the Pixar filmmaker’s newest animated feature, Inside Out, isn’t due in theatres until next summer, when the guy responsible for Monsters, Inc. and the Oscar-winning, Up, claims his latest effort is “the most challenging and rewarding thing I’ve ever worked on,” there’s cause for getting psyched.Follow @JamShowbiz
Over at Disney’s Pixar Animation Studios, the movie, a wildly imaginative excursion into the workings of the human mind, is being greeted as the production that will pull the company out of its creative doldrums.
After racking up an enviable string of groundbreaking animated critical and commercial hits, starting with Toy Story and continuing with the likes of Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, WALL-E and the above-mentioned Docter movies, it felt like Pixar lost a bit of its magic.
In the four years since its universally acclaimed Toy Story 3, the company has turned out just one original feature—2012’s somewhat less enthusiastically received Brave – as well as sequels to Cars and Monsters, Inc. which both fell creatively short of Pixar’s trailblazing best efforts.
Meanwhile, creative issues forced the company to postpone the May 2014 release of The Good Dinosaur until the fall of 2015, leaving 2014 devoid of any Pixar releases.
Then, up until earlier this year, Pixar had claimed the all-time highest-grossing animated movie with Toy Story 3, until Frozen, produced, not by Pixar but by Walt Disney Animation Studios, handily skated past it.
Could Docter’s latest project provide the medicine for what ails them?
When he first joined the studio more than 20 years ago, animated movies were in a similar creative rut.
Back then, after the success of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, the going assumption was, if it’s animated, it’s a musical.
“The challenge was – how do we stay fresh and not repeat what we’ve done in the past?” explains the boyish 45-year-old, a self-described geeky kid from Minnesota who likes to draw cartoons. “How do we push the limits?”
Those questions were raised again when it came to developing Inside Out, which tells the story of a once joyous young girl who loses something when she turns 11 and her family relocates from Minnesota to San Francisco.
While many would call it becoming a teenager, Docter, who noticed that spark of joy going out in his daughter, Elie (she provided the voice of the young Ellie in Up), chose to address the situation from the inside out.
In other words, the movie is concerned with the five emotions living in the head of Riley Anderson.
Helping her navigate the pitfalls of adolescent life are Anger (voiced by Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), Joy (Amy Poehler), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith of The Office).
Based on the five lively opening minutes screened Thursday evening for a select group of entertainment journalists and animation writers, Docter’s inspired approach looks to be just the tonic Pixar needs.
Whereas past Pixar efforts have been more or less rooted in reality, Docter encouraged his animators to nudge the already elastic boundaries of their own imaginations.
“We’ve been pushing to extremes that we have never done before,” says Docter.
Assuming the finished product lives up to those warmly received few sample minutes, Inside Out should mark a return to the sort of leading-edge storytelling we had come to expect from Pixar—before more conventional thinking threatened to dilute the mighty brand.
Lava – a musical love story that takes place over millions of years – was announced as the animated short that will play before Inside Out when it hits screens June 19, 2015.