Inside Your Head and Out of Your Mind: A Look at the Creative Process Behind Pixar’s INSIDE OUT 2

BELIEF SYSTEM – In Disney and Pixar’s “Inside Out 2,” Riley’s Sense of Self is made up of all of her beliefs, each of which can be heard with the pluck of a string. Sadness (voice of Phyllis Smith) and Joy (voice of Amy Poehler) deliver key memories to this formative land. “Inside Out 2” releases only in theaters June 14, 2024. © 2024 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

A sequel to Pixar’s 2015 box office hit, Inside Out 2 brings viewers back inside the mind of the film’s protagonist, Riley, as she begins a daunting new adventure: adolescence. Joining the ensemble cast of emotions from the first film—Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust—are a host of new complex feelings and burgeoning beliefs to help guide her through this new stage in life. Boxoffice Pro spoke with Inside Out 2 director Kelsey Mann, a longtime creative leader at Pixar, about the process of bringing this new film to life.

What was your first impression of the original Inside Out while it was in production?

Many projects are going on simultaneously here at Pixar, and I was on a different movie while Pete Docter was working on the original Inside Out. One of the things I love most about Pixar is how collaborative everything is: You’ll oftentimes be invited to see footage of films that you’re not working on. It makes you feel like you’re a part of it because you attend these work-in-progress screenings where you can present notes on a project. That was my first interaction with the world of Inside Out, seeing the progression of how the project came together through these screenings as I was working on another movie.

I remember being excited about the movie’s concept, making a movie about our emotions, before realizing just how challenging it would be to visualize everything going on inside our brains. How do you visualize emotions? How do you visualize memories? Those were really hard questions to answer. Although I wasn’t working on the first film, I know that was something the team really struggled to define.

I saw that challenge firsthand when I first started work on the sequel. I went into a deep dive of our art archives and looked at all the work that had been done on the first film because you never know if there’s a nugget of a cool idea in there that they weren’t able to incorporate into the movie.

Pixar has a legacy of delivering sequels that are often just as memorable as the originals. How did that guide your approach to Inside Out 2?

I remember when Pete Docter, the director on the original film and our chief creative officer at Pixar, first came to me about directing a feature. When he asked what sort of world I’d be interested in revisiting in a movie, I assumed he was talking about one of the movies I had previously worked on. I was so surprised when he said he had me in mind for Inside Out 2. He said, “I don’t know if there is a story there or not, but I feel like there’s a potential for another story in that world, and I think you’re the right person to find it.”

Pete is the type of leader that always looks to collaborate. He never approached me with a specific idea for exploring a story; he let me find the story I wanted to tell. I remember him telling me, “The sooner you start thinking of this as an original movie, the better off you’ll be.” That’s exactly the mentality I had in tackling this project.

I began by listing all the sequels I could think of: everything I liked and didn’t like about them. The one thing all the sequels I liked had in common was a sense of originality; something new was happening instead of just rehashing everything that worked with the first movie.

The sequels I loved would take you to new places that were just off-screen in the first film. The example I always bring up is The Empire Strikes Back (1980). You go from this desert landscape in Star Wars (1977) to this world covered in snow—placing these characters you love in an environment you’ve never seen them in before. That’s the feeling I wanted to evoke with Inside Out 2.

The original film does a great job of visualizing the world and establishing the ensemble of characters that populate it. How did you settle on a story for the sequel that could expand that world and those characters?

I approached it from the perspective of an audience member: What story did I most want to see after seeing the first movie? In the original, there’s this moment where the character of Joy mentions that Riley is turning 12 and that opened up the idea of where we wanted to take this movie. We went with that story, seeing how Riley is dealing with becoming a teenager and going through puberty was something.

I brought back experts we consulted for the first film, like Dacher Keltner, a professor at UC Berkeley. I brought him back to give us insights into what happens in our brains when we’re teenagers. I read many books by Lisa Damour, an author who has written books about everything teenage girls go through during adolescence. There are so many amazing things going on in our brains at that age, and it has the potential for both drama and humor.

In this movie, we find Riley’s life becoming more complex now that she’s a teenager. It allowed us to introduce new emotions as characters. She’s also starting to develop her beliefs, which presented a new filmmaking challenge for us to tackle in how we represented that onscreen. We did so many different versions of what it could look like, how her emotions and beliefs come together to help her make choices. Now that she’s becoming a teenager, she’s starting to develop her own sense of self. That was the hardest thing to design. I’m excited to see the result on the big screen and watch how the audience responds to it.

Were there any ideas that didn’t make the cut in the first film that you were able to repurpose for the sequel?

I was blessed to have gotten the chance to work with the late [production designer] Ralph Eggleston during our first year in production of this movie. Ralph had worked on the original Inside Out, and this was the first time I worked with him directly on a movie. I believe it was the last movie he worked on before he passed away. He was so incredibly smart, and it was great to have his knowledge on everything they did on the first film as we began our work on the sequel. One of the concepts that didn’t make it into the final cut of the first Inside Out was an early design on a Stream of Consciousness. We went back to that idea for the sequel, thinking of how we can bring water into Riley’s mind world. The original designs envisioned a kind of ocean where all the memories broke apart and flowed out into this stream. We took those ideas and turned it into a sort of water version of the Northern Lights, as if it was water made of light. That was something really fun to unearth and incorporate into our film.

BELIEF SYSTEM – In Disney and Pixar’s “Inside Out 2,” Riley’s Sense of Self is made up of all of her beliefs, each of which can be heard with the pluck of a string. Sadness (voice of Phyllis Smith) and Joy (voice of Amy Poehler) deliver key memories to this formative land. “Inside Out 2” releases only in theaters June 14, 2024. © 2024 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.
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