The Reason Pixar Chose Those 5 Emotions For Inside Out

The Reason Pixar Chose Those 5 Emotions For Inside Out

From futuristic robots to talking toys, Pixar Studios is responsible for some of Hollywood's most beloved and memorable animated characters. Woody and Buzz Lightyear from "Toy Story," Nemo from "Finding Nemo," and Remy from "Ratatouille" are just a few favorites. But these characters all have something in common — they are tangible.

In 2015, the animation studio decided to tackle something you can't see: our emotions. "Inside Out" strayed from the typical approach of creating a world filled with childlike wonder and instead took us inside the mind of a child. To do so, Pixar enlisted the help of a familiar face, director Pete Docter, who was responsible for bringing the monsters in our closet to life in "Monsters, Inc."

The movie tackles some heavy issues while brilliantly personifying five key emotions the protagonist wrestles with when moving to a new city. But getting there wasn't easy for Pixar. First, they had to dive into the complex science of emotions.

Imagining the mind of an 11-year-old girl

As Wired points out, Pixar often deals with inanimate objects brought to life, ala "Toy Story" and "Cars." However, "Inside Out" takes a novel approach, manifesting emotions in the form of distinct characters in a "headquarters" inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl, Riley. The five emotions are Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). The emotions were designed as guardians that help the film's characters navigate life.

Pete Docter builds a textually rich tapestry of the mind, leading to some memorable and clever on-screen moments (and plenty of Easter eggs). Anger reads a newspaper with headlines about Riley's day (one reads "No Dessert!). Whenever sadness touches a memory orb it turns blue. Joy, the cinematic contrast of Sadness, is pure light and does not cast a shadow. When the group leaves headquarters for Riley's consciousness in search of her core memories, they find shelves of long-term memories and theme-park styled representations of her life, such as Hockey Island. And who can forget the hilarious stream-of-consciousness representation dubbed the "train of thought"? 

In an interview with /Film, Docter explained the complicated process of building the physical world of "Inside Out." The emotions play off each other perfectly, and it's not by accident. Early in the film's five-year production, Pixar consulted two psychologists to help narrow down the emotions for get the right mix for dissension and entertainment. One of the consultants, Paul Ekman, believes that the film teaches kids and parents about emotion, empowering us to "choose what we feel, rather than being controlled by our emotions." However, the film's other consultant says "Inside Out" may have missed some important emotions.

One expert thought it was too simple

According to PSMag, the film's other consultant, emotions expert Dacher Keltner, had other suggestions for Docter. He suggested that Riley experience several other emotions, including awe. Keltner understands that they had to keep it simple, but doesn't necessarily think the right emotions were chosen. Keltner said:

"It's really complicated. Like how can you not talk about love?...Or what about amusement, the non-serious hilarity of feeling amused? Or sympathy? There are profoundly important emotions that didn't make the cut."

Docter rejected Keltner's call for more emotions, saying it would create chaos in the film's narrative. And even though the emotional landscape inside Riley's head was simplified, Keltner does credit the film with resonating with audiences. He cites e-mails from parents of autistic children crediting the film with emotional breakthroughs and 60-year-old men explaining how the film changed the relationships with their wives.

Although Pixar settled on just five key emotions, it seems that they had just as much of an impact than talking cars and toys that come to life.