"What if, every time you left the room, your toys came to life and had a world all their own?"
"What if all those monsters you dreamt about sneaking out from inside your closets and haunting you in the nighttime actually existed and had a world all their own?"
"What if... fish? No, rats! Rats... in... uh, what's a good place? Paris! And cars! Just... drivin' around. Maybe one of 'em becomes a spy?"
Yes, Pixar's creativity has ebbed and flowed over the years, with the high highs of Toy Story, the low lows of Cars, and the befuddling "What is this movie even about? Ah, what the hell, we like it anyway!" phenomenon that was Up. While the majority of the animation studio's works have been whimsical gems, the recent years have been admonished as a shell of the Pixar we once knew: with the all-for-the-cash Cars and Cars 2, the failure of a Disney princess reinvention Brave, and the good fun but hardly up to predecessor snuff Monsters University, Pixar's imagination seems to be on the outs.
Or perhaps only going through a dry spell, as Docter's Inside Out looks to be the biggest spike of surreal creativity that the company has seen since WALL-E. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter at the Siggraph CG convention on Monday, Docter describes the project as "two stories that need to talk to each other" — the first about an 11-year-old girl interracting with the world around her and the second existing inside her mind, with her varied emotions personified by characters "created with this energy because we are trying to represent what emotions would look like. They are made up of particles that actually move. Instead of being skin and solid, it is a massive collection of energy."
Definitely a far cry from Larry the Cable Guy playing an intellectually pitiable tow truck. Docter — who directed Monsters, Inc. and Up, co-wrote the original stories of Toy Story, Toy Story 2, and WALL-E, and worked in the art department on A Bug's Life — seems to be attacking some of the most substantial subject matter yet inhabited by a Pixar flick: the human psyche. While wALL-E tackled huge scale issues and Ratatouille experimented with a highly sophisticated plotline, Inside Out has the potential to wrestle with existential elements yet untapped by the studio. It is often said that the most complicated construct in the entire universe is the human brain, lending no deficit of deep-plunging material for this developing picture.
Representing emotions from anger to happiness to sadness to disgust, the mind-occupying characters are a true testament to the human imagination, as they are in fact representatives of human imagination. A story like this has as few bounds as the medium of animation itself — as they are abstract, nebulous, and constantly changing in nature, the "characters" who live inside the 11-year-old girl in focus will be able to explode with the creative juices of the miraculous Pixar team.
Yes, it may have some duds on its record of late, but we can't cast out the potential: Pixar has also made wonders. Many gigantic wonders. When one of its key players, including Docter, has a good idea, a true passion project — like Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., WALL-E, or Inside Out — it is prone to letting its imagination run wild. And that's where we get the gems.