I have a confession to make: I was not in a super great headspace in 2015. I was undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer, my doctors had all but given me a death sentence, and I was utterly miserable. I couldn’t really work given my condition, so I spent just about every waking hour at my local three-screen movie theater. More often than not, I was the only person in my screenings, which allowed me the freedom to fully give myself over to whatever was on screen. This also meant that when I saw Pixar’s “Inside Out,” I openly (and loudly) sobbed alone in the theater of a PG movie targeted toward children.
“Inside Out” continues to be one of Pixar’s best films, telling the tale of a young girl named Riley who is forced to move cross-country just as she’s coming of age, as well as the adventures of the five primary emotions inside her head that are going through massive shifts of their own. People often joke that “Inside Out” is a movie about “feelings having feelings,” and while that may be basically true, it’s a reductive interpretation of one of the studio’s finest achievements. The five primary emotions are voiced to pitch perfection, with Phyllis Smith as Sadness, Mindy Kaling as Disgust, Lewis Black as Anger, Bill Hader as Fear, and Amy Poehler as Joy. It’s hard to imagine anyone else voicing these characters, but it’s near impossible to imagine anyone but star Amy Poehler as Joy, because Poehler helped create her.
A joyous adventure for Pixar and Poehler
According to an interview with the LA Times, director Pete Docter brought Amy Poehler onto the film’s production early to not only discuss the character of Joy, but to help write her. “I can’t think of any other production where we’ve used actors the way we do on ‘Inside Out,'” Docter said. He described Joy as “unapologetically positive,” so positive, he added, “you kind of want to punch her in the face.” Given the prominence of Joy in the story of “Inside Out,” they needed to find the balance of allowing Joy to be permanently positive without becoming so exhausting that the audience rejects her.
“We end up showing Joy’s vulnerability more, thanks to input from writer Meg LeFauve, but Amy brings in something intangible to the character,” Docter said. “She can say things other people can’t and get away with it, and she knows right where that line is.” Docter admitted that Joy is really similar to Poehler’s beloved “Parks and Recreation” character Leslie Knope, as she’s also “super-peppy and overprepared.”
When “Inside Out” first dropped, I couldn’t believe how perfect Poehler was in the role, but now it all makes sense. Poehler is perfect as Joy because she is Joy.