Variety got the inside scoop on Pixar’s 15th feature, Inside Out, which looks pretty rad.
Due out in 2015, the animated feature takes place entirely inside the subconscious of an 11-year-old girl named Riley Anderson and, “will forever change the way people think about the way people think.” OOOH! HYPERBOLE!
According to Variety, “a crew of anthropomorphized emotions manage how the girl feels at any given moment from a control panel that looks something like the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise.”
There are five central emotions in the film: Fear (voiced by Bill Hader), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Joy (Amy Poehler), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black).
These distinct color-coded characters help Riley to process new experiences and to make memories, which are constantly being recorded within brightly colored orbs that look something like those translucent bath-bubble balls (filed away nightly and then erased in long-term storage by “Forgetters” with a vaguely Minions-like vibe). The inventive opening scene extends from the moment of Riley’s birth and the creation of her first memory to the introduction of its five main characters, ending with an encounter between Joy and Sadness where the former can’t seem to figure out Sadness’ role in the operation. Once the clip ended, Docter explained that Riley and her parents relocate from a quiet rural home to San Francisco at a particularly impressionable age, resulting in a new-school trauma that forces Joy and Sadness out of the control panel and into the far, unfamiliar reaches of her mind.
So far, so on board.
I love that it takes place in the mind of an 11-year-old GIRL; I feel like if this movie was made 20 years ago, Riley would have been a little boy (tell me again why Andy from the Toy Story franchise HAD to be a boy?).
I love that three of the five emotions will be voiced by some of my favourite women from NBC. I love that it’s a high-concept film for kids. I have no doubt it’ll be funny and touching.
Did ‘Sadness’ really have to be depicted as chubby, blue and bespectacled, clad in a heavy, ill-fitting grey sweater while ‘Joy’ is depicted as thin, feminine and light in her fitted yellow dress? Was Pixar not even a tiny bit concerned about those optics?
Because here’s the thing: we live in a culture in which fat = sad, thin = happy. Diet companies bank on it.
So when you have the chubby character LITERALLY EMBODY SADNESS, that damaging cultural norm is reinforced in a dangerous way. What kind of subconscious message does that send to the kids in the audience?
Pixar has long had a fraught relationship with larger bodies; many critics called out 2008’s much-lauded environmental cautionary tale Wall-E for inspiring fat panic via its depiction of humans of the future as lazy, gluttonous amorphous blobs — which reinforces the misguided stereotype that all overweight people are overweight because they overeat/never move.
In Wall-E, a fat body becomes shorthand for our society’s tendency toward over-consumption and convenience. “It plays off the easy analogy between obesity and ecological catastrophe, pushing the notion that Western culture has sickened both our bodies and our planet with the same disease of affluence,” Slate‘s Daniel Engber wrote of the film. “According to this lazy logic, a fat body stands in for a distended culture: We gain weight and the Earth suffers.”
Then there’s Heimlich, the fat caterpillar in A Bug’s Life, whose size is frequently used as comic relief. So you can be fat and jolly in Pixar’s universe, but only if you’re a (male) caterpillar.
Pixar has made some strides over its 15-film history; Up, for example, saw the introduction of an Asian-American lead who wasn’t thin, either. But then, he was a boy.
Animated female bodies — especially those inhabiting those still precious-few lead roles — are still required to be very thin (see: Elastagirl from The Incredibles or even Merida from Brave).
This has everything to do with marketing, of course; spin-off dolls have to compete in the pink arena of Barbie. If a fat character is released to the retail market, it’s almost always as a cuddly plush toy.
I expect I will enjoy Inside Out. I’m encouraged that so many female voices — who, IRL, inhabit different bodies — are contributing to it.
But I yearn for the day when ‘Joy’ is allowed to be a chubby girl.
UPDATE: This post is from 2014 and, as such, I felt it needed an update. I’ve since seen Inside Out and I loved a lot of things about it. But the thing I loved most about it was Sadness. Her character is vitally important. We are reminded, through her journey, that Sadness is a legitimate emotion. That she is not to be sidelined. We are reminded that it’s not only OK to feel sad, but necessary to feel sad.
To project onto the characters of the film, we can only really know Joy if we also know Sadness. They are a team. You can’t have one without the other.
We live in a culture that values positivity and happiness. (Early on in the film, Riley feels immense pressure to keep her chin up and her stick on the ice — literally, she plays hockey — but cracks quickly form in the veneer.)
We also live in a culture that values being thin at all costs. Diet culture tells us that thinness IS happiness, which is why it’s actually Joy’s thinness — as opposed to Sadness’ chubbiness — that continues to leave a bad taste in my mouth.
But while I still stand by my early, year-old criticism — I still think Pixar has some issues when it comes to its portrayal of larger bodies — my perspective shifted a bit after actually seeing the film. Perhaps it’s OK that Sadness is chubby. After all, if the film’s overarching message is that it’s OK to feel sad, perhaps we can extrapolate that it’s also OK to be fat.