Constant pursuit of happiness can get in the way of real growth, says actor, while film’s writer-director Pete Docter, says adults can learn from negative feelings
Amy Poehler won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of the perpetually positive Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation, but her latest role is about embracing emotion in all its forms.
The actor was in Sydney for the world premiere of Inside Out, the new Pixar film from Pete Docter, the writer-director of Up and Monsters, Inc.
Poehler voices the animated character Joy, who works together with Fear, Disgust, Anger and Sadness to protect 11-year-old Riley as she faces the challenges of growing up.
“Pete did a beautiful job of not only reminding everyone of how difficult it is and emotionally treacherous it is to grow up and to leave childhood behind, but that our constant pursuit of happiness as human beings and as parents sometimes gets in the way of real growth,” said Poehler.
“It’s OK to be sad, and it’s OK to have feelings that aren’t maybe the ones that you thought you were supposed to have or are what are expected of you. It’s this beautiful attempt at taking this very big intellectual idea and making it this very small, human, connecting experience.”
In the past, Poehler has spoken of a prevailing culture of cynicism in which “not caring is supposed to be cool, commenting is more interesting than doing, and everything is judged and then disposed of”. She told Hitflix’s Alan Sepinwall earlier this year that part of the appeal of her Parks and Recreation character, a “whirling dervish” of positivity, was that “cynicism and sarcasm weren’t tools we got to use”.
But asked about that put-down culture, Poehler was less forthcoming. “I don’t like to speak in a blanket way about comedy because there’s a lot of different versions of it that makes me laugh. Everyone has their version of it and it’s all really specific and subjective,” she said.
“But I love love, and I love sadness and joy living together right next to each other, and this film is certainly a celebration of that.”
Poehler already champions young women through her Smart Girls organisation, which encourages them to embrace their intelligence and individuality and has an online following of 1.6m globally.
“I think being yourself, practicing self-love, figure out what excites you and what you’re curious about is perhaps a theme that runs through both of those things [Smart Girls and Inside Out].”
Inside Out writer-director Pete Docter said he didn’t think children’s interests had changed in the two decades since he wrote Toy Story, “but I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask because I don’t feel we’ve ever written for children specifically. We’re writing for ourselves”.
“My heroes, like Walt Disney and Jim Henson, were explicit in saying that they weren’t writing for kids. They weren’t making these kids’ movies, there were these adult themes.”
He said adult audiences could stand to learn what their negative emotions had to teach them.
“Even as you use the word ‘negative’, that is something we all associate with them, but they all have a very explicit reason for existing, they all have a benefit to us. In the end, the film tries to portray this, that all the emotions are there for Riley.
“They want her to have a good life – that’s why Disgust is trying to keep her from being poisoned, Fear’s trying to keep her from getting hurt, all of these things that could essentially be very positive.”
Docter said his relationship with his daughter inspired him to make Inside Out.
“What drove the whole thing was watching my daughter grow up, that idea that part of childhood, and my relationship with her at that time, is fundamentally now changed – and that’s beautiful and correct and wonderful but it’s also sad.”
The loss of innocence and the bittersweet positives that came with it were a strand within his work, he said. “I think there’s a certain sense of loss that I think is important to carry some weight in the filmmaking.”
Inside Out, rated PG, opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday