‘Inside Out 2’ screenwriter on why anxiety is worth being grateful for

Written by Amy Ta and Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Angie Perrin

“When [Anxiety] walks into headquarters, she doesn't say, “I'm in charge.” She says, “Oh my gosh, I'm a big fan.” She wants to be there. She loves Joy. She just thinks Joy isn't sophisticated enough. And it makes her sad that Joy isn't,” explains “Inside Out 2” screenwriter Meg LeFauve. Credit: Disney/Pixar.

Inside Out 2 is the first movie since Barbie to make $1 billion at the box office in just weeks. Disney/Pixar’s animated feature is the sequel to the 2015 original, which took viewers inside the mind (“headquarters”) of an 11-year-old girl named Riley, where her emotions were the main characters: Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger, and Fear. In the sequel, Riley is a 13-year-old high school freshman who’s trying to become friends with the older kids and earn a spot on a new hockey team. New characters come into play: Anxiety, Embarrassment, Envy, and Ennui.

The idea of introducing anxiety first stemmed from the film’s director Kelsey Mann, says Inside Out’s co-screenwriter Meg LeFauve.

“He really thought it was something worth exploring, especially as you turn into a teenager, and how it affects you and your self-perception and your relationships. I really related to it. My father called me Moody Meg. So she was definitely our first and front-runner emotion that was coming into headquarters.”

The filmmakers considered seven or eight new emotions for the sequel, including guilt and self-loathing. They consulted with psychologists and reflected on their personal experiences as teens and parents of teens.  

Embarrassment was something LeFauve says she “lived with across the console” as a teen.

Envy was also significant. “I think often for girls, especially as teenagers, we're told not to be jealous. But Envy is important because she's telling us what we want. And I think girls forget that it's okay to want and to want things just for themselves, not just for everybody else.” 

Ennui was a given. LeFauve says all moms of teens, including herself, all know the eye roll. “There just is the exhausted, ‘you're too much, I can't deal with you’ eye roll [that] had to be in there.”

She makes a distinction from simple boredom: “I think it has a little more attitude than boredom. Boredom can be ‘blah.’ Ennui is a little more ‘you are boring.’ Versus ‘I am bored.’”

LeFauve says all the new emotions are about becoming self-aware and mindful of other people’s perceptions of you. “Riley is starting to change how she sees herself. And it's starting to be deeply impacted by those around her and her friends more than her parents, and that is a big part of becoming a teenager.” 

Anxiety, however, takes center stage. Initially, LeFauve depicted the emotion as an uncontrollable and monstrous-looking shapeshifter. 

Mann didn’t agree with that characterization: “She is a part of you and she is there for a purpose, like every emotion. Anxiety is the thing that tells you to study for your Spanish test. She's good when you give her a job.”

LeFauve can relate, pointing to her early days in Hollywood when she was ridden with anxiety during pitch meetings. However, she was grateful for that. 

“I would say, ‘Thank you, anxiety. I know you're trying to protect me. I'm not going to die. So I just want you to have a seat and watch.’”

She continues, “It doesn't mean I'm getting rid of her. But I'm thanking her because that part of you is trying to protect you. It just doesn't know how, and sometimes it really goes about it wrong.”

LeFauve points out that when Anxiety walks into headquarters, she doesn't say, “I'm in charge.” Instead, she says, “Oh my gosh, I'm a big fan.” 

“She wants to be there. She loves Joy. She just thinks Joy isn't sophisticated enough. And it makes her sad that Joy isn't.”


Anxiety steps in to protect Riley in the Pixar sequel. Credit: Disney/Pixar. 

While many of Riley’s emotions may seem negative, LeFauve says the filmmakers don’t see them as positive or negative. 

“When we first started … Pete Docter [Pixar’s chief creative officer] did a tremendous amount of research on what those core emotions would be. … We felt for the first movie, we could really get a lot out of understanding who we are with those five [emotions]. Again, I'm in writing [and] never saw them as negative. … The first time I wrote Sadness and she laid down, I was like, ‘Oh, there she is. I love her.’ Don't you want to just lay down and be sad sometimes? I do.”

LeFauve recalls a scene in the first Inside Out when Sadness sits down with Bing Bong (Riley’s imaginary friend) as he cries about his rocket wagon being thrown into the dump — and she says that came straight out of her son’s experience in preschool.”

“When you're with a child, the first thing you need to teach them is emotional intelligence. You need to teach them what is it they're feeling. So you just reflect back to them: ‘You're feeling sad.’ And you sit with them in that emotion, to let them understand it, and process it, and watch it pass through.”


Embarrassment (far right) steps in when Riley doesn’t say the right thing in front of her new friends in “Inside Out 2.” Credit: Disney/Pixar. 

Identifying emotions, being vulnerable, and being present has been a work in progress for LeFauve, who’s gone to therapy. Those skills have benefited her professionally. 

“When you're in a story room … we're all sharing our experiences. That's when you get to the authentic human condition … when you're willing to be vulnerable and put yourself out there and into it.”

LeFauve and her colleagues discussed their own sense of self and their children’s sense of self, which helped them characterize Riley’s growth. 

“When she was very young, the Riley that I knew from the first movie would say things like, ‘She’s kind and she's a good friend.’ … But as you hit the teenage years, it gets a bit rockier. And you can get some ideas about who you are based on maybe who your friends are, and being accepted.” 

Mann and LeFauve also honed in on the concept of perfection and how girls relate to it. “I don't think it's something we should strive for because how much of our humanity is in our imperfections, and our compassion is in our imperfections. I love that Joy in this movie is self-love. She is self-compassion. And at first, she too doesn't want those things inside of Riley, but has to come to understand that we're all made up of bad beliefs, good beliefs. That's just part of being human.”

Love and hate are two emotions that don’t appear in the film. LeFauve says that’s because each is an extension of other feelings. “Joy is a kind of love. … Often, hate, isn’t it just fear and sadness and anger roiling together as a way to protect yourself?” 

LeFauve notes that since the sequel’s release, friends have told her, “There was not a kid in the theater. It's full of adults.” 

At Pixar, she points out, “writing for children” isn’t how the filmmakers view their work. “You always write to the best story, and everybody at Pixar is a kid at heart.” 

“I'm just really thankful for the box office, but mostly thankful that people are having conversations — when they leave the theater — with their friends, with their spouses. I had one friend who said her daughter leaned over in the middle of the movie and said about anxiety, ‘I feel like that all the time.’ And she didn't know her daughter had anxiety.”

She continues, “In the first movie, I had therapists and people who work with special needs kids talking about, ‘Oh my god, you made our job so much easier. We can reach these kids, we can talk to them.’ To me, that's the best thing that a story can do — is connect us.”

Credits

Guest:

  • Meg LeFauve - screenwriter and producer, “Inside Out” and “Inside Out 2”