Kelsey Mann, and Mark Nielsen Interview: Anxiety has been a part of our story from the beginning

Director Kelsey Mann and producer Mark Nielsen discuss the ideas behind their recent release, Inside Out 2, and how they did everything from consulting psychologists to deep self-introspection in order to create the new characters
Kelsey Mann, and Mark Nielsen Interview: Anxiety has been a part of our story from the beginning

Ask any parent and they would immediately agree that understanding their teenage son/daughter is one of life’s greatest mysteries. They would even go on to confess that they don’t even understand the choices they made when they were teenagers themselves. The teenage years, an elusive topic, is at the very heart of Inside Out 2. And how did the makers manage to crack the puzzle? While a teenager’s mind might be elusive, one thing every adult remembers from their teenage years is anxiety. According to the makers, that was the key to unlocking Riley’s mind in Inside Out 2. Director Kelsey Mann says, “I’d zeroed in on the idea of Anxiety being a major character. It’s something that really starts to appear as we become teenagers—we can all relate. I remember doing a lot of research early on about what happens in our brains at this age that triggered this idea of a wrecking ball coming through Headquarters—a bunch of workers piling in and tearing everything down. It’s a renovation—that’s kind of what it feels like to be a teenager. It’s chaotic”

The ensuing chaos, brought to the fore by puberty, upends the life of Riley’s core emotions Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust, as they are bottled up and sent to the back of Riley’s mind by the new emotions, Anxiety, Ennui, Embarrassment, and Envy. On bringing a new ensemble of colourful emotions into the mix, producer Mark Nielsen says that it was the perfect way to explore the next phase in Riley’s life. “We realized that the first film really sets up the next era of Riley’s life.” He then goes on to add, “Personifying how we feel was such a rich thing to explore—not only for the entertainment potential in it but because it’s something every human can connect with,” he says. On how they landed on the particular set of new emotions to set the stage for the sequel, Nielsen first confesses that you cannot box a teenager into just these four emotions. “There are definitely more complex emotions that come with being a teenager.” He then goes on to reveal that they always had the idea to make Anxiety the biggest player in the sequel. “Anxiety has been a part of our story from the beginning, but the impact the last few years have had on all of us—especially teens—it seems like it’s the right time in history to be talking about it.” While Anxiety might be leading the team of new emotions, the stand-out newcomer, who received the most laughs from the audience, happened to be Ennui. Elaborating on the idea behind the character, director Mann says that Ennui is a lot like, “boredom, disdain or this feeling of blase.” He then adds, “If you’ve ever asked a  teenager how their day was and heard ‘fine,’ that’s Ennui.”

From multiple story revisions to consulting psychologists, the makers of Inside Out 2 did extensive research to understand the emotions of a teenager on a deeper level. Nielsen says, “We read a lot of books and spoke with psychologists about what happens to the teenage brain—the expansion of their minds at that time. It became clear pretty quickly that there would be a lot of potential for entertainment with a new group of emotions.” The makers seem to be extremely intent on understanding and relating with teenagers, famously the toughest audience demographic to please. In the pursuit of a deeper understanding, Mann not only consulted experts but also dug deep into his own past to create the characters. This was all the more evident with the film’s treatment of the character Valentina “Val” Ortiz, captain of the varsity team who Riley looks up to.  “At this age, you suddenly start comparing yourself to everyone else,” he says. “It’s imperative that you fit in. Valentina represents that person that you compare yourself to—that you wish you could be but you’re not. I remember one guy in particular when I was young—he was really talented at soccer, and he was super funny and kind. I wanted to be like him so much. I wanted Riley to have someone like that.”

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