We’d all be happier if Amy Poehler was our boss!
It’s easy to forget, after a seven-season run that saw it hailed as one of the greatest television comedies of all time, that Parks & Recreation stumbled out of the gate. The beloved sitcom’s first season got mixed reviews from critics and audiences alike, and the show was subtly retooled going into its sophomore year.
The biggest and most noticeable change was to the show’s protagonist, Leslie Knope, played by Amy Poehler. In the first season, Knope was the butt of most jokes – she was a skittish, largely incompetent bureaucrat, who went from one cringe worthy misadventure to another like a female David Brent.
From the second season onwards, though, she was portrayed in a much more positive light – she became a firecracker; an inspirational leader who wouldn’t take no for an answer and brought out the best in everyone around her. Sure, her reach exceeded her grasp sometimes, but she never lost hope and her team of quirky misfits would follow her to the ends of the earth.
As Leslie Knope became more effervescent and likeable – as she became, in other words, more like Amy Poehler – so did the show.
With Parks & Recreation now in her rear-view mirror, Poehler – a Golden Globe winner (and three-time host), 15-time Emmy nominee and best-selling author, who has been named one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in the World – is bringing her irrepressible energy to Pixar’s Inside Out, in which she plays Joy, the unrelentingly positive leader of a gang of quirky misfits.
“Yeah, I basically just play the one character in everything that I do,” she deadpans, while promoting the film at the Cannes Film Festival. “Joy is kind of the motor. She keeps things moving. So she certainly has a similarity to the character I played on Parks and Recreation.”
In this case, Poehler’s character has a good reason to be positive. Joy is, literally, the personification of joy – one of five anthropomorphised emotions (the others are Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness) running around inside the head of Riley, an 11-year-old girl going through a tough time at home. Joy is the clear leader of the group, but each emotion takes their turn at the control centre inside Riley’s mind.
If that all sounds a bit high-concept, that’s because it is – Pixar has never been a studio known for dumbing things down for its young audience. Inside Out is not a pretentious movie, by any stretch (it’s actually a heck of a lot of fun), but its observations about the nature of imagination, the inner workings of the human mind and the pains of growing up are often quite profound.
“It’s certainly amazing to look inside the brain,” Poehler says. “That terrain is not well travelled. I thought it was a beautiful chance to go inside a space that we are in every day, but we don’t know what it looks like. Animation can do that, certainly.
“What was so nice about playing this character was that Joy, like all of the other emotions, feels like she should really be the only one there. So it was fun to play with that dynamic, and the journey of Joy, just like everyone else, realising that you are stronger as a team, and you need to work together.”
Inside Out is the third film from director Pete Docter, who has always had a deft hand for pushing an audience’s emotional buttons. His previous films, Up and Monsters Inc, are two of Pixar’s biggest tearjerkers, and you’ll need to bring a whole box of tissues to this one.
“This film is such a great example of how comedy and drama live so close together,” Poehler says. “I think the performances from everyone in this film are an example of how real comedy, great comedy, makes you feel very big feelings.
“I remember a day when Pete said, ‘I think you’re just going to cry all day today’, and I was like, ‘Yes!’”
Inside Out is in cinemas from Thursday 18 June.