Joy and Disgust. They could be candidates for renaming the seasons of New England. But Pixar went with another idea, making character names out of the emotions that command a pre-teen’s mind in its newest animated offering, “Inside Out.” Joy and Disgust, played respectively by Massachusetts natives Amy Poehler and Mindy Kaling, combine with Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), and Fear (Bill Hader) to drive the action in this poignant comedy co-written and directed by Pixar veteran Pete Docter (“Monsters, Inc.,” “Up”), who calls it “probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
“It was a very abstract idea,” Docter says of trying to animate the complex inner journey of 11-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) as she reluctantly moves with her parents from small-town, hockey-obsessed Minnesota to the urban wilds of San Francisco. “You want it to look easy, but it’s actually really, really difficult.”
It’s also the “most cartoony” that Pixar has ever gone, he says. “Characters can stretch limbs and break joints and exaggerate movements in ways that we’ve never done. . . . The animation was able to finally break free from a certain amount of reality that kind of comes with our heritage.”
Some have wondered whether that stellar heritage — including “Finding Nemo,” “Wall-E,” “Ratatouille,” and the “Toy Story” franchise — might these days be commercially compromised by Disney’s purchase of Pixar in 2006. Docter says no. He describes Pixar as “still this little autonomous group up in Northern California” and adds, “As long as we’re successful and keep doing stuff that works, they’re happy to leave us alone.”
In the case of making “Inside Out,” which opens nationwide on Friday, Docter confirms that many scenes evolved with the help of his cast, who workshopped and improvised freely on the way to a final script. The actors demur from taking credit (see below), but the director says that Poehler, in particular, “added a ton” to the fleshing out of Joy, who takes the lead as the default emotion of Riley, a character modeled after Docter’s own pre-teen daughter.
Docter says Kaling’s creative instincts were harder to draw out during filming (“She was very respectful of the material, almost overly so,” he notes) but she and Poehler had no trouble letting their opinions and creative instincts rip during a recent phone interview from Los Angeles, where they sat down together in a hotel suite to field our questions. The topics ranged from their Greater Boston roots to movies, books, and Japanese toilets.
Globe: Greetings from Boston.
Poehler: What pahhhta Bahston ah ya from?
Globe: I’m in Brookline — Coolidge Corner.
Poehler: Congratulations. Ooh la la.
Globe: But I’m from Braintree, so. . .
Poehler: OK. Keepin’ it real. I used to live in Cleveland Circle and frequent the Ground Round.
Globe: It’s rare to speak to both of you at the same time. . .
Kaling: Because we have it in our contracts that we can’t be in the same room together.
Poehler: Right. We both have restraining orders against each other. You can’t see us, but there’s a glass wall.
Globe: Well, you know, safety first. So were you even in the same room when you made the movie?
Poehler: We all kind of recorded separately, and it’s a testament to the editors that we all sound like we’re together. Mindy and I, like a lot of women doing what we do, are kind of on our own islands. So it is nice to kind of “visit together,” as my Nana would say.
Kaling: I have to hear about Amy through — she’s in a movie called “Sisters” that’s coming out [in December], and one of my costars, Ike Barinholtz [Morgan on “The Mindy Project”], is her love interest in that. So I would just hear little snippets and see photos.
Globe: The perfect segue. Could I turn the mike over to each of you to ask one question of the other? What would you want to know?
Poehler: Do you have one of those Japanese toilets?
Kaling: Are they different than, like, a bidet?
Poehler: Yeah. They’re the ones that . . . I guess I should rephrase this: Would you be interested in buying a beautiful Japanese toilet?
Kaling: Are you trying to hawk your toilets again?
Poehler: I’m just saying that they’re beautiful toilets, and I think they’re a great investment.
Kaling: She has these like $40,000 toilets that she got hoodwinked for and bought like 400 of them.
Poehler: I bought too many and am trying to unload them, no pun intended. But they’re beautiful toilets — they’re very efficient, and they’re always warm. We’ll talk about it later.
Kaling: I’ll ask you a Boston question. Where is your best pizza?
Poehler: Ooh. Well, you know, when you grow up in Burlington, you say that you grew up in Boston but you never went into the city even though it was like 20 minutes away.
Kaling: OK, so let me ask you another question. Best floor of the Burlington Mall — the first floor or the second floor?
Poehler: Second floor, because when we were growing up it was Contempo Casuals, 579, Spencer Gifts. Spencer’s is where I would get penis pasta, boob mugs, glow-in-the-dark underwear. . . . Spencer’s was my “Benny Hill”; it was where I learned about sexual feelings and weird, jokey sex stuff.
Globe: What do you think of Boston’s bid to host the Olympics?
Kaling: I would love to see a Boston Olympics.
Poehler: Oh, God. I can’t even imagine how much everyone would bitch about it.
Kaling: Can you imagine foreign athletes driving on Storrow Drive? It’s, like, horrifying.
Poehler: And you just know that if the Olympics were in Boston there’d be some woman who’s like, “No. I’m not gonna move my cah.”
Globe: Amy, about a decade ago, when I interviewed you on the set of “Saturday Night Live,” you said that the Boston brand of humor owes a lot to being teased and learning to hold your own. So many comics and comedy writers continue to come from this region. What’s in the water here?
Poehler: That’s a good question. I think it’s a very learned place. There’s so many universities and smart people and, like, a prestige to Boston. And there’s also a lean against that, too — there’s like this blue-collar rumble. The combination of the two is really exciting; it creates an energy. That, combined with sports, weather, and politics — there’s just a lot happening.
Kaling: It’s such an incredible place to grow up. Waking up in the middle of the dark, going out and shoveling snow, defrosting Mom and Dad’s car — everything is just such a process. I think that makes you hardy.
Globe: It must have been a tough sell for you guys to do a Pixar cartoon, right? Those things never do well.
Kaling: Yeah. We were like, who are you? What is this? I’ve never heard of you. I think it’s one of the biggest highlights of my career. Pete Docter is such an amazing artist, and the movie is so personal to him and that comes through completely. It’s the kind of thing you dream about before you get it — just like, oh wow, that would be such a great thing to be able to say I did, a Pixar movie.
Globe: You were both 11-year-old girls once upon a time. How much did you channel that for this film?
Poehler: Well, the character that I play, Joy, is childlike but also kind of maternal at the same time, which is kind of fun to play — being in charge and then also being a little oblivious. My 11-year-old version of me is probably a little bit like Riley: kinda tomboy-ish, all angles and elbows and sweat and opportunity. It’s a nice place to go back to — for some people. It can be like that nice preface before puberty hits and you fall into the snake pit.
Kaling: My 11-year-old self didn’t appear when I was performing this part. Disgust is like a big sister/aunt feeling. When I watch the movie, the experience of seeing it reminds me of my childhood a lot, but I didn’t think about it as much when I was doing the role.
Globe: Were you improv-ing a lot?
Poehler: Not too much. The script was in really good shape. It was fun to have the option to do it, but I don’t think many things we improvised made it into the film.
Globe: The filmmakers have said that everybody has a “default temperament.” What’s yours?
Kaling: I’m somewhere between joy and fear. I have a great life and I think I’m very content but, you know, I’m always a little anxious. I think that’s what ambitious people are often like.
Poehler: I’m gonna say the feelings change every minute, and right now I’m like, mmm, 50 percent joyful, 40 percent sadness, and 10 percent mildly suspicious.
Globe: Have you read each other’s books? Any surprises?
Poehler: Yes. I was surprised that Mindy wrote about how we slept together, because I thought that was between us.
Kaling: I wasn’t [surprised], because it rocked my life.
Globe: Amy, could you please react to reports that Mindy will be getting $7.5 million to write a book with B.J. Novak about their ‘fromance’? Does it give you any ideas for your next book?
Poehler: [Feigning indignation] I will not react; that’s no one’s business but hers. That question was so Boston, by the way: “Can you please react. . .” [laughter]. I love Mindy’s first book, I can’t wait to read her second. And I know this is going to be hard for you, Mindy, because you’re also doing a TV show, but I think you should put out a book a month.
Kaling: I think I will. You know the way that E.L. James did fanfic that turned into a book? Maybe I could do that. I have ideas; I could write something on my iPhone.
Globe: Mindy, years ago you speculated on an all-female “Ghostbusters” in which you’d be joined by Emily Blunt, Taraji P. Henson, and Natalie Portman. What was your reaction to the news that Paul Feig is making the movie with Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon?
Kaling: I think it’s exciting. The cast is so uniformly funny and Paul Feig is great; I loved what he did with “Bridesmaids.” I think it’s going to be hilarious.
Globe: What franchise reboot would you like to see happen next?
Poehler: We’re going to do a live-action “Inside Out” on Broadway, on ice. We’re going to ice down Broadway. Get ready, Boston.
Interview was edited and condensed. Janice Page can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.