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Pete Docter: “I Don’t Think of Pixar as Making Children’s Programming”



As he prepares for the release of Pixar’s 27th film, Elementalon June 16 — and hopes to turn the page on recent box office disappointments — chief creative officer Pete Docter looks back on his early influences and muses at the varying reactions of Pixar’s younger and older fans: “Kids and adults respond to different elements in our films.”

What children’s film or TV program most inspired or influenced you when you were young?

I loved Sesame Street long beyond when it was socially acceptable. I got so excited by The Muppet Show that I would dangle a tape recorder over the TV so I could listen to the show again throughout the week. (These were the days before home video recording.) You can definitely see the influence of the Muppets in many of Pixar’s early films: They’re largely chaotic ensemble movies with broad comedic characters, but with a sense that deep down, everyone likes each other.

How has the children’s storytelling landscape changed over the past decade? Do kids fundamentally engage with Pixar stories differently, or not?

I don’t think of Pixar as making children’s programming, so I’m not sure I can answer with any authority. (As animation director Chuck Jones said, “We try to make our films sophisticated enough for kids, but simple enough for adults to understand.”)

I do know kids and adults respond to different elements in our films. I remember watching Up with a family audience, and after the screening a kid tells me he really liked it but there was one part that made him sad. Assuming he was talking about the part where Carl’s wife, Ellie, dies, I was surprised when he said, “Yeah, when the bird hurt [her] foot, that was really sad.”

Whether kids today respond differently than they did 10-20 years ago… I think of Luca and Turning Red as pretty classic Pixar, and although they’re both very different from each other, they both did incredibly well for us. I like to think the things we strive for in our movies are pretty universal and time-honored.

Surely you receive quite a bit of candid feedback from kids on Pixar’s output. What’s your favorite recent comment?

Inside Out continues to be one I hear about, from both kids and adults who say the film changed their lives. That’s always nice to hear. Though there’s a quote I like from a comedian who said something like, “If any of my monologues have ever inspired or made you think … I’ve failed you.” It’s a good reminder that our first job is to entertain people. If we don’t do that, there’s nothing else they’ll take from our stuff.

This story first appeared in the June 7 issue of The News84Media magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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