Up’s Pete Docter & Jonas Rivera | No Looking Down

prof_docter-rivera_sm.jpgOver the course of the interview, both Docter and Rivera were doodling both while listening to and answering questions, and would only lift pen from paper if they needed to pantomime a part of a story they were telling.







There’s an episode of The Simpsons where the family goes to New York and, while there, Bart finds the offices of Mad magazine. He goes inside, expecting there to be all manner of silliness going on, only to find a stuffy lady at a desk who turns him away. As Bart is leaving, a door opens behind the old lady and Alfred E. Neuman pokes his head out to ask a question, while behind him, of course, all kinds of crazy stuff is going on. This is always how I have imagined the offices at Pixar to be. I recently got to sit down and talk with Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera, the co-writer/director and producer of the new Pixar movie Up, and, after speaking with them, I am only further convinced.

Pete Docter is 40 years old, but I wouldn’t have known that without looking it up; he both looks and acts much younger. The same goes for Jonas Rivera, except that I have not been able to track down his age, and didn’t bother to ask him. Over the course of the interview, both Docter and Rivera were doodling both while listening to and answering questions, and would only lift pen from paper if they needed to pantomime a part of a story they were telling.

And what stories they are capable of telling! Docter has story credits on both Toy Story movies, Monsters, Inc., Wall-E and now Up (prior to Up, the only feature film he has a directing credit on was Monsters, Inc.), all of which have, well, nothing in common aside from being Pixar films. "Our approach has always been, ‘Well, let’s try to make every film different,’" says Docter. "Hopefully each one is strong on its own… Our hope is that every time you go to see a Pixar movie, you know that there is going to be a high quality level, but beyond that you’re going to be surprised.

"This was a love letter to our grandparents of that era," he says by way of explaining "an action/adventure [film] starring an old man." (Here he stops doodling to demonstrate how his grandfather would hitch up his pants before sitting down.) "We don’t approach things from a marketing or toy manufacturing way; we just think about story."

If approaching films from a marketing standpoint is a concern of yours (as it is for me), you might pause at the fact that Up is the first Pixar film to be released in currently trendy 3-D (though not exclusively; you can see it 2-D if you want). What’s worse is that Docter and his co-writer/director Bob Peterson had the story for Up in development for over a year before the idea of making it in 3-D was even broached; when it was, it wasn’t by one of them (though, in fairness, it was Pixar mastermind John Lasseter’s idea, so it couldn’t have been too bad). That has gimmick written all over it, right? Docter justifies the decision as such: "[3-D] is like a toy; every time we come up with new technology, it’s like, ‘Ooh, cool! How do we play with that?’" There’s that childlike enthusiasm again.

"To me, when you see a really successful film, you get lost in them, and it’s just like this dream," he continues. "And when 3-D comes and goes, ‘Booga Booga’"-here Docter reaches into my face-"you’re reminded, ‘Oh yeah, I’m sitting in this theater with these glasses on.’ So, we really made a concerted effort to not do the gimmicks like that, and to try to use 3-D to make the movie more immersive, as opposed to off-putting." When asked if he prefers the audience to view Up in either 2- or 3D, he says, "I think it’s really up to the person."

Every single film being new and fresh and full of ideas? Not coming up with ideas for films based on how well they can market them? Using artistic devices such as 3-D to make the film more immersive rather than cashing in on what’s popular? Well, in that case it makes sense why I love every single Pixar movie that comes out. And they don’t even try to cash in on pop culture references, as pretty much every other movie — especially every other animated movie (I’m looking at you, DreamWorks) – does in an attempt to appeal to the broadest audience possible. Rivera explains the aversion to pop culture by saying, "I go to movies to get away from that stuff."

Yes! Always the trendsetters and never the trend followers. Up is Pixar’s tenth feature film, and they haven’t hit a false note yet. With this kind of young talent and enthusiasm on their side (and two guys is just the tip of the iceberg!), I have every confidence that Pixar can keep their streak up indefinitely. | Pete Timmermann

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