Pete Docter is an animator, screenwriter, producer, and director who, inspired by Chuck Jones and Walt Disney, created flip books and homemade animated shorts while growing up. He studied philosophy and making art for a year at the University of Minnesota, then transferred to the California Institute of the Arts. There he made three animated shorts: 1988’s Winter, 1989’s Palm Springs, and 1990’s Next Door (which won him a Student Academy Award). He graduated in 1990, and started working at Pixar, a computer animation company, the day after he graduated. He would soon be assigned larger roles in writing, animation, and sound recording by John Lasseter. His contributions assisted in creating the first computer animated film, 1995’s Toy Story (he was one of the seven screenwriters who would receive an Oscar nod for Best Original Screenplay for this film). He continued working on developing other computer animated features, and even directed a couple of his own. In honor of today’s release of Monsters University (directed by Dan Scanlon), this new installment of Animation Corner will focus on Docter’s first two features, the Oscar-nominated Monsters, Inc. (whose prequel is Monsters University) and the Oscar-winning Up.
Directed by Docter, 2001’s Monsters, Inc. centers on two monsters named James P. “Sulley” Sullivan and Mike Wazowski who work at Monsters, Inc. in the city of Monstropolis, where they assist in creating enough scares with other scarers (which provides power for the city). Their world gets turned upside down when a human child is one day accidentally brought into their world. Featuring the voices of Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Jennifer Tilly, James Coburn, Frank Oz, John Ratzenberger, Bonnie Hunt, and Mary Gibbs, this critically acclaimed film grossed $255 million domestically on a budget of $115 million during its initial theatrical run (it added another $34 million domestically in its 2012 3D re-release). Worldwide, it has grossed almost a combined $563 million. Work on the film’s story started in the mid-’90s and went through a number of stages as the story continued to evolve. Pixar’s animation team had to refine the process of rendering fur in order to achieve more realistic-looking hair as well as making hairs cast shadows on other hairs. Randy Newman, who previously scored 1995’s Toy Story, 1998’s A Bug’s Life, and 1999’s Toy Story 2 for Pixar, signed on and provided an Oscar-nominated score as well as the song “If I Didn’t Have You” (which finally brought him a long-overdue Oscar). Shortly before the film’s release, children’s song writer Lori Madrid sued Pixar, claiming that they stole her ideas from her 1997 poem “There’s a Boy In My Closet” for the film. It was eventually ruled the the film had nothing to do with the poem. Among the film’s accolades are three Saturn Award nods (including Best Writing & Best Fantasy Film), eight Annie Award nods (including one win for Outstanding Character Animation), a BAFTA Children’s Award win for Best Feature Film, and four Academy Award nods for Best Sound Editing, Best Original Score, Best Animated Feature, and one win for Best Original Song.
Directed by Docter, 2009’s Up centers on an elderly widower named Carl Fredricksen who, by tying thousands of balloons to his home, sets out to fulfill his lifelong dream to see the wilds of South America and to complete a promise made to his wife. He soon discovers, however, that a young Wilderness Explorer named Russell (who’s been trying to earn a merit badge for assisting the elderly) has inadvertently tagged along for the ride. Featuring the voices of Edward Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, Delroy Lindo, and John Ratzenberger, this critically acclaimed film cost $175 million to make and grossed $293 million domestically (it made another $438 million internationally for a worldwide total of $731 million). While developing the film’s story, Docter selected an old man as the main protagonist after drawing a picture of a grumpy old man with smiling balloons. Carl was primarily based on Spencer Tracy, Walter Matthau, and James Whitmore (the look of Carl was based on Spencer Tracy as he appeared in his final film, 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner). The tepuis mountains in Venezuela inspired the film’s primary setting. The animation team put a lot of effort into designing the plants, rocks, mountain ranges, and the creatures of the area so that they could still be believable even though what’s there in reality is unbelievable. A lot of effort also went into animating old people and what they could or could not do in regards to animating their movements. Michael Giacchino, who previously scored 2004’s The Incredibles and 2007’s Ratatouille for Pixar, was brought on to provide an emotional score with an emphasis on character themes. Among the film’s accolades are an AFI Award win for Movie of the Year, two Saturn Award nods (including Best Animated Film), nine Annie Award nods (including two wins for Best Director & Best Animated Feature, four BAFTA Award nods (including two wins for Best Music & Best Animated Film), a Grammy Award win for Best Score Soundtrack Album, two Golden Globe wins for Best Original Score & Best Animated Feature, and five Academy Award nods (including two wins for Best Original Score & Best Animated Feature).