Pete Docter: 'I don't think Pixar makes programs for children'

Pete Docter: ‘I don’t think Pixar makes programs for children’

As he prepares for the release of Pixar’s 27th film, Elementaryon 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 reflects on the different reactions of Pixar’s young and old fans: “Children and adults respond to different elements in our films”.

What children’s movie or TV show inspired or influenced you the most when you were young?

I liked it Sesame street well beyond when it was socially acceptable. I’ve been so excited by The Muppet Show that I’d dangle a tape recorder over the TV so I could listen to the show all week. (Those were the days before home video recording.) You can definitely see the Muppet influence in many of Pixar’s early films—they’re largely chaotic ensemble films with broad comic characters, but with a sense that basically people like everyone else.

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

I don’t think Pixar makes programs for children, so I’m not sure I can answer with any authority. (As animation director Chuck Jones said, “We try to make our movies sophisticated enough for kids, yet simple enough for adults to understand.”)

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

If children today respond differently than they did 10-20 years ago… I think Luca AND Turning red as a pretty classic Pixar, and while they’re both very different from each other, they’ve both done incredibly well for us. I like to think that the things we strive for in our films are pretty universal and time-honored.

Sure you get some nice candid feedback from the guys on the Pixar release. What’s your favorite recent comment?

Inside out continues to be what I hear about, both from kids and adults who say the movie changed their lives. It’s always good to hear that. Although there’s a quote I like from a comedian who said something like, “If any of my monologues have ever inspired you or made you think… I’ve let you down.” It’s a good reminder that our first job is to entertain people. If we don’t, they won’t take anything else from our stuff.

This story first appeared in the June 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to register now.