A Dreamer Walking

Pete Docter – An Observation – The Relationship

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on August 22, 2011

The relationship is what really counts for Pete Docter. The movies he makes are all about exploring different aspects of what it means to have a relationship with someone. He goes from exploring what it means to become friends in the original Toy Story, to what it means to be committed in a relationship in the movie Monsters Inc, to what it means to move on from a relationship after it ends in the movie UP.

Docter knows relationship is a key longing for all of us. We all want to have friends and most of us want to fall in love some day. Docter knows how relationships can strengthen us and give us fulfillment. However, Docter also knows relationship can be a hard, frustrating, and painful thing at times. His films ask the question to whether or not relationship is worth the struggles. Docter’s movies all have relationships we see unfold in everyday life and he brilliantly uses the fantasy part of his films to dig farther into the very real and relevant question of, “what does it mean to be in a relationship?”.

The first feature length film for Pete Docter was Toy Story. He was a co-writer and one of the lead animators for the movie. Toy Story deals with mainly two characters, Woody and Buzz. These guys are exact opposites of each other.  The main point of the film was to bring two opposites together. Visually the toys are shown to be opposites through Woody being a old cowboy doll and Buzz being a state of the art space toy. At first the characters hate each other. Woody lets his selfish relationship with his owner Andy get in the way of being open to anyone else. Only when Woody is willing to let go of his jealousy for Andy is he able to start to understand Buzz and build a relationship with him. Docter was in the middle of making this relationship work on screen. He actually helped animate the pivotal scene where Woody lets go of his ego and expresses how good Buzz actually is for someone like Andy. Through talking to Buzz, Woody realizes his greed and and is able to let go of it allowing him and Buzz to open up to each other. If this scene did not express Woody’s change well enough the whole story would have been ruined. Yet Docter allowed us into Woody’s soul and found a way to redeem him so not only Buzz but the whole audience could relate to him.

In Monster Inc, a movie Pete Docter helped write and made his debut directing, Docter goes even farther into what it means to have a relationship with someone. In this movie we are introduced to the characters Sully and Mike. Both are monsters whose profession is scaring little kids. They are best buddies at the beginning of the film, seemingly in a relationship that can’t be broken. So what does Docter do? He throws in something that begins to tear the relationship apart. A human child Sully calls  Boo somehow gets into the monster world. Children are considered by most monsters to be extremely dangerous but Sully begins to warm up to Boo. Mike can’t understand it, for most of the film he wants to do anything in order to get rid of the child. The tension between Mike and Sully rises to the point of them fighting and seemingly breaking up.

Pete Docter deals with a lot of issues that come with relationship in Monsters Inc. We can easily feel jealous when a good friend of ours begins to hang out with someone we are not friends with. What if my best friend is a conservative Christian and he sees me begin to hang out with a Muslim, someone he has been taught his whole life was dangerous? The same kind of idea applies to Monsters Inc. Sully choose to care for someone who everyone, including Mike, has been taught is dangerous. Mike could have let the relationship Sully had with Boo break up his relationship with Sully. Instead however Docter gives us another lesson to what being in a true relationship means. Relationship requires trust and Mike expresses this trust by going back to Sully. Mike explains the reasons he got angry at him, yet tells Sully that he is more important then his frustrations and fears. After trusting Sully and letting go of his fears Mike begins to understand Sully’ change of heart on who children really are. Eventually Mike begins to embrace Boo. This creates a even stronger relationship between the two monsters. We as the audience are also able to see more value in Sully’ and Mike’s relationship because we have seen it get tested and still hold strong.

In Docter’s latest film UP, we go deeper into the joys and pains of relationship. We are shown a beautiful relationship between the main protagonist Carl and his wife Ellie. The two grow old together in a wonderful montage at the beginning of the film. And then Ellie dies. The relationship we all began to care about is broken. Ellie becomes only a memory, a memory that at the beginning of the film brings Carl Down. After Ellie’s death Carl becomes a hermit who is stuck in the past. We see a old cranky man who is open to no one. Then Pete Docter throws in another element that will change Carl’s life forever. A boy named Russell knocks Carl’s door. He is a boy scout who needs to help the elderly in order to earn his last wilderness badge.

Pete Docter shows us the pain that can come with a relationship. The hurt we see Carl go through after his wife dies is hard to bear. However, through the fantastical elements of the story Docter slowly brings “relationship” back into Carl’s life. Carl wants to leave society and go on the adventure to Paradise Falls he always promised his wife they would go on. So Carl ties a few thousand balloons to his house and flies away. The only problem is Russell accidentally comes along with him.  Carl rebukes any relationship with Russell because he is still holding onto his past relationship with Ellie. Carl’s remembrance of Ellie is expressed visually through the house and all it’s possessions. Through half of the film Carl needs to pull the house with a hose line through out the South American jungle. Visually the house (Carl’s past) becomes this burden that Carl can’t let go of. His only goal is to bring himself and his house to Paradise Falls. However Russell along with a few friends they meet on their adventure begin to slowly connect with Carl. In very subtle ways Carl begins to let go of his burden and concentrate on the characters around him.

At the end Carl is faced with two choices, keep the items that connect him to the relationship he had with Ellie or go save Russell from the villain of the movie Charles F. Muntz. Charles chooses to let go of his past and save Russell. One of the brilliant things about UP is Docter forces Carl to get rid of his past in a visual way. Carl needs the house to fly again so he gets rid of all the houses possesions to make the house lighter and free it up. The scene represents exactly what is happening inside Carl. He is no longer letting his past stop him from being open to the present. Carl ends up watching his whole house fly away through the clouds. At the end he relizes Ellie will always be with him and she does not need to stop him from connecting to Russell or any other relationship. Both Russell and Carl represent broken relationships that come together to create a fulfilling one.

In a Spline Cast interview Pete Docter talked about relationship being the thing that really matters for the Pixar movies. This especially is true about Docter’s films. He is dedicated to searching out all aspects of what makes a relationship work. Docter truly believes in the power of relationship and because of the strength of his conviction his characters can convincingly break through any obstacle that get in their way. For Pete Docter filmmaking is not about creating a complex story line, it is about simple stories where we are able to see the relationship unfold. Docter keeps finding new ways to explore relationship on screen. He uses the magic of animation to further his exploration. The fantasy parts of his films are used as tools to further his points. I do not even think Docter cares too much about narrative. His films are not the most polished movies. Everything does not make complete sense in his films. However he connects us to his stories because he connects us to his characters. We like Pete Docter’s movies because we believe and relate to the relationships we see unfold on screen.

Rock’s Shadow

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on December 1, 2010

I was lucky enough to come upon this rock on one of my walks. It creates some interesting shapes both with the rock itself and the shadow. I softened the stuff around the rock and the shadow so it didn’t distract and take away from the main piece. This is a picture that does not have much color appeal, the appeal is actually all in the framing and how the light hits the rock.  Hope you enjoy!

The Connection

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on April 29, 2010

In many commentaries I listen to I hear the director often say something like, “I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being preachy to the audience”. Most film directors realize that being preachy to the audience is a sure way to have people walk out before the film is done. I am a big fan about not being “preachy” in any movie I make.

Before you can communicate your ideas to the audience without being preachy, you need to be able to build a relationship. We as the audience need to know the characters before we are willing to listen to them.

The relationship in a film is key to having your point come across. Take an example from the movie Schindler’s List. Schindler’s List is a Steven Spielberg movie about the Holocaust. In this movie Steven did not just throw us into the brutality of the Holocaust, he first built a relationship with the audience. We first got to know the main Character Schindler. Schindler was not a man who had a relationship with the Jewish people at the beginning of the movie. The movie was first about getting to know Schindler, then we began to see a relationship build between Schindler and the Jews. We were able to get to know the Jews through Schindler. The story was about the relationship Schindler builds with the Jews, the more we got to know the Jews, through Schindler, the more we felt for their loses. The evil of the Holocaust began to mean something to the audience because we now had a relationship with the Jews.

The reason to why the big battle is often at the end of the movie, is because we need to first have reason to care for the battle. The reason we care for the battle, the final football game, or the concert at the end of the film, is because we have gotten to know the characters that are in those events and are now rooting for them to succeed.

The more you let the audience get to know your characters the more we will care for what they have to say.

How to Train a Dragon

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on April 9, 2010

How to Train a Dragon is one powerful movie. I do not say this very much about Dreamworks animated movies. The reason why this is different then most Dreamworks movies, is that it was driven by the Filmmakers vision.

Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois were the directors for How to Train a Dragon, they also directed the movie Lilo and Stitch. I was able to watch a documentary on the making of Lilo and Stitch, where both directors went into detail on what goes into their story process. Both directors were story artist before being promoted to directors, so they were already extremely knowledgeable on the foundations of story structure. Both of the directors seem to really help fulfill each other. Chris Sanders is a person who is full of energy, where you can sometimes find him literally jumping off the walls with ideas and excitement. Dean is a very steady force and is able to calm down Chris when he needs to be calm.

Both Directors are dedicated to character and story driving the film. In How to Train a Dragon, you can see that the relationship between Hiccup (boy on right of the picture above) and Toothless (Dragon on left of picture above) is the heart of the movie. There is a lot of time spent in getting to know who Hiccup and Toothless are. Even the action scenes are opening doors for the audience to who Hiccup is as a person and who Toothless is as a Dragon. Both Hiccup and Toothless have been taught their whole lives that dragons and humans are enemies. The movie is about both looking at each other in a different light, and realizing that their differences do not make them enemies.

We see a powerful combination of beautiful scenery, powerful music, and wonderful acting, that all get us, as an audience, involved in what is happening on screen. Even the 3D aspect of the film let us see the story in a better light. This tells me that people were able to rally around Chris and Dean to make their vision come to life.

When people have vision, powerful things can happen. Just two peoples vision brought literally hundreds of people together. Even though this movie had a huge amount of action and humor, what kept me interested was the relationship I saw throughout. I would recommend the movie to anyone, it will surly be one of those movies that will last for years to come.