Inside Out director Pete Docter talks Oscars, Pixar and being in touch with feelings
The 47-year-old, nominated for an Academy Award for the eighth time, has crafted some of the most critically acclaimed animated films in recent history, including Toy Story, Wall-E and Up
Six years ago, Pete Docter and Tom McCarthy were sharing the Oscars spotlight, having collaborated on the Academy Award-nominated original screenplay for Pixar's Up.
This year, on that same carpet, the two writer-directors will go toe to formally attired toe.
Docter and McCarthy were both announced last Thursday as original screenplay nominees for the 88th Academy Awards – Docter for Pixar's Inside Out, which also received a best animated feature nomination, and McCarthy for Spotlight, which received six nominations, including best picture.
“I texted him [Thursday] morning,” Doctor says of McCarthy (who is also nominated for best director), about their trading congratulations. “We walked the red carpet [together] in 2010.” And this awards season, including at last weekend’s Golden Globes, they’ve had occasion to trade warm words on the carpet with their much-praised new films.
“He's such a fantastic writer,” Docter says of McCarthy (who co-wrote Spotlight with Josh Singer). “I learned so much from him. He's so economical, and focuses on the right things. Spotlight could have been pedantic.” Instead, the Pixar filmmaker says, McCarthy is expert in tone and storytelling.
The same can be said, of course, of Docter, who has garnered eight Oscars nominations in his career, winning for 2009's Up. Half those nominations have been for writing – including on 1995's Toy Story (the blockbuster film that Docter began working on shortly after graduating art school) and 2009's Wall-E. (Docter, it’s worth noting, has thus contributed to half of all of Pixar’s Oscar-nominated screenplays.)
Docter is quick to shower praise upon his Inside Out co-writers: Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley and Ronnie del Carmen. “This was difficult subject material,” Docter says of animating a universe set inside an 11-year-old girl's mind. “Once we got in there, we wondered whether we had bitten off more than we could chew, [given] the incredible complexity of the human mind.”
One barometer of just how well the Inside Out writers created a relatable world is the degree to which the film now functions as a real-world tool. Docter, for instance, notes that some of the most gratifying response to building a film that focuses on illuminating and animating five emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness – has been from people who work closely with children.
“We got such a great response from audiences and critics,” Docter says, yet some of the deeply meaningful response “has come from parents and teachers who say the film has given them a new language to talk [with children] about feelings and about what's going on inside.”
Docter then adds with a laugh: “I wish we could have claimed that we meant to do that.”
Throughout the film's five-year creative process, Docter stayed true to a central tenet. “The statement of the film is that sadness has that unexpected benefit in connecting us to each other, and that is necessary to deal with the losses in life,” he says. “That's something all the writers talked about.”
Docter praises each of the voice actors, from Phyllis Smith as Sadness (“She was key to that character”) to Lewis Black as Anger (“He was the one actor we had in mind from the beginning”), from Mindy Kaling's Disgust to Amy Poehler's Joy (“Amy became such an ambassador for this film”).
Docter had special praise, too, for Bill Hader as Fear. “Bill was a real connector on this film,” the director says. “He invited us to hang out on the set of Saturday Night Live, and that had a big effect on us – in seeing how that big ensemble works.”
And speaking of large ensembles, Docter especially praises the entire Inside Out team, including producer Jonas Rivera.
“We had 275 very talented people working on this film,” Docter says. “I would challenge you to find a more talented group in the world, from lighting to layout.”
And, in the glow of the Oscars love, Pete Docter says that purely from a place of Joy.
The Washington Post