Maestro: Pete Docter
Known For: Zany, heartfelt, and high-concept Pixar films.
Influences: Bugs Bunny
Better than you remember: Only two films, both as good as you remember.
Box Office: Up with 292 million.
Favorite Actor: You guessed it, John Ratzenberger.
Thanks to the past three films, Pixar is riding an unbelievable high. With two of the three directors covered (and Oscared) we can turn our sights to Pete Docter and ask, not just what makes him a great director but what specifically makes him different from his peers Brad Bird and Andrew Stanton. While Bird employs complex direction to explore complex relationships and Stanton tells simple stories about simple crises, Pete Docter embraces inventively high-concept stories culminating in big action/adventure sequences. Take Monsters Inc. for example. It's a fun, shiny picture that quickly snares you emotionally and submits its concept so clearly and plainly you don't realize just how intricate it is. By the time the finale rolls around, featuring a warehouse of racing portal doors with heroes and villains (one of whom can turn invisible for that matter) jumping between them and through them, you've already been buying into the plot for almost ninety minutes. It took me a few viewings to realize just how impossible it would be for a viewer (let alone a child) to wrap their mind around everything had it not been presented perfectly. Equally impressive is how Up sells the viewer on things like flying houses, talking dogs, and a giant goofball bird. Sure we could dismiss these as the fantastical elements of an animated world, but Up, more than any other Pixar film, is rooted in our reality. In a way, it needs to be in order to emphasize the amazement of the adventure that follows.
Not my paradigms! Ahhhhhh!
This leads us to our inevitable finale. Pete Docter enjoys big action set pieces. The influence of films like Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark combined with the frantic goofiness of Looney Tunes combine to make some of the most madcap climaxes found in the Pixar canon (though dissenters often cite these as among his flaws). Up next for Docter? Probably taking some time to enjoy his Oscar. No word on whether he'll branch out into live action like the other Pixar directors, but word is he's working on the script to Monsters Inc. 2. I woudn't be surprised if he remained in animation. It's the perfect medium for the heartfelt yet zany films of Pete Docter, Mr. Madcap.