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These Days Tape Talk: Peter Docter

May 29, 2009 9:25 a.m.

These Days Tape Talk with KPBS film critic Beth Accomando about her interview with Up director Peter Docter.

Related Story: Interview with Up Director Peter Docter


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

3D ain't what it used to be. Gone are those funky glasses with one red lens and one blue one. Gone are gimmicky titles like Comin' at Ya. Gone too (or at least almost gone) are people on the screen pointing at the viewer and throwing things into the audience. Instead, films such as Coraline and the new Disney/Pixar animation Up employ 3D asa means of enhancing their stories and delivering a visually dazzling big screen experience.

"I wanted to make sure that Up wasn't a 3D movie about a man who sails his house to South America. It's a movie about an old man who sails his house to South America that also happens to be in 3D," says director Peter Docter, "So the first thing is always the story."

"We didn't want characters poking at you," adds producer Jonas Rivera, "Our job is to make people forget they are watching a movie. If something breaks the screen and points at you, you are reminded you are watching a movie so we decided we'd treat the screen like a window that we look into this world."

And an amazing world it turns out to be. Up challenges expectations about what American animation can be about. As with Pixar's Wall-E, Up has a large chuck of its opening play without dialogue.

"The opening shows Carl and Ellie's life together," says Docter, "that came out of the theme of the film about Carl [voiced by Ed Asner] redefining what adventure really is, what life is about. He and his wife promised each other that they'd some day go to this exotic place in South America and they never make it. Life got in the way and Carl worries that he has failed his wife but then comes to learn that they had had the best adventure in the world, which was this relationship together."

Much of the film deals with Carl as an old man – not the typical main character in a Hollywood animated film. In that respect Up recalls the anime Howl's Moving Castle by Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki. Docter is a fan of both anime and Miyazaki, and admires what Miyazaki can do in Japan.

"I think in Japan animation isn't relegated to being a genre unto itself," says Docter, "it's just a medium by which you can tell any number of stories be it horror or action or adventure or drama or whatever, and we're trying to do that as well. Every film that you go see from Pixar, we're hoping is a little bit of a surprise. You don't quite know what you're going to get. We hope to keep kind of pushing the boundaries of what defines us."

Docter participated in the directing of the English language version of Howl's Moving Castle as he was in the process of making Up. "So it was an interesting time to be able to observe how Miyazaki-san handled some similar material," says Docter, "We're sort of trained [here in the U.S.] that the way to keep an audience is to keep dangling the carrot 'What's going to happen next?' It's all about plot and keeping things moving forward and what [Miyazaki] does is to take these real observed truthful moments. A lot of time nothing's happening next, it's just right now how does this little kid behave, look at the way the water just ripples down and drops, just beautifully observed little moments of truth that you just recognize and respond to and we just try to put some moments like that into this film."

Rivera agrees: "Not a day goes by that a Miyazaki film doesn't come up in conversation. What we love about those films is that they just breathe. So many films, especially animated films don't. It's just boom-boom-boom-boom. But we wanted this to breath a little bit. To somehow channel that charm that grace that those films have."

Up opens May 29 and offers yet another stellar animated work from Disney/Pixar Studios.