We review the career of the creative director of the studio for the premiere of his new film, ‘Soul’.

Pete Docter spent his childhood in isolation. Despite being often seen as the author of the most emotionally charged films in an already famous studio, he had to constantly remind himself of the existence of others and the need to connect with them: Docter never felt more comfortable than in his own company, playing Indiana Jones in his garden.

This was, in a way, a breeding ground for an animator: Docter taught himself how to draw, creating flipbooks and shooting homemade shorts with an old camera of his family. In his own words, it was his little way of “playing God.”

He never stopped doing it. His early work opened the doors to CalArts for him, where he signed three student shorts that were preserved in the American Film Archives.

In them, we already find all the germs of what would later forge his reputation as a director of feature films: a firm notion of the identity of every character, very clear emotional nuclei, and even those designs inspired by simple shapes that he preserves today in all his works. and they automatically define the identity of their protagonists.

Coming to Pixar

When Docter joined Pixar Animation Studios, he had no idea what he was doing. At the age of 21, right after graduating, he intended to try to get into Disney. But after the release of The Little Mermaid, the studio was experiencing a rebirth and everyone wanted to work there. So Docter focused on the two offers that he did have.

The first was a newly released animated series, The Simpsons; Years later, fate would reunite him with the person who offered him the job, animation supervisor Brad Bird. The other was a young computer animation studio whose only résumé was four pairs of shorts. “Looking back,” says Docter, “I can’t help wondering what the hell he was thinking about.”

Docter soon became a linchpin of the studio’s first feature film, Toy Story, sitting on the film’s main writing team throughout the creative process and partially basing Buzz Lightyear on himself, even using his expressions in the mirror as the basis for its conception.

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Shortly before the release of Toy Story, his core team got together to brainstorm: if the movie was to be successful, they had to start thinking about new projects. Docter, still fascinated by the use of that universal belief centered on your toys coming to life when you left the room, came up with a proposal based on another of his childhood notions: that monsters were waiting for you in his closet.

SA monsters. It ended up becoming his first film as a director, establishing along the way all of Docter’s creative patterns: from those conceptual proposals whose roots always lie in his own life, which is why his cinema seems to become more and more existentialist, to his absolute fascination. for the absurd comedy.

But if there is a key that has always existed in Docter as a creative, it is his absolute passion for the ability of animation to tell any story. Up and Inside Out, his two most revered films were born during a turning point for Pixar in which its most iconic directors set off to shoot live-action blockbusters and the rest was in charge of signing sequel after sequel for the studio. Docter never wanted to fall for that: even when they tried to assign him outside proposals for his next project, his answer was always “now, but I have this other idea.”

Docter in command

And it is now when this mantra begins to expand, perhaps when they needed it most, to the entire study. Following the firing for sexual harassment of John Lasseter, Pixar’s creative director since its inception and his greatest public figure; The studio, promising genuine changes to the way they do things, promoted Docter to the role of creative director, giving him complete leadership on all future studio projects.

And in the absence of finishing seeing how this affects his work culture, the changes in his work have not been long in coming. The first four films under Docter’s direction are all original projects, setting aside the obsession with sequels that Lasseter seemed to embrace; and the studio has more diversity among its main team of directors, incorporating racialized creatives such as Adrián Molina or Kemp Powers and giving a greater role to figures such as Domee Shi, the first woman to direct a Pixar film alone after the departure of Brenda Chapman in Brave.

Even the only non-original project under Docter’s tutelage, Lightyear, seems like a weird but ingenious carom devised to deal with Disney’s requests to expand the Toy Story universe, rejecting a fifth of the saga in favor of a science movie. completely new fiction with the excuse of starring “the original Buzz Lightyear on which the toy is based.”

But above all, and despite the new responsibility under his shoulders, Docter has not stopped creating. His new film as a director, Soul, is a hilarious metaphysical journey with all his usual tics, the tone of which is especially reminiscent of his Up. We regret not being able to see it in the cinemas for which it was originally planned because it also has the greatest visual inventiveness that the studio has signed on for many years.

In the absence of seeing where he continues to lead Pixar, we cannot help but hope that his passion for animation as a medium capable of telling anything will allow him to continue telling original stories within a studio as large as this one. Because deep down, as long as Docter can continue to sign his ideas and get his team to do the same, these are going to be the closest we have to see them play Indiana Jones in the garden.