Now that Pixar's latest release, Up, has proven to be a commercial as well as a critical success, investors who worried publicly that the film lacked commercial appeal will have to eat their words. The $68.2 million the film took in over last weekend gave the studio its third-highest opening behind Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. It also continued a phenomenal winning streak. Up is not only Pixar's 10th release, it is also its 10th to open at No. 1.
Part of the studio's formula for success, according to Up writer and director Pete Docter, a professing Christian, is that he and his colleagues don't concern themselves with thoughts of marketing or box office appeal during the creative process: "It's not that we don't think about the audience, it's just that we think we are the audience, too-we love going to movies. And we think people want to see good movies and be entertained the way we are when we go to the movies, so that's what we focus on."
To really entertain, Docter believes that movies-even kids' movies-have to begin from a place of truth: "In order to have a film affect you it has to have real emotion and resonate in some way with your own life. So even though the stars of the film may be monsters or bugs, you identify with those characters on the screen. You have to have that foundation of truth to have an emotional attachment to the characters."
In fact, the story about an old man named Carl who flies off to adventure by tying a massive bunch of balloons to his house grew out of Docter's own longing to take his family off to an exotic locale to avoid the chaos of the modern world. "Sometimes, at the end of a tough day, I would have this fantasy of us being shipwrecked on a desert island in the Pacific," he admits. He and his co-screenwriter, Bob Petersen, then began to explore that idea: "Bob and I started having some fun thinking about an old man character, like the ones we love from the George Booth cartoons in The New Yorker, and all those great Spencer Tracy and Walter Matthau type of guys who are grouchy but you still like them. We came up with the image of a floating house held aloft by balloons, and it just seemed to capture what we were after in terms of escaping the world. But then we quickly realized that the world is really about relationships, and that's what Carl comes to discover."
Carl's realization that the greatest moments in life are also the smallest grew out of Docter's experiences with his family as well. "A few years ago I went to Europe with my wife and kids," he recalled. "We stayed in fancy hotels, ate amazing food, visited castles, and had this big adventure. One night we were having hot chocolate at a small department store café in Paris, nothing special, and I was laughing and joking with my kids. It was an amazing trip to a fantastic place, and what I remember most is the small stuff."
Though Docter says that it is his faith that drives him to depict authentic relationships, he points out that he experiences God most in his work when focusing on "the small stuff" and making sure the details of his films are as excellent as possible: "When I feel God the most is stepping to the edge of a cliff or observing the trees. There's a spiritual exercise to observing the world around us, and it's something I take very seriously on all my films-down to leaves, looking at the incredible intricacy and detail of a leaf. It's mind-boggling and humbling, and I try to capture some of that in my work."
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