This week, Disney/Pixar’s UP! arrives on DVD and Blu-Ray.  The film is directed by Pete Doctor, and we had a moment to share this Q&A with you.

Question: How did you come up with the movie’s storyline?

Pete Doctor: A number of years ago, I was sat in a room, throwing around ideas with co-director Bob Peterson and a lot of the themes we came up with were about ‘escape’ and ‘getting away’. We kept coming back to the idea of this floating house that felt cool and poetic – and the idea of ‘getting away from the world’ seemed to strike a chord with us.

Question: What made you choose a 78-year-old man as the protagonist in Up?

Pete Doctor: Well, we had always wanted to do something with an old man – specifically, someone with a lot of attitude. We had fun playing around with the idea of this grouchy guy who would slam the door in people’s faces. It was something we hadn’t really seen before in animation.

Question: You’ve created a story about a 70-year-old man in a society that’s obsessed with youth… Carl doesn’t have hairs on his ears or too many liver spots. Are you trying to keep an ideal vision of growing old?

Pete Doctor: It’s definitely idealized and caricatured, but I look at the veins in my own hand and I think, ‘Well, you wouldn’t want to see that on a cartoon character.’ Everything is simplified to be more appealing – and we certainly did that with Carl’s wrinkles and the pockmarks on his nose. He’s definitely a senior citizen with his hearing aid and walking stick, but he also has a fun look to him.

Question: How has the story changed over the four years of production?

Pete Doctor: In the very first draft, we had Carl wanting to float off to be with his wife. She had died and he wanted to be with her, so he floats away at the end of the first act. However, we didn’t really know where the story would go after that, so we had to give him a more concrete goal. Eventually we gave him this back-story with the dream of getting to Paradise Falls in South America.

Question: Why did you pick South America?

Pete Doctor: Early on, the story was set on a tropical island because I’m a big fan of tropical islands. I thought to myself, ‘Well, if we have to do research on a tropical island, that won’t be so bad.’ But there have been so many movies where a character gets stuck on a tropical island and we wanted something different, so we had to think up something new. We needed a location where Carl could get stuck with this kid. It couldn’t be somewhere where he could just turn to the police and say, “Here, take care of this youngster.” We wouldn’t have a movie if that was the case.

Question: So you decided on the tabletop mountains of Venezuela?

Pete Doctor: Exactly. One of the guys at Pixar had a video of these mountains in South America called the tapuis – and they were perfect. Why? Well, one of the major themes of the movie is adventure. If you think about adventure, South America is one of the few places in the world where new things are being discovered all of the time. Even to this day, you hear stories of a new species of monkey being discovered that nobody has heard about until now. That’s amazing. This place is so full of secrets, darkness and mystery. That seemed like a good setting.

Question: Was Russell the wilderness explorer always in the story?

Pete Doctor: No, he wasn’t. At first, we had the idea of a grouchy old man who was stuck in his ways. Carl wasn’t really living life. He just wanted to be left on his own, but by the end of the movie he’s reaching out and connecting with Russell and his new family. We thought, ‘What’s going to change Carl?’ And the answer we came up with was a kid.

Question: Where did you get the idea of the talking dogs?

Pete Doctor: The dogs came from an idea that Bob Peterson and I developed early on. We tried to make the dogs think about subjects that real dogs think about, like food and squirrels. We had one idea where Dug was a failed science experiment from a Russian satellite that crashed in the mountains, but ultimately we came up with the idea of Charles Muntz – the main villain in the movie.

Question: How much input did you have into the score and music of the movie?

Pete Doctor: From the beginning, we talked about wanting the score to feel classic, like the music from a 40s or 50s movie. I didn’t point to anything in particular, although I did talk about wanting Ellie’s theme to be very simple. I wanted people to be able to imagine it playing on a music box. The score Michael Giacchino came up with was so beautiful. There are wonderful, tender moments as well as action – and Ellie’s theme is played in many different ways. He did a fantastic job.

Question: What’s it like to work with Giacchino?

Pete Doctor: Michael is a great collaborator, which is exactly how we work at Pixar. There aren’t loads of individual artists working by themselves in isolation. It’s a much more collaborative process than that at Pixar – and Michael is exactly the same. He was a real joy to work with.

Question: The movie features many novel devices, such as black and white sequences and silent sequences… Were there any techniques you couldn’t use?

Pete Doctor: There are no rules. You do whatever the audience needs to understand what you’re trying to say. Our philosophy at Pixar is: Try to make something that really speaks to people. We’re the first audience who gets to see these movies, but we’re just stand-ins for the audience in general. We know that at some point my eight-year-old daughter is going to see this and my grandmother is going to see this – along with everybody in between. We’re just trying to make the best film we can and we use whatever seems to feel right.

Question: How much of an influence was Hayao Miyazaki on the look of Up?

Pete Doctor: Miyazaki is an amazing filmmaker and one of the things he does really well is pay attention to little details. I love the way he looks at little things like the way water falls in a puddle. He focuses on things that don’t really seem important to the story, but they really place you there. When you watch his films, you feel like you can almost smell and taste everything on screen. We tried to learn as much as we could from him, although the look of our movies is very different.

Question: Pixar is famous for incorporating sneaky hidden references throughout their movies… What hidden gems can fans find in Up?

Pete Doctor: There are a lot of Pixar in-jokes hidden in the film. For starters, you can hear John Ratzenberger in this movie and he’s been in every Pixar movie so far. If you look closely, you will also be able to see things like the Pizza Planet truck, which showed up in Toy Story. It’s been in every Pixar movie, so you can definitely see it in a few shots in Up. If you look closely, you can see a ball with a star on it at one point in the movie. Well, this is the ball from Toy Story and Luxo Jr.

Question: What else can we see?

Pete Doctor: There are loads of hidden references, but I’m not giving everything away here. At the end of Monsters, Inc. Boo holds some toys and one of them is a fish, which is Nemo from Finding Nemo – but the audience didn’t know that at the time. Finding Nemo hadn’t been released at that point, so he was a secret character put in there. There’s a character from Toy Story 3 that you don’t know about yet that turns up in Up. Good luck finding it…

Disney*Pixar’s UP is Available on Blu-ray & DVD November 10th!


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1 Comment

  1. Up is probably the best film i have seen in the last few years. I include Dark Knight and Ironman in this. Genuinley emotive. I loved it.

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