The mind behind Inside Out discusses the importance of human relationships
The director of the touching animated films Toy Story, Monsters Inc, Wall-E, and Up has created another tear-jerker in Inside Out, a film that delves inside the mind of 11-year-old girl Riley and explores how Sadness, Joy, Fear, Disgust, and Anger impact her actions.
"This film was really born out of watching our kids grow up, which is not easy," Pixar movie director Pete Docter says, holding the Oscar for Best Animated Feature he and Jonas Rivera received for Inside Out.
"Anyone out there who's in junior high, high school, working it out, suffering— there are days you're going to feel sad. Angry. Scared.
"But you can make stuff. Make films. Draw. Write. It will make a world of difference."
Inside Out may appear to be solely for entertainment, but as Pete lets us in on the inner workings of the film we realize there is a lot more going on.
The main character Riley's struggle after her parents uproot her to San Francisco parallels events in Pete's childhood, when a move to Denmark in fifth grade resulted in what he refers to as "the most difficult time of my life".
"Suddenly, bam, your idyllic boyhood bubble is popped," Pete says, "and you're aware that everything you do and everything you wear and everything you say is being judged by everyone else.
"I always felt this awkwardness and shyness, and so I kind of retreated into my own little world," Pete goes on.
"That's part of why I gravitated toward animation. It was easier to draw something that expressed how I felt than to say it out loud."
Pete's shyness and tendency towards self-doubt did not disappear with adulthood. Those same feelings plague him today.
He admitted in an NPR interview that when planning the film, "I was sitting there in editorial going, this is not working. I'm a failure. These other films were flukes. I don't know what I'm doing. I should just quit."
Relationships, Pete has found, is key to a lot of things in life— and often it is one specific relationship that helps him battle disabling fear and self-doubt when it comes to his work.
"I ask for God's help," he told Patheos.com, "and it's definitely affected what I'm doing. It's helped me to calm down and focus.
"There were times when I got too stressed out with what I was doing, and now I just step back and say, 'God, help me through this.' It really helps you keep a perspective on things, not only in work but in relationships."
Pete learned about God and the concept of a friendship with Jesus from his parents. "I'd call myself Christian," he says today, "although I sometimes feel like I'm not really deserving of that."
He remembers a time he tried to walk away from his faith.
"Somewhere in college I thought, All right, I don't know if that really is speaking to me," he says.
"It's not like I wholesale rejected it ever, it's just that it sort of faded, you know? I credit my wife for pulling me back to really studying some of this stuff because there's amazing stuff to be learned.
"I think there's something fundamental to the Christian faith that speaks to the core of who we are... That's what Jesus brings: a personal relationship with God that is really unique. It's the only religion I know that offers that."
Pete explains how his faith feeds into aspects of his life and work. He has a young son, and he says as a Christian having a son "has made me even more amazed by the whole creation".
He says he then uses movies like Up that show a variety of landscapes to highlight the beauty and magic he finds in creation.
The movie Up, he says, "hopefully highlights the importance of relationship, because I think that's the heart of Christianity as well."
From Disney, Pete says he learned in his storytelling to balance each laugh with a tear. And from his Christian faith, he has learned the values of family, intimacy, and caring about others – all others.
We look forward to many more tear-inducing animations from him in the future, that reflect both on the splendor of our planet and on the importance of human connection.•