Like many creators, director Peter Docter finds inspiration from his own life and family.
“Every year, we take a road trip,” he said. “For about two weeks, we set out on the road and head off to National Parks and other interesting places to see this amazing country that we live in. It’s great to see the world, but spending time together as a family is equally if not more important.
“A few years ago I went to Europe with my wife and kids. 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 cafe 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.”
Even though Docter’s latest effort, Up, is about the grand adventure of “curmudgeon” Carl Fredrickson and his unexpected companion Russell to South America, the point of the film is its really the small things that matter most. As is now very well known, there are two reasons why Fredrickson attached a gazillion helium balloons to his house and took off for the other side of the hemisphere. The first was land speculators willing to do anything, everything to drive the lonesome widower from the home he and his departed wife built from virtually scratch. The second was to emulate the Fredrickson’s hero, pre-World War II adventurer Carl Muntz.
But what does this old man and his Junior Wilderness Explorer “pal” discover as they combat Muntz and his pack in some of the most unexplored terrain on the planet?
That’s what makes Up a continuation of truly great films that comes out of the Pixar collective. This can be seen in all the key things one expects from the studio, i.e. casting, character design and overall animation techniques employed.
Even though the film is the first to use Disney/Pixar’s own 3-D process, it works very well without. Docter and company triumph this way by superimposing highly cartoony lead characters against hyper-realistic backdrop settings.
For instance, Frederickson himself looks a lot like Spencer Tracy, only it looks like the great actor had been squashed a few times by a pile driver…and never stretched back into shape.
“In this film, we have a story about a man who floats his house to South America with balloons,” Docter said. “We knew we needed a certain amount of whimsy and caricature, which is sort of my general aesthetic anyway. We were trying to reach back and connect to the great Disney films that we grew up with, like Peter Pan and Cinderella, and the great sense of style and caricature that they had. We made a real concerted effort to caricature the characters and their environments. In most films, the characters would be about six or seven heads tall. Our hero, Carl, is only three heads tall! We knew that the latest advances in computer technology could give us all the detail we wanted, but instead we asked it to do a simplification that doesn’t exist in real life.”
This is countered by the much more innocent Russell, who is ovoid to almost egg-like perfection or the character of Muntz himself, who looks like an inverted pyramid with a head on it.
Still, probably the crowning creation is Kevin, the missing link of a bird with a love of chocolate. He’s probably the most memorable bit of avian whimsy to grace the big screen since Bob Clampett’s Dodo.
““Kevin is a mix of real birds,” says Docter, who describes the bird as gorgeous and goofy at the same time. “Even eagles—if you watch them they’re so stately and regal and then they’ll do something completely crazy.”Behind these characters Docter and company went to the Tepius region of South America. A land best known for the wondrous Paradise Falls. It’s also known as one of the most difficult locations for any human to go to. Docter became aware of the locale thanks in part to Pixar production ace Ralph Eggleston.
“Ralph gave us a documentary about the Tepui Mountains (mesas) in South America, and as soon as I popped in the DVD, my hair stood on end because I knew this was where we should set the movie,” recalls Docter. “This was a fantastic weird world that I had never heard of. It was where Conan Doyle set his 1912 novel about prehistoric animals, ‘The Lost World.’ One of the biggest challenges on this film was to design a place that looked otherworldly and yet was still believable enough that audiences would feel like the characters are actually there. We knew we had to go there because there’s something fundamentally different about experiencing a place versus just seeing pictures or film.”
Now thrown in Docter’s definite mastery with action. As seen in the door sequence of his previous outing, Monsters Inc., the director uses all three dimensions when having his characters pop from one corner of the screen to another. In the expected final confrontation sequence, Docter manages to up the ante in a final aerial showdown between Fredrickson and his companions against Muntz and his Pack.
But the real emotional core of the movie isn’t in the explosive moments. Like most films featuring a “nasty” old man (with the expected heart of gold) it’s a quiet moment when Fredrickson thinks he’s accomplished his goal, and then sits down to reflect with his late wife’s scrapbook. It packs more emotional punch than any of the turbo-charged action of the rest of the film.
“Along with the humor, you have to have heart,” says Docter’s boss, John Lasseter. “Walt Disney always said, ‘For every laugh, there should be a tear.’ I believe in that.” Filmmakers found a lot of heart in their latest adventure, exploring the love that Carl and his late wife shared and the friendship that develops between Carl and Russell. In fact, Carl discovers that life’s true adventure can be found not in travel or great accomplishments, but in the everyday relationships that we have with friends and family.”
And when you get down to it, that's what’s really going make Up rise above the competition this weekend.
DISNEY ASKS FANS TO DESIGN DONALD?
For the first time ever, Disney is turning to fans to create an official portrait of one of its biggest stars. Finalists in the Donald Duck 75th Anniversary Portrait Contest will have their work unveiled and displayed at the inaugural D23 Expo, which will be held September 10-13 at the Anaheim Convention Center, adjacent to Disneyland.
The contest is hosted by D23: The Official Community for Disney Fans, and is open to all D23 Members who are 18 or older. Full-length oil, acrylic or watercolor canvas portraits of Donald Duck, no larger than 24” x 36” are eligible. Artists must first submit an original sketch, in any medium or size, of the planned artwork. The submission form, as well as full contest rules and additional details, can be found at the official D23 website, http://www.disney.com/D23. All finalists selected to have their works displayed will be eligible for two complimentary, four-day admission passes to the D23 Expo.
The creator of the winning portrait will receive an authentic “Duckster” – an award that Walt Disney personally commissioned in 1960 and which has been presented fewer than two dozen times to people who made significant contributions to the Walt Disney Studios. The last time a “Duckster” was awarded was nearly 20 years ago, and only a few of these rare, bronze statuettes of Donald Duck remain in the Walt Disney Archives. Among the past recipients of the “Duckster” are Clarence Nash, the original voice of Donald Duck, and famed Donald illustrator Carl Barks.
“What do you give a duck that has everything on his 75th birthday? You let the ones who love him most offer this most sincere form of flattery, of course,” said Steven Clark, head of D23. “Disney fans are some of the most passionate and creative people anywhere, and we can’t wait to see their fun and imaginative depictions of our feisty, yet lovable, leading duck!”
Since his first appearance in 1934’s 'Silly Symphony The Wise Little Hen', Donald Duck has been one of Walt Disney’s most popular creations, starring in more cartoons than Mickey Mouse himself. Donald’s a 21st-century icon, as well, starring in not one but two theme-park attractions: Mickey’s PhilharMagic at the Magic Kingdom and the Gran Fiesta Tour starring The Three Caballeros at Epcot. He’s been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, his webbed feet have been immortalized in front of the famed Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and he’s even a videogame star, having been featured prominently in Kingdom Hearts and its popular sequel.
Donald has appeared in more than 170 cartoons, movies and TV shows, and a celebrity of his magnitude has fans around the world. Whether they know him as Anders And (Danish), Donal Bebek (Indonesian), Paperino (Italian) or any other language, fans who are also members of D23 are invited to submit portraits that capture Donald’s unique, multi-faceted personality as part of the Donald Duck 75th Anniversary Portrait Contest.
Sketches of proposed portraits, which should be fun interpretations of our favorite duck and his complex personality, must be physically mailed or shipped to The Walt Disney Archives no later than Monday, June 15 (e-mail submissions cannot be accepted). Sketches will be reviewed and judged by a panel of Disney creative executives. Artists whose work has been accepted will be notified by Disney, and must complete and deliver their finished canvas portrait (in oil, acrylic or watercolor) no later than August 15, 2009.
The winning portrait will be announced during a special event at the D23 Expo on Saturday, September 12. The Donald Duck 75th Anniversary Portrait Contest is open to members in good standing of D23.
To become a member of D23, and to obtain more information on the only official community for Disney fans, visit http://www.disney.com/d23.