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Pete Docter says Pixar will 'take some chances' with Disney+ projects, new original films

By Matthew Jackson
Soul Disney/Pixar

It's been a busy few weeks of news for the creators at Pixar Animation Studios. Their latest animated feature film, Soul, arrived on Disney+ Christmas Day to critical acclaim and an audience eager for a new Pixar adventure to help them escape the real world, but just before Soul arrived, the studio also found time to focus on the future.

Pixar was one of the pillars of the Walt Disney Company's massive Investor Day presentation earlier in December, where the studio unveiled two new original films (Luca and Turning Red) and Lightyear, a spinoff of Toy Story starring Chris Evans in the origin story of the "real" Buzz Lightyear. Just weeks ahead of Soul, Pixar seemed to have charted its future rather definitively.

But according to Chief Creative Officer Pete Docter, we're only just beginning to see what the studio has in store.

In an expansive new profile in The Hollywood Reporter, Docter — who directed Soul and previous Pixar hits including Up and Inside Out — explained that the projects announced during the Investor Day event were actually all projects greenlit before he took over the creative direction of the studio. Docter stepped into the Chief Creative Officer role in 2018, months after previous Pixar head John Lasseter took a sabbatical that turned into a permanent departure following admitted "missteps" at the studio after various colleagues had accused him of unwanted physical contact. Though Docter admitted a certain amount of "dread" when Disney head Bob Iger offered him the job, he also acknowledged that he wasn't sure "who else would do it" if he, a Pixar veteran, turned it down. 

Now, the Docter era is well underway, particularly with Soul finally completed and released so Docter can focus more on CCO duties. In the two years since taking over as Chief Creative Officer, Docter has emphasized diversity at Pixar, forming creative advistory committees that are at least 50 percent female and feature a wide range of input from people of various ethnicities and ages. He's also emphasized getting more female directors to work on features at the studio.

Even before he came onboard as Chief Creative Officer, Docter was championing the work of director Domee Shi, who directed the acclaimed short Bao and well become just the second woman (after Brenda Chapman, who was fired from Brave) to direct a Pixar feature when her film Turning Red arrives in 2022. Though the piece didn't provide specifics, THR reported that story artists and short film directors Rosana Sullivan (Kitbull) and Aphton Corbin (Loop) are also at work developing features for the studio. 

So, what else can we expect in the Docter era now that LightyearTurning Red, and Luca have been announced? While the CCO acknowledged the need to keep certain key franchises alive at Pixar, he also teased that more original films are on the horizon, something longtime Pixar fans are always eager to hear about.

"In the past we had a big run of sequels, too many in a row," Docter said. "Now we have a lot of original stuff, which I'm personally excited about, but for financial safety we probably should have a few more sequels in there. Sometimes it's tough, because the creative projects have a life of their own, and they either take off or they don't."

Those creative projects will also reportedly include even more streaming projects at Pixar which will debut on Disney+, something Docter acknowledged was a fairly recent shift. With that in mind, the sense of urgency around the studio stepping up to produce for both the big and small screens has led him to recall the early, more seat-of-your-pants days of the now-prestigious studio. 

"At the beginning, when we were doing Toy Story, we didn't know what we were doing," Docter explained. "So people would be just off the street. 'You're going to be the art department manager.' Now we would never do that. First you'd have to go through three or four other positions and train. The streaming service has shaken that back up to the earlier days of, 'OK, we just have to take some chances and go.'"

Because of the lengthy development nature of animation, we still haven't heard any real details of the kinds of films Docter has greenlit at Pixar over the past two years, but the two-time Oscar winner did acknowledge that his new role means Soul will be the last Pete Docter film with a director credit for a while. 

"The CCO job is not making films," he said. "It's guiding other people. I was initially worried that it would be like a tax, taking me away from what I really loved. But it's been surprisingly rewarding."