With this week’s Blu-Ray/DVD home release of Inside Out its time to begin an unprecedented conversation. Plain and simple, Pete Docter deserves to be nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards in 2016. Since Inside Out debuted at the Cannes Film Festival, Pixar’s latest critical and commercial hit has remained one of the standouts films from the first half of 2015.
There’s no questioning that Inside Out and Pixar as a whole deserve consideration for the Best Picture race. Yet Pete Docter has not received a push from the media for Best Director at this point in the race. This prejudice likely stems from the antiquated idea that animated films are not as difficult to make as live action films. In fact, animated films have often had trouble cracking the Best Picture race.
It’s time for this to change, and Pixar has a strong foundation to lay this claim.
First, it’s important to know that a nomination for Docter would truly be unprecedented. The closest an animated movie has ever gotten to a nomination was when Robert Stevenson received a Best Director nomination in 1965 for Mary Poppins. Stevenson’s film was visually impressive, but also had the benefit of being a musical and a live action film at the same time. The tremendous performances by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke remain the most popular aspect of the film fifty years later.
The release of the trailer for The Good Dinosaur last week had us talking about how Pixar will fair moving forward this year. With only three animated movies ever landing Best Picture nominations, the road looks tough. To reiterate, in 1991, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast was a musical spectacle that cemented “the Disney Renaissance.” It remains the only animated feature to break into the Best Picture race when only five films were nominated.
Toy Story 3 was the finale to one of the greatest trilogies in film history (unbeknownst to audiences a 4th would eventually be in development). In many ways, the nomination was for the franchise as a whole, because the first two chapters were released before there was even a Best Animated Feature category.
The third of these films was Pixar’s Up, a film that was wholly original idea and concept. Few knew what to expect from the film going in, and Up proved one could tell an intimate and moving story about humans through animation. With an early montage that is already iconic, the film confronted concepts of mortality, moving on, and opening oneself up to new experiences later in life. Up is also one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time, with a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. The director of Up? Pete Docter. If Inside Out does indeed receive a Best Picture nomination, he will be first director in history to have two different animated features nominated for Best Picture. Just for a quick comparison, the combined efforts of John Lasseter, Hayao Miyazaki, and Andrew Stanton have netted a combined zero Best Picture nominations.
As with all Pixar films, the filmmakers go through a rigorous internal process before their films make their debut. Docter said as much during his podcast appearance with Andy Greenwalt of Grantland. Pixar’s tradition of drawing from their own life for inspiration for its films was definitely integral to Inside Out, with much of the film spawning from Docter’s own relationship with his daughter. As Docter saw his own daughter change, he began to formulate the ideas of what goes on in a young girl’s head during emotional and life changing shifts.
This personal connection and love is present throughout the film, with Joy (voiced amazingly by Amy Poehler) often taking the place of a parent who only wants what is best for her child. Bing-Bong’s sacrifice is one that any parent would make if it would benefit their child, even though it causes him to fade from existence. This personal connection cannot be underplayed, and ultimately leads to the audience to identify with at least one of the emotions who care for Riley. Love is present throughout this film, and it is impossible to not bond to the story that Docter tells.
Pixar’s next step is to channel Docter’s passion into the spotlight. In the past the Academy has rewarded directors who spent years developing a story they wanted to tell. Just two years ago, a narrative built around Alfonso Cuarón’s directorial effort with Gravity was that he persevered to make the film after being told it would not work. Docter has even noted that the story that we got was not the one he originally envisioned, and as a result the entire second and third acts had to be restructured. Furthermore, Docter tapped in to something so personal that his animators put their own passion into the story. To motivate others to make a passionate movie is difficult, and without Docter at the helm, its questionable whether Inside Out would ever have been made.
Inside Out’s ability to stay in the limelight is nothing short of impressive, especially when one considers that it opened only one week after the juggernaut that was Jurassic World (currently 3rd all-time Box Office). It also had the highest opening weekend box office of any original film in history, making an outstanding $90 million opening weekend. The film eventually peaked with a worldwide gross of $842 million, making it the 3rd highest grossing movie in Pixar history.
Not only did Inside Out receive adoration from general audiences, but it also received a stellar critical reception as well. Many questioned why the film was not in competition at the Cannes Film Festival due to its pedigree and quality. Furthermore, Gregory Ellwood of Hitfix pointed out that Inside Out may have been a talking point to keep the Best Picture rules (which currently allow from 5 to 10 nominees) intact. Like Up, Docter’s Inside Out also reached a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes with Finding Nemo and the Toy Story trilogy as the only Pixar films to receive higher scores.
On a deeper level, the film also works on as a critique of “new age” parenting, where parents attempt to reframe every experience as purely positive. Child psychiatrist Ellen Bullitt laid out this issue (at about 16 minutes) and ultimately sides with the fact that we must experience levels of emotion to develop into adulthood. Building in social critiques are important for most Best Picture nominees.
Instead of being consumed solely for entertainment, this film can serve a larger role in helping adults understand the psychological trails children face as they grow older. At the same time, it can let children know it is okay to embrace their feelings with their parents, and open up real conversations between parents and adults. The themes in this movie are universal, and Docter’s work to make an accurate portrayal of mental health in children deserves praise.
On another level, the film actually displays a mastery of film techniques. While the idea of emotions controlling an individual is not unique, the filmmakers went an extra mile to differentiate the concept from similar attempts. For example, the creation of the “islands” worked to showcase a superior level of storytelling and provided depth to Riley and each of the emotions as the story progressed. What was extremely interesting about the methods used in this film was an advanced focus on the “camera” within an animated feature.
For example, one shot that remains ingrained in my mind from the movie is the shot of Joy holding the Core memories in the Memory Dump. As Joy realizes she is not likely to survive the encounter, she begins to remember Riley and all their moments together. The heartbreak that Joy feels is impossible to escape as an audience, because Docter chooses to leave the camera on a close up shot of Joy.
Instead of cutting away, the camera strays on Joy for more than a minute, forcing the audience to confront a parent who is about to lose their child. It is not common to know what it feels like to lose a child, but the fear is present in anyone who has ever lost someone they love. This is a real moment that many live action films strive for, but few can achieve with such simplicity. This shot might be the most emotional moment in any film of the year, and at the same time one of the most beautiful. Just like the core memories, this film is full of moments that can encompass different emotions, and few films do so on such a proficient level.
Based on all of these factors, Pete Docter has showcased an excellent platform for Best Director. He may not be the flashiest nominee, or even the most recognizable, but it is hard to argue that he is not one of the most qualified. The response to the film has been enormous, and it is time for the Academy to recognize that those who direct animated films possess the same passion and skill as those who make live action films. This film is a triumph of film making, and it is only fitting that Docter end his journey by getting his name called with the Spielbergs, Iñárritus, and Boyles on January 14th.