Pixar di­rec­tor drawn to an­i­ma­tion early

Dis­ney’s Dumbo il­lus­trated power of film

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - ARTS & LIFE - By Ran­dall King

TORONTO — Be­fore The Good Di­nosaur was even fin­ished, the film’s di­rec­tor, Peter Sohn, vis­ited the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val in Septem­ber to give jour­nal­ists a kind of pre­view of this com­ing at­trac­tion from Dis­ney’s Pixar stu­dio, in the form of a live pre­sen­ta­tion.

Sohn pro­ceeded to demon­strate that Dis­ney an­i­ma­tors can bring a tear to the eye as skil­fully as Dis­ney movies. The Bronx-born Sohn, the son of Korean im­mi­grants, re­called go­ing to movies with his mother, whose grasp of English was lim­ited. Time af­ter time, she would be emerge baf­fled by di­a­logue-heavy Hol­ly­wood movies.

For Sohn, the penny dropped when the two at­tended a screen­ing of the Dis­ney clas­sic Dumbo, es­pe­cially the scene in which the baby-ele­phant hero is com­forted by his caged mother. Such scenes re­quire no words. From that mo­ment, Sohn says, his ca­reer as an an­i­ma­tor may as well have been pre­des­tined.

For­tu­nately, it worked out well. Af­ter at­tend­ing the Cal­i­for­nia In­sti­tute of the Arts, he started his ca­reer at Pixar in the art and story de­part­ments of the 2003 film Find­ing Nemo. He made his di­rec­to­rial de­but on the short film Partly Cloudy. And be­tween those films, he was the vis­ual in­spi­ra­tion for Rus­sell, the pesky Cub Scout from the movie Up.

We had a chance to in­ter­view Sohn. Here’s what he had to say:

Free Press: At your pre­sen­ta­tion, you gave a shout-out to the movie Dumbo as an ex­am­ple of a movie you could see with your mom that tran­scended lan­guage. Were there oth­ers?

Sohn: It wasn’t just an­i­mated movies. There’s a plethora of live-ac­tion movies that are just so well done, vis­ually. But in high school, I was a big video-cas­sette guy. I used to tape ev­ery­thing and I found my mom would only re­spond to things like Lau­rel and Hardy and Chap­lin movies. (Chap­lin’s silent clas­sic) City Lights is still one of my favourite movies of all time, in terms of the sim­ple lessons of cam­era and that fi­nal close-up at the end of that movie.

I would al­ways watch (her) from the cor­ner of my eye. My wife hates that I still do this. I’ll be watch­ing the movie and my eyes will slowly go to her. I did that a lot with my mother, gaug­ing at what point they would start to re­act.

Free Press: The Good Di­nosaur seems to be a throw­back to older movies of the boy-and-his-dog va­ri­ety, ex­cept in this case, the di­nosaur is the boy and the boy — named Spot — is the dog.

Sohn: Some of the movies we ref­er­enced were things like Old Yeller. There’s a fron­tier qual­ity to Old Yeller that was very in­ter­est­ing. There’s definitely a sur­vival story on the farm that was in­flu­en­tial. Also The Black Stal­lion, Car­roll Bal­lard’s film, the way he shot na­ture with (cin­e­matog­ra­pher) Caleb Deschanel, so pen­sive, so beau­ti­ful and so fo­cused on this small re­la­tion­ship. It’s so clas­sic. I love that movie!

Free Press: Is it a bless­ing or a curse that The Good Di­nosaur is com­ing out the same years as In­side Out, which is one of the strong­est Pixar movies ever?

Sohn: Ac­tu­ally, that’s my favourite Pixar film. It really is. You know what it is? I have a daugh­ter who is five years old, so I con­nected with it on such a per­sonal level that I wasn’t ex­pect­ing, to be hon­est. I’d seen early reels that just de­stroyed me.

Pixar has a high bar in all of their films and to try to live up to that would crush me. But you still try to do your best.

I’ve been there for 15 years and I can’t tell you what a fam­ily it is, to me, and how I love ev­ery­one there. So when In­side Out came out, I was just so proud, Th­ese are our broth­ers and sis­ters and they put out an un­be­liev­able movie and at the other end of the year, the other side of the fam­ily, we’re try­ing to do our best as well. Will we live up to that? Who knows?


Di­rec­tor Peter Sohn at Pixar An­i­ma­tion Stu­dios in Emeryville, Calif.

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