Pixar’s Pete Docter on Why He’s Excited for ‘Soul,’ ‘Luca,’ and ‘Turning Red’ to Hit Theaters

Three films from Disney and Pixar are coming to movie theaters for the first time ever, and Pete Docter is eager for fans to see them in a new way.

2020’s Soul, 2021’s Luca and 2022’s Turning Red are having special engagement theatrical runs this year with Soul hitting theaters this weekend. Docter—who is the Chief Creative Officer at Pixar—is excited to present them the way they were meant to be seen: on the big screen.

We chatted with Docter about how the theatrical experience adds to the films, which one is best to see in theaters and why Anxiety could become the breakout star of this summer’s Inside Out 2.

Pete Docter, Chief Creator Officer of Pixar Animation Studios.

Pixar’s SoulLuca, and Turning Red are heading to theaters with Soul debuting on January 12. All these films are available on Disney+. So why release them in theaters?

They were made to be seen on the big screen. Every frame has been pored over by the artists and technicians here, and it’s a different experience. Hopefully, people have seen them on Disney+, and we’re very thankful to have had that platform to release them because otherwise the pandemic would have put them on the shelf.

But we’re really excited for people to go back to theaters with their friends and see it together. The scale and the community are all reasons to go.

How does the theatrical experience add to the enjoyment of these films? Let’s use Soul as an example.

If you remember the film, our main character Joe falls through a manhole and he’s in this weird abstract space and on your screen, it looks cool. However, on a big screen in a theater, it takes up the whole wall, and you’re immersed into this weird world. Then there’s the sound design, too… When you hear it all around you, it is just a different beast. It’s amazing.

Disney and Pixar’s Luca.

These films are hits on Disney+. Do you think putting them in theaters is going to deepen that popularity?

Well, I hope so. I’m old enough to remember a time before home video, before streaming, and the only chance you had to see a film like a Pinocchio or One Hundred and One Dalmatians was when it came out every couple of years in theaters. Even though I’d seen them before, it was always just a great new experience to go see these movies.

I think people will see things that they didn’t even notice. You see it on the big screen and you’re like, “Whoa, the detail there, that’s crazy.” There’s just a lot to see in those movies.

And, you know, as we’re working on these movies, we’re watching the same movie for years, so it’s packed with all sorts of inside jokes and details. There’s just a lot to see.

Which one do you think is the best to see on the big screen?

Well, I directed Soul, so I’m biased, but it really depends on what you’re into. For me, my goal in making Soul was I wanted people to be entertained, but at the end of the movie, go, “Oh yeah, we have to go get some ice cream and talk about this,” because while it’s fun it also asks questions like, “What is your passion?” “What makes you so driven in your life and is that what you’re all about?” “Is that what life is all about?” So, there are some big questions that I think—in a perfect world—will spark discussion among friends.

Turning Red is obviously super fun. It’s like going back to middle school with all the triumphs and tribulations of that. Then obviously Luca is kind of like going on summer vacation. Go out to the theater and spend some time in Italy. Sure, you go there in your mind, but you may come out relaxed.

It really depends on what you’re looking for.

Disney and Pixar’s Turning Red.
Disney and Pixar’s Turning Red.

As the Chief Creative Officer of Pixar, what are your hopes for the animation studio this year?

We have Inside Out 2 coming out on June 14 and I’m really excited about that. It’s expanded from the first film. At the end of the first film, Joy says, “Riley is 12 now. I mean, what could happen?” And obviously, we know a lot can happen when you turn 12 and 13 and so on. It’s coming together really well and it’s a lot of fun.

Inside Out was a personal film for you. What do you think will make the sequel special? 

Kelsey Mann—who’s directing it—found this idea of adding anxiety, which is very prevalent emotion in the world today. It is very tumultuous, and it’s a little bit like sadness where you’re like, “Why is this a good thing?” You know, it just feels very negative. I would love to get rid of anxiety. And so, we’re plumbing the depths of that in the same way we did with the first film.

We’re talking with a lot of psychologists and scientists to figure out, “What is anxiety for?” “How does it benefit us?” “How does it hurt us?” And the character—who’s voiced by Maya Hawke—fits right in with the original team.

Disney and Pixar’s Inside Out 2.
Disney and Pixar’s Inside Out 2.