Report: Pixar Chief Pete Docter Believes Company Has “Drifted Too Far From Its Storytelling Roots”

Pete Docter during Disney Investor Day 2020

A new report details that Pixar chief Pete Docter believes the animation company has “drifted too far from its storytelling roots.”

Pete Docter via Tedx Talks YouTube

The New York Times’s Brooks Barnes described a Zoom interview he conducted with Docter that primarily revolved around the failure of Elemental that Disney is now attempting to spin as a success given the movie had longer legs at the box office than initially expected.

According to The-Numbers, Pixar’s latest animated release, Elemental, only grossed $29.6 million in its opening weekend at the domestic box office. However, the film went on to earn $154.4 million at the domestic box office in its entire theatrical run. It added on another $333.7 million internationally, predominantly in South Korea ($54.4M), for a global gross of $488.1 million.

However, given the film’s estimated $200 million production budget, the movie needed to hit at least $500 million to break even after you factor in the movie’s marketing budget as well as the box office split that theaters take.

MEET MY MOM — In Disney and Pixar’s “Elemental,” go-with-the-flow guy Wade (Mamoudou Athie) introduces fiery young woman Ember (voice of Leah Lewis) to his mom, Brook (voice of Catherine O’Hara). Ember is decidedly out of her element, but quickly warms up to his family. Directed by Peter Sohn (“The Good Dinosaur,” “Party Cloudy” short) and produced by Denise Ream (“The Good Dinosaur,” “Cars 2”), Disney and Pixar’s “Elemental” releases on June 16, 2023. © 2023 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

RELATED: ‘Elemental’ Gets Hosed At The Box Office, Has Worst Opening Weekend For A Pixar Film Ever

According to Barnes, Docter placed the blame on Walt Disney executives who moved Pixar films from theatrical releases to Disney+ releases. Barnes detailed, “For a start, [Docter] said, Disney had undercut Pixar as a big-screen force by using its films to build the Disney+ streaming service.

He reportedly pointed to Soul, Turning Red, and Luca all being released on Disney+ instead of getting theatrical releases.

Docter claims this change shifted the way viewers look at Pixar films, “There has been an overall shift in viewing habits as a result of the pandemic, but it’s also specific to Disney+. We’ve told people, ‘Hey, all of this is going to be available to you on Disney+!’”

Pete Docter during Disney Investor Day 2020

Not only did Docter claim that Disney executives have screwed the pooch by putting Pixar films on Disney+, but he did take some of the blame himself with Barnes stating, “Although not saying so directly, Mr. Docter also indicated that Pixar had perhaps drifted too far from its storytelling roots.”

To that point, Docter said, “I always felt that Elemental would speak to a lot of people, and I’m so happy it has. But we have also taken another look at the projects we’re working on now. What are the kinds of films we want to be making? I really think I want to double down on what allowed us to speak to audiences to begin with.”

ELEMENTAL, Disney and Pixar’s all-new, original feature film releasing June 16, 2023, features the voices of Leah Lewis and Mamoudou Athie as Ember and Wade, respectively. In a city where fire-, water-, land-, and air-residents live together, this fiery young woman and go-with-the-flow guy are about to discover something elemental: how much they actually have in common. “Elemental” is directed by Peter Sohn and produced by Denise Ream. © 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

RELATED: Pixar President Jim Morris Explains How ‘Elemental’ Will Be Profitable For The Walt Disney Company

Docter made similar comments in an interview with Variety back in June. He told the outlet, “We made Soul for the big screen. We looked at every frame. There’s so much detail and gorgeous imagery and work that was done that you can’t quite appreciate on a smaller screen. However, there was a pandemic going on. On one hand, we were so thankful that there was Disney+ so that we could release the film and people could see it. Otherwise, it would just sit on a shelf for a year and a half.”

“In the long run, there’s been a bit of a mixed blessing because we’ve trained audiences that these films will be available for you on Disney+. And it’s more expensive for a family of four to go to a theater when they know they can wait and it’ll come out on the platform,” he said.

In Disney and Pixar’s “Soul,” a middle-school band teacher named Joe finds himself in The Great Before—a fantastical place where new souls get their personalities, quirks and interests before they go to Earth. Determined to return to his life, Joe teams up with a precocious soul, 22, to show her what’s great about living. Featuring Tina Fey as the voice of 22, and Jamie Foxx as the voice of Joe Gardner, “Soul” will debut exclusively on Disney+ (where Disney+ is available) on December 25, 2020. © 2020 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Docter added, “We’re trying to make sure people realize there’s a great deal you’re missing by not seeing it on the big screen. In the case of Elemental, it’s a beautiful spectacle, there’s detail everywhere. I think you feel it more and it’s a better experience.”

“There’s the shared experience as well, that you get to see it in a room with strangers, and there’s something about the energy that comes from other people that makes the whole experience more vibrant and interesting,” he concluded.

ELEMENTAL – Wade and Ember. © 2023 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

RELATED: Disney CEO Bob Iger Admits Company Has “To Be Better At Curating The Disney, And The Pixar, And The Marvel, And The Star Wars Of It All”

Entertainment analyst and commentator YellowFlash 2 reacted to Docter’s comments saying, “You can blame Disney for some of the problems when it comes to what’s been going on with Pixar. I’m sure Disney mandated that they need to tell certain kinds of stories and that they need to include certain kind of material.”

“However, it’s Pixar that got to write the story and make the film. They can choose to find ways to make all of these things entertaining and they don’t,” he asserted. “Pixar, lately, would rather tell you a story about ideology than entertain you. And that’s part of the reason why they’ve fallen so far down into a hole.”

What do you make of this report and the comments from Pixar chief Pete Docter?

NEXT: Top Pixar Executive Pete Docter Blames Moviegoers For ‘Lightyear’s’ Box Office Bomb