Pete Docter has a confession to make: He tried to re-create the Tiki Room in his Minnesota home as a preteen.
“My grandparents were growing bamboo in their back yard, so I cut some down and strapped it to the roof of the VW camper bus,” he says of the road trip back home to Minnesota after visiting Disneyland. “My parents were good sports.”
More than a happy memory, it may have been the start of his career. Docter went on to CalArts — founded by Walt Disney — and was a development intern at the Disney Co. for two years before making the move to Pixar, where he directed “Monsters, Inc.”
“It was a huge influence on me,” he says of the theme park. “The whole idea you could create this alternate reality — you know, you’re sitting there in a former orange grove, but … you so want to believe you’re seeing pirates.”
At Pixar, his love for the park has helped him bond with “Toy Story” director John Lasseter, a former Jungle Cruise skipper. “Once in a while, we’ll all be going to a screening, and we’ll be on a bus, and he’ll inevitably take on the tour guide (role). He’ll be like, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, if you look to your left. … There’s something you don’t see every day. The backside of water!”
Today, Docter visits the park just once a year with his wife and two kids, but admits he’s passed on a bit of his obsession.
“We have a couple audio tracks of the sounds of some of the rides, and we played one of those, and my kids identified it within three seconds,” he says. “After that I thought, maybe we should relax on this a little bit.”
Pete Docter’s film “Monsters, Inc.” is the fourth-highest-grossing animated feature.