Sometimes the most unlikely people -- or creatures -- are great friends. At least that's often the case in the universe of Pete Docter, the Oscar-nominated writer and-or director of some of Pixar's top movies.
In the computer-generated comedy "Monsters, Inc.," Docter's wisecracking, one-eyed, diminutive green monster Mike Wazowski was best buds with Sulley, a big, friendly blue furball..
In his latest Pixar animation production, "Up," opening May 29, 78-year-old Carl (voiced by Ed Asner) becomes pals with Russell, a bright-eyed, energetic 8-year-old wilderness scout. It would seem an odd pairing, but Docter's relationship with his parents helped inspire the Carl character.
"Suddenly, at 40, I hear all of these new stories from my folks I had never heard before. They provide a great insight into them not only as people but back into time."
The character also is a tip of the hat to Joe Grant, who befriended Docter when he was a young animator. Grant had been the head of story and development at Disney in the early days of the studio.
"I got to know him when he was in his 90s and was back working at the studio again," says Docter, who co-directed "Up" with writer Bob Peterson. "It was amazing being an animation geek talking to him about 'Fantasia.' Even beyond the animation geekdom, there is a great connection we forget about among old folks."
"Up" is filled with pathos and wild humor. In the opening 15 minutes, there is a sequence set to music that shows the courtship and marriage of Carl and his late wife. Then Carl, who had dreamed of being an adventurer as a kid, attaches thousands of balloons to his house and travels to a magical spot in South America called Paradise Falls. Carl and Russell -- who has stowed away -- are greeted by a bizarre multicolored bird and some talking guard dogs upon landing.
"I think knowing how sort of wacky, with the dogs and the bird," that the film would become, Docter says, "it was important to start with an emotional foundation that you care about these characters not just as cartoons but as people and only then are you invested in Carl's journey."
"Up," which is slated to be the first animated feature to open the Cannes Film Festival later this month, is Pixar's first 3-D movie. Docter promises that the 3-D will be subtle, more like Alfred Hitchcock's restrained but effective use in 1954's "Dial M for Murder."
In fact, Docter and his staff watched the Hitchcock classic for ideas. "It's all about the story, no matter what technology you use," he says. "It's the story that's going to make the audience interested. The 3-D is just another crayon in the crayon box."