After 6 months of uncertainty about John Lasseter’s future, Disney has announced that the creative leader will exit the company at the end of 2018. Lasseter will work as a creative consultant during this time for Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Some weeks ago I released an article talking about what we can expect after Lasseter’s leave of absence.With many options for the creative leader, a possible retirement after some clean up time was one of the most expected due to his importance in the company. Disney has decided a nuke and pave, letting him tie some loose ends and groom the next leaders for Pixar and Walt Disney Animation.
What undone projects does Lasseter have? Why does he need so much time to leave the company? After the Roseanne Barr incident leading to the cancellation of her show on ABC, looks like John Lasseter is being given much more time (and compensation) for matters just as worse as that of Roseanne’s. The difference between these two are the roles they have in the company; ABC is fine with the cancellation of a show, but Pixar and Walt Disney Animation can’t run too far without a solid creative leader that keeps the development of future projects. John Lasseter might have a more forgiving exit, but it is for reasons beyond his missteps.
No, I’m not saying his sexual misconduct should be forgiven. The fact that he is taking a year to retire from the company doesn’t hide the fact that he destroyed his entire career and gave uncomfortable situations to several women under his leadership at the animation studio. In fact, it is impressive how this conduct was tolerated for decades from personalities like Steve Jobs, Michael Eisner, Ed Catmull, Alvy Ray Smith, and Bob Iger. This doesn’t include other colleagues such as Pete Docter, Brad Bird, and Andrew Stanton. The details on Lasseter’s misconduct haven’t been fully disclosed besides some unknown sources, but it should be prominent enough for him to leave the company. Was this a problem from the past decade? Or was it just his attitude that was perceived as predatory? Again, I’m not defending Lasseter, but many of the details have been closely guarded by Disney PR, shutting up sources from Hollywood.
With Lasseter leaving his position as Chief Creative Officer, many news sites suggested Pete Docter as a possible successor. This information has been stated again recently, but with a minor change; Pete Docter could be the leader for Pixar, but Jennifer Lee (Frozen, Zootopia, Wreck It Ralph) would become the leader for Walt Disney Animation. Separating the leadership from both studios should help in keeping their identities. John Lasseter and Ed Catmull took over the Walt Disney Animation Studios way back when the future for the company’s main asset was uncertain. With a solidified revival era for Walt Disney Animation, the studio already has enough in-house talent to take care of their own projects. While Ed Catmull will keep both studios under his guidance, Jennifer Lee and Pete Docter should be able to handle the creative interests from each studio.
The Pixarization of Walt Disney Animation has been criticized, first burying to the ground the possibilities of future 2D animation because of the box office disappointment of ‘Princess and the Frog’ (because they had enough information to predict that Avatar would dominate the box office for the next 2 months, right? 🤣) Even though Pixar has an usual focus on more mature stories, this has been less than true in the past years. Movies like The Good Dino, Brave, and the Cars show that Pixar also is catering to younger audiences while Zootopia and Wreck It Ralph have a much broader appeal than the usual Walt Disney Animation film. A creative leader for each studio should help in making a clearer line between what makes a Pixar film and what makes a Walt Disney Animation film.
Pete Docter has been a relevant artist for Pixar since the early days of the studio, with a knack for original stories like Monsters Inc., Up, and Inside Out. In the case of Jennifer Lee, she doesn’t have the experience, but she has been able to help develop stories like Frozen, Wreck It Ralph, and Zootopia, all of them relevant projects of this current revival era. Let’s not forget that a female leader is a welcome addition to the male dominant world of animation.
John Lasseter will stay for the next 6 months as a creative consultant because there is a project close to his heart that appears to be in trouble: Toy Story 4. Lasseter was the person that announced on November 2014 that a Toy Story sequel was in the works for 2018, later rescheduled for 2019. Insiders have said that the movie isn’t in a good ground, without a clear story. Rashida Jones, one of the screenwriters signed for early development, left the project because of creative differences. In the past weeks, it has been rumored that the story has been scrapped completely, leaving the story development group to start all over.
If Lasseter saved Toy Story and Toy Story 2, can he be able to do it again with Toy Story 4? Maybe that is what he hopes for. It is known that full animation on these films begins a year ahead of release, with the tests and pre production already in place. With the TV specials like ‘Toy Story Of Terror!’ And ‘Toy Story That Time Forgot’, Pixar has shown that there’s enough space of ideas for the Toy Story franchise and they are still able to pull off these great projects without repeating themselves. They might be worried because the expectations of every sequel to Toy Story are so high. Each sequel has built upon the original in a way that few franchises achieve to do.
If all of these areas of development are on track and Lasseter focuses solely on fixing the story, he might be able to help the screenwriters, giving him even more time to expand on future films. Early development for projects in Disney and Pixar should create a road map for the new leadership to have something to work with.
Pixar might be on the right path, but the Walt Disney Animation Studio might start to lose its momentum. With a grim horizon after the cancellation of Gigantic, it isn’t clear what is the path for the studio besides Frozen 2. Similar to Pixar, Disney has relied on some sequels that have given them enough time to develop more stories, but there is no clear path for them. It is time that the studio shifts on more interesting storylines that include the Disney touch of fantasy, beloved characters, and a timeless quality. (Because we all know that Ralph Breaks The Internet is going to age really fast.) After all, John Lasseter coming back for a while doesn’t sound as crazy as you might think. It is just one more step to get rid of his toxic behavior while patching up some work so that new leaders can take over Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios.