John Lasseter in the NY Times

Lasseter in the NY Times

Yesterday’s New York Times featured an interview with John Lasseter and some interesting bits can be gleaned from the article. One thing I found quite telling is the fact that 60% of Disney’s upcoming Meet the Robinsons has been scrapped and redone in the past year. Most animated features are reworked heavily nowadays, but the extent to which this film has been revamped is a clear sign of how poorly managed the old Disney Feature Animation was; judging from the way Disney has barely been promoting the film, you get the feeling that they would have scrapped the entire film had it not already been so deep into production.

Another piece of info is that WDFA is planning to move out of their semi-iconic (and architecturally dysfunctional) hat building and into brand-new headquarters in Glendale. At first, I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s a huge and unnecessary expenditure to build another studio, even if the current studio does leave a lot to be desired.” But after giving it more thought, I realized what Lasseter and Ed Catmull were doing. What’s notable is not that they’re building a better animation studio, but that they’re moving the whole animation operation off the Burbank lot, far away from the studio’s acrid corporate culture, and creating a separate campus that will hopefully be dominated by passionate artists and storytellers. Looking at it from that perspective, it’s a daring and excellent business decision.

While Meet the Robinsons has a better-than-average chance of falling flat on its face at the box office, and Lasseter himself has raised eyebrows in recent months with some of his decisions, such as the dismissal of American Dog‘s Chris Sanders, in general, I feel Lasseter is making smart decisions. I still have high hopes that Disney Feature Animation can be turned around under his stewardship.

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  • http://marcosgp.blogspot.com/ Marcos

    I Wish that would happened 10 years ago….go Lasseter, go!

  • Aaron

    I used to like Lasseter. Then he kicked Sanders off of American Dog and Menken off of Frog Princess. Add to that the fact that he made Cars (a derivative and boring film), and I just don’t have much hope that he’s the man to save Disney.

  • http://miaumau.blogspot.com/ Sandra Murta

    I’m not so sure about the American Dog decision, I would really like to see what Chris Sanders was doing.

  • http://www.bishopanimation.com Floyd Bishop

    While bringing John Lasseter onboard is a great thing, you can’t expect him and his new leadership to change things overnight. That being said, it looks like the honeymoon may be over. I think it will take five years total for the whole transition and new direction to actually happen company wide. You can’t turn a battleship on a dime, especially one as battered as the Disney company was when Lasseter took over.

  • Paul

    It amuses me to see people who were jumping with glee over Lasseter taking over creative leadership at Disney are now, a scant few months later, annoyed with him simply because he made some decision they don’t agree with. It’s especially hysterical considering that no one – no one – has seen the results of these decisions yet in order to judge whether or not they were the right ones to make.

    I’m not specifically referring to anyone who’s posted here – there are similar comments on practically every animation board I read.

  • Jim K.

    The biggest problem I have with Lasseter is that his non-stop cheeriness is phony and obviously so. This everlasting effervescence effects his cartoons, too. Pixar flicks always have a ‘Mickey’ lead, a ‘Goofy’ sidekick… but never a third lead ‘Donald’ to even it all out and make it less syrupy.

  • intergalactic

    I would be curious to hear from the Disney employees that got laid off before Christmas.

    Who do they feel is responsible for the layoffs? Is it poor management at WDFA, or Chris Sanders making some bad calls as a solo director, or is it the new leadership of Johnny Pixar?

    My guess would be…. D) All of the above.

    On a side note….it’s nice to hear the tone of optimism in your writing Amid.
    =)

  • BJ

    I think that Sanders basically got haunted by the “Stitch” image, and was attempting to do the same thing with American Dog. Just like the Daniel Craig/Pierce Brosnan decision, I will reserve judgment until I see the film.

    BJ

  • http://gogopedro.com gogopedro

    I like the fact that Disney is making this kinda transition/ turnaround. Wiping the slate clean can be a good thing. Granted I am cheesed off about the Issue with American Dog. I would like to hope that Disney will be on the up and up… Also, I wonder if there will be a push in the studio to explore some new ideas outside of the cookie cutter childrens film that animation seems to have become here in the U.S. The trailer for Paprika LOOKS Mind Bending.

  • http://captainyolk.blogspot.com Jeremy

    I’d just like to know who made the smart decision to have the T-Rex in the Robinson’s trailer break dance and spin? Did anyone see the Chicken Little trailer? He also breakdances and spins. Um, did they go to the same dance school?

    Aside from that, I’m really looking forward to seeing the villain of this film: Bowler hat guy. The animation on him looks incredible.

  • Peter Fries

    Um, Amid, what universe do you live in, where Meet the Robinsons has barely been promoted? I want to live there. I barely ever go to the theater, and yet I could swear I’ve seen the trailer for that movie approximately one hundred grinzillion times.

  • http://www.animationinsider.net/ Aaron H. Bynum

    The six-hour meeting about “Meet the Robinsons” was one such session. Mr. [Stephen] Anderson later called it “one of the hardest days of my life.” –NYT

    I found this bit rather interesting and Amid touched on it in his original post.

    What I guess I find myself wondering is, what does that do to the mentality of an individual when after screening a title to your boss… you go to a [six hour] meeting whose influence will eventually lead you to cut or change the vast majority of the title screened? While I’m sure Anderson wasn’t told to cut or change some 60% of his project from the get-go (or maybe he was, you never know); what gets me thinking about this article is wondering how much of a kick to the groin this must be for a filmmaker.

    Sure, he’s your boss and sure you’ll take his suggestions/ recommendations and whatnot… that’s the business of the business. I guess I’m simply stuck here wondering about the pride of the artist, and where such an abstract facet of creativity lies in an environment where “years of cost-cutting and political infighting” are being uprooted by the “rubbery smile” of Lasseter.

  • http://amymebberson.blogspot.com Amy Mebberson

    I loved Cars myself, but I’m a retro nut like Lasseter – that movie was HIS big sentimental Boomer baby, so I can understand why some may not have liked it.
    Nevertheless, I trust him implicitly to guide Disney back to the light again. The Chris Sanders incident was very unfortunate as Chris is an awesome guy, but even with someone dubbed as big a Saviour as Lasseter is, office power politics will never truly go away.
    The Bronson-Craig analogy was very very apt.

    I know a new facility sounds like a huge expense (considering the white elephants that Circle 7 became), if it helps the power shift from Executive to Creative, I say good luck to them.

  • http://demianjohnston.blogspot.com Demian

    Jeremy totally scooped me on this but yeah! what the heck is up with that t-rex dancing in the trailer? I am glad that they showed that part in the trailer so i can now never see this probably horrible film…

    wait a minute. there is a six year old girl in my life and i know she loves dinosaurs and breakdancing. crud…

    crud. crud. crud.

    oh well. i will tell you all how it is… (it’s going to be just like this: 1. My girlfriend and her daughter will decide we need to go. 2. I will probably go because my buddy tom will tell me about a great trailer at the beginning of the film. 3. I will probably smoke something that is amazing, perfect and a gift from Jah. 4. I will order very large popcorns for each of us (and mr. pibbs). 5. I will not remember a thing about the movie except for how funny i thought the breakdancing homage to Breakin’ 2: Electric Bugaloo was. 6. I will then recommend it to an enemy.)

    P.S. By the way when I was a wee tyke and i saw Breakin’ 2 in the theatre I got so excited afterwards that I tried to do a headspin by the arcade games out front and pulled a bunch of my hair out. Now I am going bald. conicidence? probably.

  • David

    I think Paul nailed it (in his previous comment up above)—

    Some of you people are so quick to criticize JL’s executive decisions , but you haven’t seen the results yet , and you’ll never see the flawed “what might have beens” that JL asked to be changed. To me John Lasetter carries the authority , he has the gravitas to swoop down on a movie and say : “c’mon fellas, let’s make this better” . I’m sorry that it meant uber-talents like Chris Sanders (who I really admire) getting moved aside , but I hope that the ultimate effect will be to revive the Disney Feature Animation unit.

  • Mike

    It’s hard to make a decision that everyone likes, the point is is that somebody is finally making a decision over there.

    As for Aron’s remarks about the pride of the artist. Yes they do get a kick to the groin, no one know this better then Ward Kimball, when Walt cut the Soup-Eating segment in Snow White (after working on it after a year and a half).
    A lot of scenes in a lot of films get scraped, some films get shelved for years- but at least someone knew enough to say, “this isn’t working,” and tried to fix it. This is the nature of the business, it always has been this way, and so as long as someone cares about what they are doing, it will always be this way. Either the artist bucks up and gets to work, or he leaves and starves working for himself.

    Disney has been making crap for the past few years – not just in animation but in films TV as well. Everything has been for the quick buck and cheapening the label – and the production waste is horrible too. Though “Cars” is no Incredibles, it is finely crafted in its image and has heart. And that what counts!

    Go John! Make those tough decisions, and piss a few people off.

  • http://blog.ghworkshop.com Glenn

    Uncle John is making some changes! We all have a great deal to look forward to. If the 60% overhaul of “Meet the Robinsons” is any clue, just think of what a full 2-d Disney feature will be like under Lasseter. Brilliant decisions made by brilliant minds! Uncle Walt would be proud!

  • http://www.bigblurdesign.com Jay

    Demian, from reading posts on various animation forums, Meet the Robinsons is going to be well worth your time — and there’s no breakdancing T-Rex except in the painfully bad TV spot. In any case, if the only way you can endure Disney flicks with your girlfriend’s daughter is to get high… dancing dinos is the least of your problems.

  • Kelly Tindall

    While I’m crestfallen that Sanders is no longer a Disney guy, I’m hopeful that he can land on his feet. Hopefully, this will work out okay for him.

    I’m glad Lasseter has the guts to do what needs to be done. I hope that this is all for the best.

  • http://demianjohnston.blogspot.com Demian

    Jay: No kidding.

  • http://www.mouseclubhouse.com Scott Wolf

    In regards to the comment that John is constantly cheery, I used to work for Disney and people, including the people I worked with, would say the same thing. It used to make me so angry that people would rather have seen me hating my job day to day than to wake up and be excited working for Disney.

    As for John, I met him at Disneyland a couple years ago. He wasn’t there for any press event. I had never met him before. He was so kind, cheery, and wonderful. He introduced me and my family to his family and gave my son a very special gift.

    All of this reminds me of an interview I heard of Walt Disney’s. He always had critics. There were so many people that did not like his films. Oh, and you should have heard the uproar when Disneyland ticket prices were raised to $2!

    As far as “Cars” being no “Incredibles” that is a matter of taste. Most of the movies I have liked in my life are before my time and I grew up with my classmates thinking I was nuts for loving films like “The Sound of Music” and “Singing in the Rain.” Because they didn’t like them, does that make them bad movies? Incredibles did nothing for me simply because I don’t care for action packed movies. I loved Cars because it was a wonderful romantic love story in a fictional world. I understand that not everybody may care for it, but that it is somebody’s opinion. Disney is not crying over box office sales.

  • dan

    Alright, I was at the mouse house as the walls were crumbling around us. At that time I had such contempt for the decisions Eisner and Schumaker were making that I wished that it would continue to sink while we watched Pixar decidingly taking that thrown from us. From my view they were doing everything right-adhering to the true Disney principles. Then, to my dismay, the whole tide changed and Disney ended up with all the right people in place. So, have a little faith in this group. It goes beyond Lasseter onto Catmul, Jobs, and Iger as well. And they all seem to know what went wrong and how to fix it. With any luck they will be doing traditional animation again and my and many other’s ambitions can be reborn. And, I’m guessing that the 60% change had nothing to do with poor storytelling, but rather more of a broad direction that they are wanting to go in. Steve Anderson was my story teacher and I’m certain that he had a jewel developing that we will never see. He tends to be more dramatic in his storytelling. I’m guessing that they want to aim more toward the younger kids. As for Sanders, he’s got so much talent he’ll find an outlet without a doubt. Too bad his ego is greater than his talent. That may have been the problem there. And, on Lasseters sunny disposition: I’d be gleeming all the time too if I was a figurehead of Disney and had the fortune that he has.