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Why Did John Lasseter Step Down From Directing ‘Toy Story 4’?

One of the more meaningful reveals at last week’s Disney corporate marketing expo D23 was the announcement that John Lasseter was stepping down as co-director of Toy Story 4, leaving Josh Cooley as the film’s sole director.

Lasseter will stay on board as executive producer, a role that he also serves on every other Disney and Pixar feature animation release. As part of the shake-up, Jonas Rivera (Up, Inside Out) is taking over as producer from Galyn Susman, who had previously been announced as producer.

Cooley started as a Pixar story department intern in 2003, before serving as the story supervisor on Inside Out and directing and writing the short Riley’s First Date?

Lasseter did not explain onstage at D23 why he was handing over the reins on the film, but he spoke in-depth afterward with the Chinese film website Mtime, where he offered the following explanation:

“I always felt like I need to keep directing, and that’s why I decided to do Toy Story 4 initially, but I oversee three studios and I think I counted 24 feature films I’m overseeing, and it was not really practical, to be blunt. But also what made it easy was Josh Cooley was amazing; wait until you see it – he is so good. And it was time to let go of the bike and let him ride, and he’s doing a great job. It’s really fantastic. And I do get creative satisfaction from being the executive producer, the chief creative officer, and helping all of these great filmmakers. So that’s what made the decision for me, and I’m loving what I do. I have the best job in the world.”

Since the news proved to be accurate, we can now reveal that the blind item we published last August was in fact referring to this situation at Pixar. It’s important to point out that the reason for Lasseter’s departure that is claimed in the blind item is impossible to verify without further details. It is entirely possible that Lasseter’s explanation above is valid and accurate.

While the reasons for the director and producer upheaval remain uncertain, what can definitively be confirmed is that Lasseter stepped down as director of Toy Story 4 nearly one year ago, and the directorial shift was not announced until last week.

Toy Story 4 is scheduled to open June 21, 2019 in the United States. When the film was first announced in 2014, it was issued a 2017 release date, before being delayed until 2018, and more recently, delayed again to 2019.

(Photo via

  • Anonymous

    Just a thought of mine but it seems like recently his speaking has a slight slur. I’m wondering if he’s drunk or has suffered a minor stroke.

    • otterhead

      Stay classy, Cartoon Brew readers.

    • Rob

      Word has it among a few veteran animators I know who have been around him, he’s a major lush with alcohol. It *is* possible he was drunk.

  • Rob T.

    Interesting. Pixar has had a reputation this past decade for consistently taking directors off of the movies they developed. The major exceptions are those films developed by key people behind the original “Toy Story” movie itself – Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter and Lee Unkrich. In some ways this is just old news with a twist, but what a twist!

    Leaving aside whether Lasseter was just too busy or (per the blind news item) he just couldn’t hack it, it’s sad to see this happen to the creative mind behind so much great animation, On the other hand, even if Pixar had its hand forced, this still represents a great opportunity for the company to start in earnest on developing new directing talent. This is something they’ve needed to do for a long time, because even though Lasseter, Stanton, Docter, Unkrich and Pixar auxiliary Brad Bird are among the best animation directors in the business, those guys can’t last forever.

    • JoshBowman

      Perhaps both the ‘blind item’ and ‘too busy’ versions are equally true in a way.

      Lasseter was stretched thin, but by taking over the executive producing role at Disney along with everything else, unless you’re immersed in writing stories a lot, you can ‘lose it’ creatively, when your focus is more on running things. I’ve felt this same shift as an animator getting into school teaching, the skills I had as an animator have needed to be shelved in order to concentrate on a broad range of other skills and they get rusty real fast when they’re not in daily use.

      • Butcher

        Stretched thin? if he gets any fatter he’d need a truck to haul him around.

  • Martin Cohen

    Could this have anything to do with the revelations of how much a scumbag John Lasseter is?

    • ?

      What revelations are you talking about? Anything on the public record?

      • Anon

        He knew (and blessed) Ed Catmull’s criminal wage fixing efforts.

    • Troy

      Using cartoonbrew’s linked article and referenced back to what I assume you were talking about the wage fixing, no doesn’t seem to be the case. Looks pretty separate though harsh decision.

  • WK.

    Of all the D23 news, this caught me by surprise. At face value, this makes sense. I really can’t imagine what the stress and pressure is like having to oversee SEVERAL major league studios, and still focus on you own personal projects.

    Thing is, that “blind item” still worries me. I like to think J. Lasseter has been in the game far long enough, and has succeeded enough to know what constitutes a good story. I mean, you just don’t have a man who oversees and collaborates with two of the highest rated and highest earning studios on the planet, both which crank out hit after hit, for so many years only for him to turn out to be a drooling moron. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I know enough Hollywood is NOT that forgiving.

    Still, I really don’t know what to make of it….

  • elliot Lobell

    other than Disney Animation Studios and Pixar, what else does he oversee?

  • I always wondered why John took on the directorial role for Toy Story 4 when he had so many other responsibilities at hand. Especially when you consider that directing alone is such a daunting, time-consuming task. Extremely worried about the final product (I would normally say “NOW I’m worried about the movie”, except the idea of fourth Toy Story didn’t make sense to me from the start).

  • Chris Bennett

    sounds like the movie wasn’t shaping up to be the best it could be and the director was hard to track down, so they gave themselves more time and a director who could give more of his attention. Sounds alarming because absolutely no one wants the Toy Story legacy blemished, but this decision could be a wise one and the movie could shape up to be amazing – fingers crossed!

  • Andres Molina

    This whole “blind item” case is very strange for me to be honest. I really don’t know about whether Lasseter stepped down due to being busy, or because the film wasn’t working, but yeah, Pixar is having a rough decade, from over-abundance of sequels, to numerous director removals/replacements. But either way, lets hope that Toy Story 4 still turns out to be great, Lasseter can find the time to direct a new film in the future, and that Pixar can shake off whatever troubles they were, or are experiencing. At this point, it’s best to keep an open mind, because i will.

  • crossie

    Wow, what a twist!

    I was expecting Lasseter had fired someone, not Lasseter getting fired.

    I mean, granted the random email out of nowhere is on the up and up …

    • Mesterius

      I would have loved it if the headline read, “John Lasseter Fires Himself As Director of Toy Story 4”.

  • Troy

    I had forgotten what was the blind item about, clicked for a refresher, read this article again, and dam that was a kicker for it to sink in. It is going to be interesting how this is going to pan out if what Lassester has stated would actually work given the track record lately in terms of newcomers vs. veterans.

  • Considering all the things Lasseter has to do, it makes sense. However, I
    am a little worried about TS4. I hope Pixar knows what they’re doing here.

    • Matthew

      We went through this with the last two sequels and look how they turned out.

  • Fluffydips

    Maybe it’s time to merge old Disney and Pixar. I’d hate to cut off a studio legacy but this man cannot run back and forth doing this without the film quality suffering. I hope they at least cut off Disneytoon. I just want Pixar to be itself again.

    • Mesterius

      For that to happen, Pixar would have to be free from Disney and independent again… and even then, it would be a long shot at this point.

      • Andres Molina

        Part of the deal of Disney’s purchase is, if Pixar were to pull out of the deal, or produce work independently, they would have to pay Disney $210 million in penalty. Now, lets just say Pixar does re-branch itself into it’s own studio. John Lasseter would most likely ditch the Mouse and stay with the Lamp. In that case, Pixar could branch to other distributors like Warner Bros and could turn out to be great for the newly independent studio, and could be an opportunity for Pixar to branch into more adult, or more experimental work without branding restrictions, and John only having to oversee Pixar’s works, which would be great for John. He would be stretched too thin anymore, he wouldn’t have to bounce back from San Francisco to L.A constantly, every week or month, and oversee WDAS or DisneyToon, he could now stay entirely at Pixar, and now because of that, he’ll now have time and energy to continue directing films, maybe films that are both fascinating and brilliant. He may be 60, but as far as I’m concerned, I think John Lasseter still has many surprises up his sleeves, he just needs the time and resources he had in the 90’s to pursue directing, and ultimately, becoming independent could be very beneficial to both Pixar and Lasseter.

        But here are a few reasons and fallouts on why this possibility would be a long shot. First, John did state that he finds both satisfaction and happiness overseeing all three animation studios, and he does it because he loves it, and he even considers it the best job in the world, so I don’t think he would want to return to directing if it meant by ditching WDAS and becoming independent. Second, if John ends up deciding to leave and become independent with Pixar, it would be bad news for Disney, it could end up hurting WDAS very badly, they would practically lose their savior, the man who brought them back to revival, their replacement could end up messing up the studio and bring them back in a rut, worst case scenario. And while becoming independent can be beneficial to Pixar, it could be risky and bad news at the same, because who knows what those other distributors would want to with Pixar, overall, moving to another distributor could either prove creatively healthy, or could butcher them.

        In other words, if Pixar were to ever return to becoming independent, it would send a massive shock wave, not only to Disney, but to the entire animation industry as a whole.

        • Mesterius

          Pixar has no rights to pull out from Disney’s ownership now. That $210 million penalty deal you’re referring to was ONLY if Pixar had pulled out of the purchase back in 2006 before it was 100% finalized (which often takes many months with huge corporations like these).

          Take a look at this official, legal document outlining the deal: The “Effective Date” for the Disney-Pixar merger was September 30, 2006 – and if you scroll down to “ARTICLE VIII – TERMINATION AND AMENDMENT”, you’ll find the part about $210,000,000 being the “Termination Fee” of the deal, and September 30, 2006 being the “Termination Date”. Pixar would have had to pay Disney prior to or on that date to break out of the deal.

          Today, though? Pixar is owned by Disney lock, stock and barrell. The Disney Company would literally have to agree to sell Pixar if they were ever to be independent again. And the sad corporate reality is that, legally speaking, the bosses at Disney could decide to close down Pixar tomorrow with Lasseter and the other studio veterans unable to do a thing about it.

          • GW

            Personally, I think that if Pixar were to get closed down it would be a good thing for the animation industry. The former PIxar crew could reassemble themselves as an independent company and not have to make any more sequels. If Activision did it in video games then Pixar employees could do it in animation. With the appalling ratio of sequels to original films there’s never been a better time to leave. With the wage fixing scandal it’s a wonder anybody wants to work there anymore anyways.

  • Mesterius

    Must admit, I had expected to see much more than 19 comments here. To me, this is one of the most disturbing Pixar-related news in years.

    I don’t think Lasseter chose to step down from Toy Story 4 on his own. I think Disney’s bosses forced him out of the director’s chair. I think, in other words, that the “blind item” email was right on the money. For years now, we have been seeing the unfortunate results of Disney buying Pixar. This may be the ultimate unfortunate result. No one is safe under Disney’s management, not even the Chief Creative Officer and director of Toy Story 1 and 2.

  • Valjean

    What worries me more is that they replaced Toy Story veteran Galyn Susman. Are any of the original Toy Story creatives still attached to this now?

    • Ana

      You’re WORRIED? as in you think about this stuff when you’re in bed trying to sleep?

      • Mesterius

        Hey, there are sillier things to lose sleep over!

  • J.S

    Three studios? What else does John manages besides Pixar and Disney animation studios?

    • He oversees DisneyToon Studios (they’ve made the Planes movies and mostly do direct-to-video films), in addition to Pixar and DIsney Animation Studios

  • Chicken McPhee

    Wise decision given his responsibilities.

  • Daniel Ruiz

    This means anyone can get sacked at Pixar, right? So prior demoted directors should take it less personally?

    • Mesterius

      When you’re forced off a project that you have poured your creative soul into, it’s ALWAYS personal.

      • Daniel Ruiz

        I agree with you, so I wrote “less” personal. But before, there was speculation of diferent motives for being removed, —Oh no, they removed her because of this… —Oh, they removed him because of that…
        Didn’t mean to offend the creators who have been in this position, We’ve all had things not working out in our life or work —maybe at different scales than this— and I would feel crushed if that happened to me, but now with this news, maybe it’s just that something wasn’t working out with the movie. Don’t you think?