This December, John Lasseter will officially depart Pixar and The Walt Disney Company. Regardless of the details surrounding his departure, this truly is the end of an era. He leaves behind a 30-year tenure as the leading creative force behind one of the most critical and commercially successful film studios in the world.
He will exit a company he led from its earliest days as a spinoff from Lucasfilm, and one that has won 19 Academy Awards during his tenure. A legacy that would have lasted, had it not been for allegations against the prolific producer revolving around sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace. With Disney CEO Bob Iger confirming that Monsters Inc. director Pete Docter and Frozen writer Jennifer Lee will take over Lasseter’s positions as heads of Pixar and Walt Disney animation respectively, Pixar employees have begun to speak out on how everyone is feeling at the studio.
In a new report by The Wrap, the trade details several accounts from Pixar employees (all remain anonymous except for Docter) on the current state of the company morale. One employee was quoted saying “An era is over, you know?”
The circumstances of Lasseter’s departure have left mixed feelings on the beautifully constructed Pixar campus in Emeryville, across the bay from San Francisco.
Although the announcement of Docter as Lasseter’s replacement has eased some of the uncertainty inside Pixar, it nonetheless represents a monumental change for the company with Docter saying:
“I don’t know if I’m ready for this. I don’t think anybody would have wished for this, but we’ll make the best of it.”
Lasseter is credited with revolutionizing computer animation with the release of Toy Story in 1995 and became known for turning Pixar into an Oscar magnet with several billion-dollar franchises such as The Incredibles, and Finding Nemo.
The Wrap then spoke to several individuals close to Pixar said on condition of anonymity that Lasseter’s departure has created a significant amount of upheaval and confusion within Pixar. One individual with longstanding ties to the company said:
“There’s a great deal of inner turmoil over the fact that things happened the way they did. The amount of power Lasseter had at Pixar and Disney led to resentment among some at both companies.” (He reported only to Disney CEO Bob Iger, something Docter and Lee will not do.)
Another employee was convinced that the entirety of Lasseter’s departure was driven by political motives:
“All I can tell you is it’s a political move, no link with #MeToo. It’s the perfect excuse to fire a great leader.”
Following the allegations, Iger announced Docter and Lee as Lasseter’s successors, where he opted to emphasize Lasseter’s achievements instead of discussing his faults, crediting him with “reinventing the animation business, taking breathtaking risks and telling original, high-quality stories that will last forever.” Disney chairman Alan Horn also released a statement on the matter, saying:
“Jennifer Lee and Pete Docter are two of the most gifted filmmakers and storytellers I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with.”
Docter joined Pixar in the early 90’s as an animator for Toy Story. He quickly rose through the ranks, directing critically acclaimed features such as Monsters Inc, Inside Out and Up. Along with Lasseter, Docter is a member of the Pixar brain trust, which also includes Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton and Coco director Lee Unkrich. Jennifer Lee, who most recently penned the Ava DuVernay-helmed A Wrinke in Time, worked as a writer on Wreck it Ralph before making a huge splash with Frozen, the highest-grossing animated film of all time.
Still, even with the studios being in capable hands, employees remain cautious about it all, with one saying:
“Jennifer and Pete both have a lot of heart. They’re lovely people, and they’re not going to change the direction of the company. But what does the overall company lose with John gone? At some point, every Pixar movie isn’t very good, and John was always the one who made it better.”
Quick pit stop here because the notion that “John was always the one who made it better” is, in my opinion, not a true statement. While he was behind some of Pixar’s highest of highs, he also backed some of its lowest points. After all, Lasseter himself directed Cars 2 and lets not forget the turmoil that surrounded The Good Dinosaur. Anyways, back to the quote:
“And the sad thing for all of us is the question, ‘Is Pete going to be able to keep making movies now?’ He’s made three of Pixar’s best movies, and he was working on another one – is that going to be given to somebody else?”
For now, Docter is under the impression that he will get to continue working on his next film, as he said in an interview:
“At least, they haven’t told me otherwise.”