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Walt Disney, Version 2.0: John Lasseter - The Toledo Blade, 6/4/06


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  • Walt Disney, Version 2.0: John Lasseter - The Toledo Blade, 6/4/06

    It'd be a stretch for it to be anything other than positive. Because it's about John Lasseter, and John Lasseter is always right. Always. His employees love him, and his instincts are unfailing. The guy's nice, too; and his ideas are clever. And so it's hard to hate him, despite this infuriating charmed life. The company he co-founded 20 years ago and still oversees, Pixar, has never made a single bad movie; indeed, within those movies (seven features, countless shorts), you'd be hard pressed to find a single bad scene, character, line of dialogue, or moment. How many mistakes did you make before turning 20?


    Naturally, he's worth millions.

    That's being modest.

    Disney finally purchased Pixar last winter, after years of speculation that Lasseter's company (feeling unappreciated by former CEO Michael Eisner's Mouse management style) would find a new distribution partner, or even strike out on its own. So successful was its string of family movies (from the Lasseter-directed Toy Story films, to Monsters, Inc., to Finding Nemo, to The Incredibles), Lasseter's box-office record became more consistent than any filmmaker in Hollywood -- even Spielberg.

    Disney paid $7.4 billion.

    When they did, there was even speculation Pixar got ripped off.

    Lasseter, however, did not.

    He became Walt Disney.

    A job he's been training for.

    Going on a decade now he's been to computer animation what Walt, 50 years ago, was to old-fashioned cell, pencil-and-ink animation; so much so, every digitally animated feature not made by Pixar these days is still informed by Lasseter's decisions in some way -- just as Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes, Disney's primary competition, often defined itself in relation to Walt.

    And so it's hard not thinking of that much-watched deal as a coronation: Though Lasseter still directs movies (his latest, Cars, opens Friday) and oversees the thinking and look of everything bearing Pixar's name, now he'll do the same for Disney's animation department, which has become a shell of its legendary House a Mouse Built. Disney's last animated hit was four-years ago, Lilo & Stitch. It's since closed entire divisions, laid-off 1,400 animation employees, and swore off the old-fashioned cell animation it's synonymous with.

    Now change is afoot.

    In February, at the Visual Effects Society awards, after his new title as the creative head of Disney animation was announced (he'll do double duty with Pixar), a cheer went up and his friend, actor John Ratzenberger, of Cheers (and a character voice in every Pixar production), told the assembled: "Walt has stopped rolling in his grave."

    The cheer got louder.
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