From 1995 to 2010, Pixar was the undisputed champion of Western Animation. They were hailed as one of the most innovative and creative studios out there, winning Oscar after Oscar and making classic after classic. They arguably reached their zenith with Up and Toy Story 3, which both got nominations for Best PICTURE, and the latter becoming the highest grossing animated film at the time.
Then, in 2011 (just a year after Toy Story 3), their reign started to tumble with Cars 2, their first film to earn a rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes. They’ve been getting fewer Oscar nominations, critical reception has been mixed to negative, and audiences are generally not as hyped for Pixar as before (with the notable exceptions of Inside Out and maybe Finding Dory). But basically, the message is clear: Pixar has lost its magic touch.
Some people think that once Disney bought Pixar, they defanged the company to make it more marketable. Well, they are likely right about Disney’s acquisition of Pixar harming it…but probably not for the reasons they think.
John Lasseter, who was then the Executive Vice President of Pixar, became the Chief Executive Officer of both Pixar AND Walt Disney Animation Studios. Ed Catmull is president of both companies, and they both have to report to Bob Iger, but Lasseter is ultimately in charge of all the creative choices of the movies. He picks which movie pitches go into production, he is the driving force behind the creative process.
As soon as John Lasseter was put in charge of WDAS, the company, which was then in a serious rut, started to improve, and now they’re making critically acclaimed hits that have become beloved by audiences, without necessarily dumbing them down. Notice how some people are starting to say “Wow Disney finally learned how to make Pixar movies!”, and John Lasseter is precisely because of it.
Given all the projects John Lasseter has to work with, I think he’s is stretched thin between the two companies, and has been focusing more on WDAS than Pixar. Before Pixar was bought by Disney, John Lasseter was more directly involved in the filmmaking process, writing, directing, producing, and even animating their projects. Now all the films are being made by newcomers, some of whom don’t have the talent of the veterans (it’s no surprise that Inside Out, the movie to get the most praise, was directed by Pete Docter, who had been with the company since the very beginning). He’s definitely not as involved as he was before.
And honestly? Whether he wants to admit it or not, I think he’s moved on from Pixar.
I mean, he’s worked at Pixar for a long time, and now he’s in charge of Walt Disney Animation Studios, the company that he grew up with and made some of his all time favorite films. You’d probably be more enthusiastic to work there, too. Just look at the way he talks about the creative process of WDAS films. Just look at how PASSIONATE he is in the making of these films. And most of all, compare the quality of WDAS compared to Pixar as of late. It’s pretty clear that, even though he’s in charge of both companies, he’s showing a bit of a bias, whether he is aware of it or not.
I think at this point, John Lasseter should be left solely in charge of WDAS and get a veteran architect of Pixar to run it instead. That might be best for both companies.
Now, this is mostly speculation on my part, but because Pixar is becoming weaker while Disney Animation has been getting stronger than ever, I’m pretty sure it’s because of a CEO who is stretched thin and would rather commit to one studio than the corporate overlords thinking Pixar should be more marketable. Sure, Pixar is making more sequels, but they are still making movies that deal with complex themes, they just lack the edge they had before.
Let’s hope Pixar can get back on its feet soon. Apparently after Toy Story 4 there are no more plans for any sequels and prequels, which is good, and Coco does look promising. I just hope they’re able to retain their good image and not end up going from one of the most beloved companies to the most scorned.