Tag Archives: John Lasseter

Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Ralph and Vanellope, an unlikely friendship.

Ralph and Vanellope, an unlikely friendship.

Wreck-It Ralph is a big win for Disney. The characters are adorable, it’s contemporary while holding on to classic themes, and it embraces the original Disney mantra of focusing on strong original characters. Every one of them is flawed, and deeply lovable.

But most notably, this is the first Disney film in nearly a decade that returned to the Renaissance-era tactic of playing the long game. Promotion for the film started early, the characters were developed publicly and the merchandising appropriately on-key.

A version of Ralph’s game — Fix-It Felix Jr. — in the movie was released for smartphones in advance of the theatrical release to familiarize fans with the world of the film. It ramped up to the top of the iTunes best seller list inside of a week.

Previews of the characters rolled out alongside the main theatrical trailers on YouTube and the popular Apple Trailers website. The 8-bit-style poster of Ralph’s face began popping up in cities around the world, and television spots teased familiar video game characters like the Pac-Man ghost and Bowser to boost interest among older viewers.

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Tangled (2010)

Rapunzel

Rapunzel

Tangled marks an interesting point in Disney’s evolution. For a decade, Pixar had produced more creative and more artistic films. It had produced more memorable characters and more impactful stories. With that company’s acquisition in 2006, Disney also bought the brains behind Pixar’s magic in John Lasseter.

With Lasseter in charge of all creative for both companies, though, the vision behind each set of films began to meld and slowly become indistinguishable from one another.

Tangled marks a clear beginning of that process. It is the first film that Lasseter oversaw from start to finish. The film was announced a year after Lasseter took hold of the reins and Pixar became part of the Disney family of companies.

With a budget of $250-million, Disney bet big on Tangled being a huge success. Given the box office gold that had come with Lasseter’s previous projects, it was more than likely a safe bet. But it was still $100-million more than anything Disney had spent on a film in the past decade.

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Bolt (2008)

Bolt and Penny

Bolt and Penny

Bolt is the story that saw John Lasseter get comfortable at Disney, exercise some strength and prove his worth.

When Lasseter became involved in the project, Bolt had not yet begun animation but the story was well on its way. It was originally called American Dog, and featured much the same travel-across-America-to-discover-yourself storyline that ended up in Bolt. But it also featured a rabbit deformed from radiation, a dark desert wasteland and a large cat who worked as a junkyard mechanic. It was different, to say the least.

That’s to be expected, though. That story was being produced by Chris Sanders, who had previously created and co-directed Lilo & Stitch.

Lasseter, though, wanted some pretty heavy changes. It needed to be more family-friendly, more emotionally driven, less weird and more adorable. Sanders resisted, though, and was removed from the project and replaced with Chris Williams (writer on The Emperor’s New Groove and Mulan) and Byron Howard (an animator from Mulan, Brother Bear, Lilo & Stitch and Chicken Little). Lasseter, of course, remained executive producer.

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Meet the Robinsons (2007)

Lewis the inventor.

Lewis the inventor.

With Meet the Robinsons, Disney finally began its upswing, regaining its footing once again. And it was all because of one move: John Lasseter had joined the company.

There have been three people in the history of the Walt Disney Company whose passion for animation has done not only great things for the company, but for the medium as a whole. Walt Disney himself was, of course, the pioneer; Howard Ashman brought his artistic vision to the renaissance; and, now, John Lasseter is making his mark.

Way back in 1986, Lasseter was one of the executives at a small computer company that spun off from LucasFilm. They decided to call it Pixar. When Steve Jobs bought the spinoff from George Lucas for $10-million, he was warned that this renegade group of eggheads were more interested in animation than building a computer company. That, as it turns out, was just fine.

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The Black Cauldron (1985)

A taste of Disney’s darker side

With The Black Cauldron, animation at Disney had officially hit rock bottom. “That film was supposed to be our ‘Snow White.’ But we just weren’t ready for it,” Ron Clements reportedly said at the time. But a behind-the-scenes tale of struggle that would ultimately bear triumph was brewing at Walt’s beloved company. And it’s important to recognize this film, not for what it wasn’t, but for what it represented for the studio at the time.

Based on Lloyd Alexander’s award-winning teen lit series The Chronicles of Prydain, the events of the film follow a young assistant pig keeper named Taran, his oracular pig named Hen Wen and a powerful cauldron that could raise a dead army for an evil king. Disney optioned the rights to the whole series in 1971, but the studio’s intense aversion to sequels meant it would try to do all of Prydain’s five volumes justice in just 80 minutes.

The film took seven years to complete, largely because chief executive Ron Miller (Walt’s son-in-law) didn’t feel his new Cal Arts recruits (including the likes of John Lasseter and Tim Burton) were up to the epic challenge. In some ways, Miller was right, but it was the whole company that turned out not to be ready for a film of such scale, and there was still much strife to come before the magic returned to Disney feature animation.

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