Well, that was quick.
John Lasseter, who was a founding creative principle at Pixar and who headed the creative side of the Walt Disney Company following Disney’s acquisition of the Emeryville, California-based animation studio, has already found a new gig after being ousted from Disney: he will head animation at production studio Skydance. The announcement was made by Skydance CEO David Ellison. Lasseter will be based out of Los Angeles and report directly to Ellison.
“John is a singular creative and executive talent whose impact on the animation industry cannot be overstated,” Ellison said in a statement. “He was responsible for leading animation into the digital age, while telling incomparable stories that continue to inspire and entertain audiences around the globe.”
While at Pixar, Lasseter ushered in a new era of computer-generated animation, imbibing heartfelt tales with cutting-edge technology. (He directed “Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life” and “Cars.”) When the company was finally absorbed by Disney, he rehabbed that studio’s animation department, which at the time was badly mismanaged and creatively lost. Not only did he return traditional hand-drawn animation to the company with films like 2011’s “Winnie the Pooh” and “The Princess and the Frog,” but he also encouraged experimentation and envelope-pushing storytelling. Nearly every animated project out of Walt Disney Animation Studios, Disney ToonStudios and Pixar carried his stamp. He also oversaw Walt Disney Imagineering (if you have ever wondered why there’s a whole “Cars”-themed land at Disney California Adventure) and served as a kind of huggable mascot for the entire creative side of the Disney Company.
Unfortunately, his titanic creative achievements have been undone by an ongoing scandal that started last year when he admitted to nebulously worded “missteps” and took a removed role from the company, eventually leaving at the end of 2018. It’s unclear what Lasseter actually did and how much Disney knew about it, but it was enough for the company to sever ties with one of its most creative and profitable executives. (Lasseter was also a key figure in an elaborate wage-fixing conspiracy that wound up costing Disney over $100 million in court.)
In the statement, Ellison alluded to Lasseter’s checkered past, saying that the decision to hire him was “not taken lightly.” Ellison added: “John has acknowledged and apologized for his mistakes and, during the past year away from the workplace, has endeavored to address and reform them.”
What will be interesting is to see how this is actually implemented. Skydance hasn’t had any animated projects thus far, instead helping to produce big tentpole fare like “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” and “Star Trek Beyond.” Skydance’s chief creative partner has been Paramount, a studio that has tried and failed repeatedly to establish itself as an animation heavy-hitter, and it’ll be interesting to see if Lasseter has an effect on that in some way.
More on this story soon, we have no doubt.