Can The New Disney Animation Heads Fix Pixar?

Matthew Loffhagen
Disney Pixar
(Photo: Disney Pixar)

Pixar is saved!

Or, at least, it could be saved.

Have you noticed that the past few Pixar movies have been, shall we say, uninspired?

Sure, they’re still perfectly enjoyable animated movie fare. But they don’t crackle with the originality and personality that they used to possess.

They feel more like they’re aimed directly at kids than the earlier films that always had parents in mind as well.

What I’m saying is it’s been a while since a Pixar movie gave me a solid emotional gut punch, and I’m getting impatient.

Much of the blame for this can be laid at the feet of (alleged) sexual harasser John Lasseter.

The guy who berthed much of Pixar’s original genius changed his tactic when made the head of Disney’s entire animation output. A lot of the really interesting ideas ended up showing up in the Disney movie docket rather than over at Pixar.

I suppose this is likely the fault of executives at Disney as well, but the fact remains: Lasseter’s tenure as head of both studios saw the decline of Pixar.

Previously, the studio was known for movies like “Monsters Inc”, “Up”, and “WALL-E”. Now, they’ve notorious for churning out the kind of vapid, shallow sequels that the team refused to make with “Toy Story 2”.

But hope is on the horizon.

The Perfect Team

Lasseter has been booted from his job after allegations of sexual misconduct, which means that Disney is automatically a far nicer place to work.

Beyond this, Lasseter’s replacements are perfect.

Where Lasseter once controlled both Disney and Pixar, now two different creators are tackling these jobs.

Overseeing all of Disneydom is the phenomenal Jennifer Lee. If you’ve been forced to watch “Frozen” as many times as I have, you’ll be very used to seeing her name. She’s the genius director who spearheaded the first Disney animated movie to try to tell the story from the perspective of the villain.

If you’ve ever sang along to “Let it Go”, you owe Lee your thanks.

On the other side of things is Pete Docter, who’ll be taking over Pixar.

Docter has been at Pixar from the beginning, and directed some of your favorites. He tackled “Monsters Inc”, making a generation of kids even more terrified of the dark. He then made “Up”, which features perhaps the most perfect ten minutes of dialogue-free storytelling ever committed to film.

Docter’s most recent movie was “Inside Out”, which Pixar fans will recognize as the last time the studio managed to deliver an emotional, heartfelt original idea that really touched audiences.

(No, I’m not overlooking “The Good Dinosaur”. It’s just not in the same league.)

With Lee and Docter working together, I’m hopeful that we’ll finally get a Pixar renaissance.

Splitting the Difference

The benefit of having two overseers where once there was only a single (sketchy) guy is that both studios will now get due attention.

Part of Lasseter’s problems with Pixar came from needing to divide his attention, and priority always needed to go to Disney. Now, Docter is free to take over the animation studio that he’s always been involved with. Unlike Lasseter, he can give it the focus and attention it deserves.

I can only hope that Docter brings us the kind of beautiful, heartwarming (and heartbreaking) storytelling that he’s known for. There is no one better suited to revitalizing this ailing studio.

Letting it Go

Meanwhile, I’m fully on board with seeing Jennifer Lee take over the Disney side of things.

I admit that “Frozen” is not my favorite of the recent films from Disney animation. Perhaps I’m just a stickler for tradition, because the more formulaic “Moana” feels like the stronger film to me.

(I’m probably also just salty about Hans’ completely illogical plot twist in “Frozen”.)

Nevertheless, I’m not going to deny the power that “Frozen” holds, nor the legions of fans who love the movie.

I know that Lee is capable of amazing storytelling. Considering how “Frozen” breaks the mold of what it means to be a Disney princess, I’m happy to see the film’s director breath similar originality into future films.

I’m eager to see both Disney and Pixar reach greater heights thanks to their new leaders. The House of Mouse is looking healthier than it has in a long time.

Considering that the Disney Empire isn’t exactly in a slump at the moment, I can only imagine what incredible movies await us in the near future!