March 4, 2007
He Runs That Mickey Mouse Outfit
By LAURA M. HOLSON
IT wasn’t the first time John Lasseter, the director of “Toy Story” and “Cars,” had sat through the screening of a not-quite-ready animated film. But when he saw an early cut of Disney’s “Meet the Robinsons” last March, he watched it with a new eye. He wasn’t just a fellow director, and a founder of Pixar Animation Studios. This time he was the boss, the chief creative officer of animation for the Walt Disney Company, which had agreed to acquire Pixar two months before.
As he sat in a dark theater on the first floor of Disney’s animation studio here, something bothered him about the villain. Almost all of Pixar’s animated movies had an evil foil. In “Toy Story” Buzz Lightyear and Woody escaped a cruel neighborhood bully. In “A Bug’s Life” an ant saved his colony from a menacing grasshopper and his thuggish crew. By contrast the lanky villain in “Robinsons,” the story of an orphan who builds a time machine in order to find his mother, was neither threatening enough nor scary.
After the screening Mr. Lasseter and his colleagues from Pixar and Disney met with the director, Stephen Anderson, and told him so. For six hours.
Ten months later Mr. Lasseter was back in the screening room, watching Mr. Anderson’s new version of “Meet the Robinsons,” which is set for release on March 30. Nearly 60 percent of the original film had been cut. A diabolical sidekick had been added. And in one thrilling scene the orphan, Lewis, is chased by an oversize dinosaur. Later, when asked about the movie’s ending, Mr. Lasseter’s rubbery smile turned upside down and he pretended to cry.
“The audience is going to be sobbing,” he said, dragging his index fingers down his cheeks. “It is really going to get them.”
A Hollywood outsider whose independent shop popularized computer animation, Mr. Lasseter, 50, might seem an odd fit for a studio built on old-school cartoons and the mythology of Snow White and Cinderella. But since Pixar was acquired, Mr. Lasseter has been heralded as a latter-day Walt Disney, a cultural arbiter who can rekindle the spirit of Disney’s famous animation at its theme parks, on store shelves and in a theater near you.