At Pixar, Lasseter and Catmull had built an entire company around creating this kind of response, with a set of policies and procedures designed to maximize a movie’s emotional impact. Once Lasseter green-lit an idea, the director who had pitched it developed the story with the help of the Braintrust, a group of Pixar’s directors, writers, and story heads—a long and bumpy road that could only be survived by a director’s personal engagement and deep investment in the film.
Disney’s development process was the opposite of emotional. Like most movie studios, it had for decades employed a C-suite of what’s somewhat generously known as “creative executives”—cookie-cutter MBA types who tasked underlings with turning vague premises into magic. “When I started here in 1978,” says Frozen director Chris Buck, “the studio was run by Walt Disney’s son-in-law, Ron Miller. Nice guy, but he wasn’t a filmmaker and he wasn’t an artist.”
Somehow, though, as Disney Animation’s films became less successful, the executives exerted more power. They made decisions about what movies would be developed—based on market research, tea leaves, their own opinions—and assigned directors and producers to those projects, none of which became hits. “It was a broken system,” says Big Hero 6 director Don Hall, who has been at Disney since 1995. Adds Buck: “I can’t pinpoint where we lost our way, but it was affected by the fact that the people in charge weren’t necessarily lovers of the art form.”
The above pretty much sums up what was wrong with Disney animations in that dark period prior to ‘Tangled’. I’m glad to see that their recent films are really killing it (with the exception of Planes which feels so derivative and boring).
But I feel that the Pixar super-duo of Lasseter and Catmull should spend more time with Pixar projects now that they’ve shown Disney the way. The recent movies haven’t been quite as up to scratch after Toy Story 3. Car 2, Brave and Monsters University were no nearly as good as the their earlier offerings. I’m surprised though that Pixar didn’t release a feature film in 2014 at all, which is probably a good sign that they’re re-evaluating and making sure that what comes out in 2015 isn’t mediocre.
In the meantime, I’m looking forward to watching Big Hero 6 myself in the cinema with my family.