In a case of doing the right thing, Disney Pixar has ousted John Lasseter as chief creative officer for Pixar and Disney Animation studios and have replaced him with legendary Pixar director Pete Docter and the latest heavy hitter in the Disney family, Jennifer Lee. They’ll be splitting Lasseter’s duties with Docter as the creative director for Pixar and Lee in the corresponding role for Disney. Given that Docter has been with Pixar since the very beginning – and has brought us some of the most emotionally beautiful films in American cinema – he’s a natural fit to take on this role. Lee’s history isn’t as long as Docter’s but with her credits including co-writing A Wrinkle In Time, serving as a writer for Wreck it Ralph and of course writing, and directing the mega-hit Frozen it’s no wonder why they felt she would be a great fit for creative director for Disney animation.
There has been some moaning about the loss of Lasseter’s particular vision and “genius” but let’s be real, in most cases when someone is touted as the only person for the job it’s often because they have created that narrative to hold onto their power. The same fears over reduction in quality have been brought up every time a show-runner or leader is ousted due to creating abusive work environments with little regard to the fact that people in hostile environments do not produce their best. Both Docter and Lee have shown themselves to be highly capable creatives and will hopefully reinvigorate the studios by actively encouraging new and diverse talent that would not have flourished under Lasseter had he even thought to bring them on.
Last summer, Kate wrote about her conflicted feelings regarding Coco, a film which heavily researched and consulted experts on Dia De Los Muertos but was ultimately written and directed by white men, a phenomenon that is all too familiar when it comes to diverse story telling (see also Moana and the upcoming live actions Mulan and Aladdin) and honestly the odds of that changing under current management for any company are low, because of course these films are still making bank and being critically acclaimed. So why take the chance right?
But perhaps new leadership, new direction, will be the key to Disney Pixar finally admitting that perhaps lived experience is better than learned. After all it was after Lasseter had step backed in November following the initial allegations that we finally got a short written and directed by a woman, and a diaspora Chinese woman at that. Bao was released before Incredibles 2 to great acclaim. Pixar has a high standard with their shorts (that unfortunate Frozen release before Coco not withstanding) and Bao met and surpassed those standards.
Change is upon us and there’s every reason to believe that Docter and Lee will lead a new era of creativity and diversity for the most influential animation studios in Hollywood hopefully setting new standards for decades to come.