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Toy Story 4: Its Director Is An Artist Disney Fired; Now Heads Pixar AND Disney Animation Studios

Updated on August 23, 2015
Robert Iger, the chairman and chief executive officer of The Walt Disney Company.
Robert Iger, the chairman and chief executive officer of The Walt Disney Company. | Source

Toy Story 4 - The Backstory

“Toy Story 4” will be released seven years after “Toy Story 3” earned slightly more than $1 billion at the box office on a $200 million production budget.

“Toy Story 3” was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound Editing. It won for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song.

It was the highest-grossing animated feature in movie history until "Frozen" replaced it as highest-grossing. Interestingly, both "Toy Story 3" and "Frozen" had John Lasseter as the creative force behind them.

“Toy Story 2” earned $485 million on a production budget of $90 million while the original “Toy Story” earned $361.9 million – it cost $30 million to make.

Pixar Animation Studios has produced 14 feature films which have generated $8.5 billion worldwide in movie tickets - and billions more in merchandising.

The collective Pixar features have averaged $607 million each. They have earned 27 Academy Awards, seven Golden Globes and 11 Grammy Awards.

Toy Story 4 - Disney Announces Release Date

Woody, Buzz and the gang are coming out of the toy box for another rompin’ adventure in Toy Story 4, directed by an animator who was fired by Disney in the 1980s when he suggested producing an animated feature using computers.

Robert Iger, the chairman and chief executive officer of The Walt Disney Company, told Wall Street analysts that "Toy Story 4" is expected to be released June 16, 2017, the same month that “How To Train Your Dragon 3,” “Despicable Me 3” and “Wonder Woman,” hit the screens.

“These wonderful characters are clearly just as relevant and beloved as ever,” Iger said during a conference call with Wall Street Analysts.

"Toy Story 4" will be directed by Pixar co-founder John Lasseter.

Lasseter directed “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” as well as co-produced and wrote many other Pixar Animation hits.

Lasseter will develop “Toy Story 4” with Pixar’s usual suspects of award-winning stable of directors and writers.

“Toy Story 4” will pick up where the last one left off – in the loving arms of a young girl named Bonnie.

“We love these characters so much; they are like family to us,” Lasseter said. “We don’t want to do anything with them unless it lives up to or surpasses what’s gone before.”

“Toy Story 3 ended Woody and Buzz’s story with Andy so perfectly that for a long time, we never even talked about doing another Toy Story movie,” he said.

But when Andrew, Pete, Lee, and I came up with this new idea, I just could not stop thinking about it,” Lasseter said in a statement from Pixar Animation.

Lasseter revealed at a recent D23 convention that the story revolves around a Woody/Bo Peep romance. D23 is a sort of comic con for diehard Disney fans, which attracts international attendees and media.

Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter and Lee Unkrich have combined forces to create iconic Pixar classics.

“It was so exciting to me, I knew we had to make this movie—and I wanted to direct it myself,” Lasseter said.

Read below to discover how the once fired Lasseter came to run both Pixar Animation and the animation department at The Walt Disney Company.

You will also discover how George Lucas, Steve Jobs and Michael Eisner all contributed to the media force that Pixar Animation Studios is today.


Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the gang in a scene from Toy Story 3.
Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the gang in a scene from Toy Story 3. | Source
John Lasseter, co-founder of Pixar Animation and chief creative officer of both Pixar and Disney Animation.
John Lasseter, co-founder of Pixar Animation and chief creative officer of both Pixar and Disney Animation. | Source
Steve Jobs, Robert Iger and John Lasseter, Lasseter was fired from Disney Animation in the 1980s when he suggested using computers to enhance hand-drawn animation. Lasseter now heads both Pixar and Disney Animation.
Steve Jobs, Robert Iger and John Lasseter, Lasseter was fired from Disney Animation in the 1980s when he suggested using computers to enhance hand-drawn animation. Lasseter now heads both Pixar and Disney Animation. | Source

Toy Story 4: Director Lasseter Lassos His Animated Dreams

Upon graduating from the California Institute of the Arts in 1979, Lasseter landed a job with Disney Animation on the strength of his student Academy Award computer animated short called “Lady and the Lamp.”

The studio had reviewed 10,000 student portfolios, selected 150 candidates and only 45 were kept on permanently.

Lasseter later enthusiastically pitched a computer animated feature called “The Brave Little Toaster”, received the go-ahead but was eventually fired because he had accidentally stepped on his superiors’ toes.

Lasseter was later recruited by Ed Catmull to work at George Lucas’ Lucas Films Computer Graphics Group. That subsidiary eventually was named the Pixar Graphics Group.

Due to Lucas’ divorce-induced financial situation, Lucas sold Pixar to Steve Jobs for about $10 million. In 2006, Disney CEO Robert Iger bought Pixar for $7.4 BILLION (in Disney stock only) from its sole owner – Jobs. This made Jobs the single largest Disney shareholder.

Meanwhile, the young man who was fired by a Disney executive for coming up with a revolutionary idea was named the Chief Creative Officer of both Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Feature Animation.

Lasseter may head both Pixar and Disney animation, but he keeps their projects and successes apart. Under his leadership, Disney Animation has produced such hits as “Bolt,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Tangled” and “Frozen.”

Now, “Big Hero 6” - Disney's latest animated feature - won the 2014 Best Animated Feature Oscar (as "Frozen" did the year before) and is second only to "Frozen" in box office revenue.

Lasseter told Steve Pond of “The Wrap,” in February 2014, that he was excited about being recruited by the Disney company fresh out of college.

"Walt Disney and the films that he made is really why I’ve chosen my life’s work," Lasseter said.

He said that it was the classic Disney mystique that he and other animators joined Disney.

“You have to understand how on fire we were coming out of CalArts,” Lasseter said. “Star Wars” came out in May of 1977 and then “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Raging Bull” it was so exciting to us.

However, the veteran animators at Disney “were really threatened by us."

They kept us under their thumb” he said. “And eventually most of us left.”

Seems Lasseter had the last laugh

Lasseter, has been responsible for generating billions of dollars for both Pixar and Disney through movie tickets and merchandising.

A Few Words From John Lasseter - The Chief Creative Officer Of Pixar Animation Studios & Walt Disney Animation

Steve Jobs (center) doesn't look at all happy with Michael Eisner, (left), former head of The Walt Disney Company, and Roy Disney, Walt's nephew and son of Walt's brother Roy, the co-founder of The Walt Disney Company.
Steve Jobs (center) doesn't look at all happy with Michael Eisner, (left), former head of The Walt Disney Company, and Roy Disney, Walt's nephew and son of Walt's brother Roy, the co-founder of The Walt Disney Company. | Source
A happier Steve Jobs with the new head of The Walt Disney Company Robert Iger, who offered Jobs $7.4 billion of Disney stock to buy Pixar.
A happier Steve Jobs with the new head of The Walt Disney Company Robert Iger, who offered Jobs $7.4 billion of Disney stock to buy Pixar. | Source

The Pixar Braintrust With Their Creator - George Lucas

From left to right: Andrew Stanton, Peter Docter, John Lasseter, George Lucas, Lee Unkrich and Brad Bird at an undated function. George Lucas' created the small computer graphics outfit in 1979. that became Pixar.
From left to right: Andrew Stanton, Peter Docter, John Lasseter, George Lucas, Lee Unkrich and Brad Bird at an undated function. George Lucas' created the small computer graphics outfit in 1979. that became Pixar.

Pixar & Disney - Frenemies

Michael Eisner ruled The Walt Disney Company when Steve Jobs agreed to a multi-picture deal in the early 1990s. Jobs realized that Pixar needed a distributor for their computer animated features.

Ten years earlier, Jobs had purchased the computer animation company from George Lucas for about $10 million. Pixar had produced industrial films and commercials and ventured into a grand experiment called “Toy Story.”

The success of “Toy Story” put Pixar on the map.

Pixar, by the way, is a word created by combining pixer which was erronously considered to be the Spanish verb meaning “to make pictures.”

Another co-founder wanted to use the word “radar” because it sounded high tech.

According to Ed Catmull, the author of the book “Creativity Inc.”, Pixar is the combination of the word pixer and radar.

Meanwhile, Eisner’s and Job’s egos got in the way of re-negotiating Pixar’s contract with Disney.

In his biography, Jobs said that Eisner was treating them as the hired hands

Jobs argued that Pixar had generated $2.5 billion for Disney at that time with “Toy Story,” “Toy Story 2,” “Monsters, Inc” and “Finding Nemo.” Pixar also produced “Cars” and “The Incredibles" for Disney under an extended contract which collectively brought in an additional $1 billion. The Pixar films just mentioned have sold more than 150 million DVDs as well.

Jobs eventually walked away from the negotiations, which attracted the attention of Warner Brother and 20th Century Fox. However, dissatisfaction at the Disney Company with Eisner initiated a fortuitious change.

Eisner was removed from office in a stockholder revolt and replaced by current CEO Robert Iger who offered Jobs $7.4 billion for Pixar.

Iger followed up Pixar's purchase with the $4 billion purchase of Marvel Studios, which includes such movie properties as "Iron Man," "The Avengers," "Captain American," "The Incredible Hulk," and other less-known creations such as "Ant Man" "Big Hero 6," and "Guardians of the Galaxy."

Iger also purchased Lucasfilms for $4.05 billion. Lucasfilms is known for the "Star Wars" movie franchise and the "Indiana Jones" film series.


Disney Buys Pixar: Lasseter Shares Initial Fears

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