An animated life for John Lasseter at Pixar and Disney
Pixar genius John Lasseter tells Graham Young the secret is to keep things simple.
Ask anyone to name the world’s most influential director of our generation and the answer might very well be Steven Spielberg.
He’s not an actor, but it’s just as easy to put a face to Spielberg as it would be to name Clint Eastwood.
Titanic’s James Cameron might also spring to mind, but when the groundbreaking Avatar opens on December 18 it will be his first release for more than a decade.
Peter Jackson? The Lord of the Rings trilogy was extraordinary, but the series ended six years ago.
Scorsese? He had to hire a star-studded cast to remake a Hong Kong classic to win an overdue Oscar with The Departed.
Step forward, then, John Lasseter, the jovial genius behind Pixar turned chief creative officer of the company which once fired him, Walt Disney Pictures.
He’s the first ‘proper’ filmmaker to run Disney since Walt himself.
And he’s just as determined to leave his own legacy.
As director or executive producer, Lasseter is on a roll of ten blockbuster hits in a row, from Toy Story in 1995 to Up which is released here on October 9.
And, as he spends more and more time inspiring others in his executive capacity, there’s plenty more to come from the man who oversaw Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Much more.
Now aged 52 and with five boys of his own, Lasseter is the Hollywood-born son of an teacher mother and a father who was the parts manager at a car dealership. His secret, if he has one, is to keep things simple.
Unlike Spielberg, who’s consistently left the mainstream with films like Schindler’s List and Munich, Lasseter aims for a family audience every time.
And not for him the nonsense of trying to consumer-research what people might like if he offers enough tick boxes – just an old-fashioned gut instinct what they will like.
Back that up with an uncompromising desire to always make the best film possible and the chances are that the finished product will fulfil his primary ambition – for it to hold its own on the shelf alongside the other Disney classics.
“The first thing you have to do is to take a compelling story that keeps people on the edge of their seats,” Lasseter tells me in his broad Californian accent. “Then you need memorable and appealing characters.
“Thirdly, you have to create a believable world... not a realistic one. If you do that, you entertain an audience so that they will want to see these characters again and again and again.”
If he were Tony Blair, his mantra would surely be ‘audience, audience, audience/revisit, revisit, revisit’.
Repetition is as important as quality to a man like Lasseter.
He understands that fairy-tales have stood the test of time because they are retold.
And so the reinvented Toy Story is back in cinemas from October 2 in 3D, with Toy Story 2 3D to follow on January 22.
Even their creator was surprised by how far ahead he was of himself when they were released in 1995 and 1999.