So it looks as if Disney may seal the deal to buy Pixar as early as Tuesday–and it’s at least possible that John Lasseter will end up running Disney animation. In some ways, this seems overdue–wouldn’t Pixar have been a steal in about 1994, right before Toy Story debuted? But it also feels odd to consider the notion that the greatest animation studio of its all may invigorate itself by…buying out another studio. (Not to mention the fascinating side story of Steve Jobs potentially helping to run Disney. If you’d told me in 1978, when I first heard of the man, that he might someday be a logical candidate to be chairman of the company that Walt Disney founded, I would have been utterly bewildered.)

Anyhow, it’s going to be fascinating to watch this play out, and I’m already full of questions. Such as:

Does John Lasseter want to run Disney animation? What would such a perch give him that he doesn’t have at Pixar, except more problems? Would he take leave at the first opportunity? For that matter, do he, and the other members of the Pixar brain trust, see the merger as a great idea, or a tragic end to a wonderful independent animation studio? (Would Steve Jobs agree to the acquisition if Lasseter hated the notion?)

Is the Pixar studio going to become the Disney animation studio? That is, is the building in Emeryville going to be become the nerve center of Disney animation production? Or just an outpost?

What does this mean for the leading lights of current Disney animation, not to mention all the foot soldiers working on Disney’s own CGI features? Is Glen Keane going to work for John Lasseter? Will there be massive layoffs? Would someone like Mark Dindal, who, whatever his talents, seems unPixarian flourish under a Lasseter regime?

Could you keep the Pixar goodness going indefinitely? Pixar has been around for about twenty years now, with some of the same people and much the same culture. How long would the qualities that make it Pixar take to evaporate within Disney? Five years? Fifty? If John Lasseter were to become President of animation, would his successor be another storytelling genius, or a suit?

Will Disney stop releasing pap? Pixar is, above everything else, an extremely tasteful company. Would John Lasseter put a stop to cheapquels? Could he? Would Disney have a Classy Animation Division and a Swill Division? Or might John Lasseter want to produce sequels to Disney films–and actually make good ones?

Might we see the Pixar folks make some hand-drawn features? Sounds like a good idea to me?

Does the Pixar name disappear? It’s not without value. Will future Toy Story-related products refer to Walt Disney’s Buzz Lightyear?

If none of the merging I mull over above happens, then what? Might Pixar just continue as Pixar, producing its own films its own way, while Disney also makes its own CGI films in a parallel fashion?

Okay, that’s enough questions for now. Got any answers, or wild guesses? Or questions of your own?

10 comments on “Disney+Pixar=?”

  1. Hi Harry.
    I don’t know anymore (and maybe less) than the rest of you… but here are my answers to your questions in no particular order (Does the winner get a prize?):

    I would think the PIXAR name will survive and become the label of all CG films produced by Disney. RAPUNSEL, AMERICAN DOG, et al will become “Pixar labeled” films. I think eventually (give it 3 to five years) only PIXAR (in Emeryville – with a satellite studio in Burbank) will produce the Disney CG features. Lasseter will re-establish a traditional (2-D) cartoon division. At first they’ll put several films in development, and only proceed when they feel they have a strong picture that lives up to the Disney legacy. Lasster will also re-instate a shorts program (as they have at Pixar already) for traditional animation. Yes we’ll see Pixar folks make some hand drawn films.

    Does Lasseter even want to run Disney animation? Hell yes. Based on his efforts on behalf of Miyazaki, I think Lasseter wants to become a such an animation artist himself. Lasseter understands the role he’s playing and the situation he’s in. It’s up to him – or it isn’t going to happen. Here’s a chance to change the course of animation history (which he’s already done) and a chance to create and build Disney history. I think he’s up to the challenge.

    As long as the business for “cheapquels” is good, Disney will continue to make them. However, I think Lasseter/Jobs will (at first – give them 5 years) insist on higher quality product.

    I even predict the TV Animation from Disney will get better…

    They have an opportunity, because the world will be watching and is giving them a chance (at first), to truly change the animation industry in bigger ways than they already have. I think Lasseter & Jobs will want to “prove” themselves and won’t just be figureheads.

    That’s what I think. I hope I’m right.

  2. Sounds like there’s hope for both Disney and Pixar. Pixar can continue to make films without having a temporary distribution contract, and Disney can re-discover their creative edge.

    However, I read from somewhere that since Steve Jobs is/was the CEO of Apple, and he’s now the largest Disney shareholder, that this merge will motivate Apple to purchase Disney! The thought of the mouse being owned by another studio is much scarier than these mere words alone can describe.

    All those aside, Disney is in long need of a rebound. They’ve become so obsessed with milking the studio’s past successes, and repressing their creative outlets (take a look at The Disney Channel as of late), that it’s like during the last half of Eisner’s tenure, he was purposely trying to kill off the studio’s soul, which he already did to some degree.

    It’s time for changes. BIG changes.

  3. Dumb-decision making seems to be ingrained in the Disney corporate culture. I think if the two key names swirling around in the middle of this weren’t Steve Jobs and John Lasseter I would say this would be the death knell for Pixar as we know it.

    But this is Jobs and Lasseter we’re talking about and I think the new regime at Disney are smart enough to realize they have big problems and Jobs and Lasseter are maybe the two guys to smart enough to help solve both of them. I think what Lasseter could do with Disney’s traditional animation business (reopening it for one) is particularly interesting. It would be wonderful to see Disney again preferring quality to quantity it all areas of its animation – 2D, 3D and even television.

    This is pure speculation on my part, but imagine what Disney could do in a relatively new area like Flash animation for TV or the web with the company’s massive assets behind it and someone with vision like Lasseter at the helm.

  4. This is a dreadful prospect! Why dilute and drag down only one culture shifting animation studio when you can smother two at ten times the price?

    In my mind, this buy-out should have the Disney stockholders in severe revolt! This is a prime, out in the open example of the terrible mismanagement and strategic blunders of the Disney governors.

    Disney was THE animation studio. They certainly still could be. I’d like to think the house that WALT, not Mickey, built is still capable of standing on its own. The name, the legacy, the foundations are still there. Damaged, yes. Bruised by middle-management abuse, yes. But, the core on which that studio stands is still intact and there’s still a pulse to resurrect.

    I love Pixar. No question Lasseter followed the path of his idol, Walt Disney and it served him well. We in animation have much to be grateful for in that the public’s interest in animated film is that much more healthy because of Pixar films.

    The problem I see here is that Pixar is a healthy studio and Disney is not. The first round of Pixar/Disney productions did well enough to keep the floundering giant alive with a transfusion of success. While Disney lost its way through petty in-fighting by Eisner and his ghoulish, uninspired field commanders, Pixar offered a crutch. There was no immediate need to address the real problem or repair the Disney studio because that life-giving transfusion kept the heart pumping.

    Now, that parasitic relationship threatens to go to an unholy level…one where the deranged, sickly recipient wants to merge with its healthier donor. Remember Jeff Goldblum and BrundleFly? Kinda like that!

    In the long run, this will greatly harm Pixar and will forever seal the prognosis for Disney. No need to repair or even address the REAL problems at Disney, we have Pixar to pick apart now!

    Nearly seven billion, yes, billion clams will be spent of the stockholders money. It staggers my mind when I think of how much less it would cost to revive the Disney-Burbank studio my just changing the philosophy of how its run. They have a facility. They have the support of one of the corporate giants in the world. They have a legacy of over eighty years in the biz.

    Talent is most certainly not the issue. Yes, Pixar has talent. And honestly, it didn’t take seven billion to build it. It took sincere vision and unhindered enthusiasm. Disney’s talent is constantly hindered, violated, transgressed, hampered and downright abused by middle management toads that are in animation for no other reason than they fell there with the many other toads that rained down from the sky.

    This is why Disney is failing and Pixar does not.

    Disney, save yourself some money and clean house. Get some talent into that studio that’s in it for no other reason than reverence for the past and completely passion for the future. There’s enough of it out there and I’m convinced, if the studio, management changed in that direction, all the talent in Hollywood would come clamoring to your door. Many artists still hold Disney in high regard and would love to work there. It’s just the wicked step-parents that have made the place unihabitable. Easy enough to fix!

    Painful as it might be, your lifestyle is what needs to change in order to stay alive. History has shown that no amount of money is going to fix that for you.

    Disney, let Pixar be. It’s better for the health of our industry as a whole and is probably the only way to your own salvation.

  5. “It’s just the wicked step-parents that have made the place unihabitable. Easy enough to fix!”

    Yes–and imho that’s the WHOLE point/idea: they’re “fixing” it by buying the company–and no doubt giving the best overseers in the business–Lasseter and Jobs–primo positions, able to call their own tune(iTume?).
    It’s a total win-win, and should be very exciting for both Disney and Pixar.
    But if it should somehow go south(which would take quite a while), Lasseter and his key people will just start up their own thing all over again. But this is all good, so far.

  6. Folks, whether you like it or not, Disney is in deep trouble with its’ animation division. It lost it’s way years ago when the Michael Eisner stepped in and tried to run it…right into the ground. They had something great and destroyed the culture by having a bunch of suits (who knew nothing about the making of animated features) make creative decisions. And when these features failed at the box office, it was the same suits who failed to take the blame for the problems, blaming all on the artists who worked hard to make them as good as the executives would let them be. This is nothing new, this particular practice has been going on for years.
    By purchasing Pixar, Disney brings into its’ fold, two creative dynamos, Steve Jobs and John Lasseter, and both would be a major shot in the arm for Disney. Jobs will invigorate the company shooting for high goals, Lasseter would give Disney animation back it’s dynamic and will return it to it’s core values. Nobody and I mean NOBODY in the business and creative world, has the brains and vision of these two men and if anyone can really save Disney, it’s gonna be Jobs and Lasseter.

  7. loop…

    i hear ya, but my point is “fixing” the company shouldn’t take 7 billion and the merging with another company to do it. that tack only proves that this about a political (in-house exex) issue. this is not investing in a new technology or building a new, state of the art facility for the staff to create great, revenue generating properties.

    what this move by Disney management says is, “we have no clue what company we work for, what we had, what we have, where we’re going or how do it even though this is why we’ve been hired by the stockholders. so, let’s go and buy out someone who does with money that is not ours and we’ll sit back and pat ourselves on the back for the shrewd move.”

    simply bad business in my mind. 7 billion?!! c’mon!!! this is DISNEY!!!! what they do is make cash generating creative properties!!! they have for over 80 years!!! the fact that they have to buy someone else out to be creative when they most certainly have the ability is a cop out. it says, “we have no plans to fix our own problems, so let’s get another expensive placebo.”

    jobs and lasseter are not going to fix Disney…no way. unless they were in the position to fire every exec and start completely from square one, it’s just not going to happen. the minute they start ruffling feathers, the honeymoon will be over and lasseter will get migranes.

    when lasseter has been king of his own domain for so long, how much time to you think it’s going to take for him to get bored with answering to hostile Disney management?

    this move simply doesn’t need to happen. from a business standpoint, i absolutely agree that Disney should renew the Pixar distribution deal. it makes sense. however, i don’t think Disney should put up such a large amount to fix a fundementally simple problem at home. they can do it if they wanted to. there’s too many fat cats and sacred cows that would be uprooted in the process and that’s why this lame deal is happening.

    jobs and lasseter are already rich and successful. the only thing i see them getting out of this is a marriage to a screwed up, dysfunctional and abusive entity that will only end in gilded frustration for the Pixar group. they simply don’t need it.

    IMO, this is just more money in the bonfire. i’ve been in the business too long to be idealistic about this merger…

    Pixar got it right. why can’t Disney learn from them instead of ruining what they have…independent clarity.

  8. Jordan–several key bad execs HAVE been axed, already…I know where you’re coming from(and believe me, I understand your concern–I am sure it’s as well-founded in experienc as mine is), but this is a unique situation in many ways. I see it this way: as William Goldman used to say “no one knows anything”–the cardinal rule in Hollywood. And they don’t. But what’s happening today is–the guys who “don’t know”–Iger & co–are FINALLY handing the reins–lock, stock and morgue–to the RIGHT guys. That’s it! People are moaning(well, some people)that Pixar was bought by Disney…well, in a way, but the fact is, given the deal here, Pixar was bought with guarantees that THEY are going to call the animation and Park shots. it really couldn’t be abetter situation. If every “middle-management” Dsiney-of-old exec isn’t fired, at least they’ll be NOT allowed to do any animation damage. Same as it was before when the animators lived in the animaion bldg. Count on it. Those Disney and Pixar guys both have every reason to be over the moon right now.

  9. well, the more i read, the more i like what’s being said. again, i’m at heart an optimist. if lasseter is truly taking the reigns, backed by the clout of jobs, than this is a monumental day for the field of animation (and theme parks!). a new gauntlet is tossed and hopefully, the studio at the other end of flower street will take up the challenge.

    i’ve only met john lasseter a few times at cal arts events. he always seemed a bright lad but i certainly don’t know him personally. i am surprised that he would want to take someone’s broken studio when he has his own running in tip top shape but i’m not him. certainly, one who has such reverence for walt (as i do!) it’s not difficult to see the romance in resurrecting his studio from death. there’s no question the Pixar team comes with an undeniable track record..one that’s difficult for mid-management execs to question at any rate.

    however, this reminds me of david letterman fighting so hard to get johnny carson’s tonite show. in the end, was it worth the fight? who knows? i do know that if left to do their thing, and if lasseter is still passionate to run three creative entities (pixar, feature animation and imagineering), this promises to be a wonderful thing. suddenly, creativity is chic again.

    wow, wot a concept!

  10. Wow, any Lasseter/Pixar fans here tonight?

    You all like Pixar, that’s great, really. I am happy for you.

    Let me pose this question, though. Why would Disney need to buy Pixar to stop their own middle management problems?

    Believe it or not, John Lasseter isn’t the only one who knows something about animation. Disney certainly didn’t need to spend seven billion to get someone who does. This is as big a corporate decision as you can get.

    This was only done to try to erase all the negative buzz that has been created about Disney by the media and the Internet fans. There are a million ways Disney could have solved their problems, the Disney name still is the biggest in the business believe it or not. A few years doesn’t change all the history they have.

    You get into a big problem when you say that there is only one solution to a problem. Talk about creative bankruptcey. The fans talk about how much they hate the pencil pushers, who don’t come from a creative background, making decisions based on numbers. Yet all you talk about is how only Lasseter knows how to fix animation, and only Lasseter knows how to make a film.

    To me, all of the Pixar films look alike, and follow a formula to a T. The Incredibles was slightly different, but because of Brad Bird. And now everything *has* to look like the Pixar formula to succeed, right?

    Sorry, I don’t see a big improvement here at all. I only see a step backwards, but then I’m not a Pixar fan who would be happy with everything being exactly the same, and with only John Lasseter calling the shots.

    –Chef Out!

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