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Over the course of its nearly 25-year run, the bulk of Pixar Animation Studios beloved and iconic films have been created by a small handful of filmmakers. This dream team of directors including Brad Bird, Lee Unkrich, Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton and formerly John Lasseter has delivered classics from Toy Story to Wall-E to The Incredibles to Inside Out. Despite this impeccable track record, Pixar President Jim Morris has some blunt thoughts about what the future holds for some of Disney’s most popular directors.
While addressing the future of animation at the Mouse House in the decades to come, Jim Morris teased an impending change of the guard. Talking about the Pixar dream team, Jim Morris said:
Those guys are all middle-aged or older now and they’re not going to be the filmmakers ten years from now. They’re not going to necessarily be the ones that have their finger on the zeitgeist. And we knew that. Animated films come from people of their time, if that makes any sense. Just as John was, and Andrew, Pete, and Lee were when they made their first films.
Prior to John Lasseter’s exit from Pixar and Disney as a whole following claims of unwelcome sexual advances in the workplace, executives knew that its dream team was getting long in the tooth. According to Jim Morris, Pixar was already anticipating the change that was and is (eventually) inevitable. In his comments to Vulture, he made that clear, noting that the middle-aged men who have shepherded Pixar to this point are not going to be the ones at the wheel a decade from now.
In Jim Morris’ view, animated movies come from younger people, with their fingers on the pulse of storytelling and what’s in the zeitgeist. That is how it worked with filmmakers like Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich and Pete Docter, who is now the Chief Creative Officer of Pixar, and that is how it will work for the next generation of Pixar films, which will be directed by the next generation of Pixar filmmakers.
In a way Jim Morris’ blunt thoughts about these popular directors sound pretty harsh, like he’s hitting these successful filmmakers with an ‘OK boomer’ and sending them on their way. But it seems like he is more addressing the natural change that is inevitable and for which Pixar is preparing. It’s not to say these popular directors won’t be allowed to make a Pixar movie in 2029, just that they won’t be the directors at Pixar that are driving the studio forward.
They are getting older and some will have moved on. This natural turnover will result in Pixar making room to bring in newer, younger, diverse voices that can bring the kind of creative energy and originality to their films that the likes of Pete Docter, Brad Bird, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich brought to theirs.
To that end, Pixar, which has been known as a bit of a boys club, has diversified its ranks, bringing in more women to the studio’s creative team, resulting in a different Pixar than it used to be. The same sort of thing is happening at sister studio, Walt Disney Animation Studios, where Frozen II co-director Jennifer Lee has taken over as Chief Creative Officer.
Addressing what Jennifer Lee has brought to the table, Walt Disney Animation Studios president Clark Spencer also said:
She’s done an amazing job at bringing a new point of view. There are moments when it is important to have some new points of view come in. You have to evolve. When she came in, she brought her experience in filmmaking, her experience in storytelling because she has a background as a writer, right? And she brings a unique point of view being a woman and somebody who really believes deeply in the world of Disney animation. I see that as the next chapter.
Jennifer Lee delivered one of the most successful animated films of all time with Frozen and is poised to do so again with Frozen II. The first Frozen was her directorial debut and Disney reaped the rewards of taking a chance on relatively new talent with a different perspective. Now she is bringing that experience to her new role at the hallowed Walt Disney Animation Studios.
It seems that overall, Disney animation is looking to bring in new people, with different perspectives, to tell new stories. This is true not just true above the line, but with the animators as well. The SparkShorts series on Disney+ gives young animators a chance to break out by making shorts for the platform with limited budgets and time. The goal is to not only discover new talent, but also to also have a deep roster so that when somebody does age out, there will be a variety of new artists with new ideas ready to step up and fill that spot on the roster.
We are seeing some of this push for new things under Disney Animation with both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios moving away from sequels and towards new original films in the coming years.