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After Pixar’s Auster, John Lasseter Returns with Apple and ‘Luck’

LOS ANGELES – The hottest Pixar movie of the summer isn’t from Pixar. It’s the Apple TV+ and Lightning-rod filmmaker-executive who turned Pixar into a superpower: John Lasseter.

Five years ago, Mr. Lasseter was fired over allegations of his behavior at the workplace. Almost overnight, his many accomplishments—building Pixar from scratch, creating the MW “Toy Story” and “Cars” franchises, reviving a dying Walt Disney Animation, providing “Frozen,” winning an Oscar—became a footnote.

After employees complained about unwanted hugs by Mr. Lasseter, Disney investigated and found that some subordinates sometimes felt him to be a tyrant. He was forced to resign as Disney-Pixar’s chief of animation, apologizing for a “wrong move” that made staff members feel “humiliated or uncomfortable”.

Mr Lasseter, 65, is now on the verge of professional redemption. His first animated feature since leaving Disney-Pixar will arrive on Apple’s subscription streaming service on Friday. Called “Luck,” the $140 million film follows an unlucky young woman who discovers a secret world where magical creatures deprive good luck (the right place department, the right time) and bad luck (a pet waste research and The design lab is dedicated to “tracked it in the house”). Things go horribly wrong, resulting in an unusual dragon, bunnies in dangerous suits, leprechaun millennials, and an overweight man in a very tight tracksuit The German unicorn is included.

Apple, perhaps the only company that protects its brand more enthusiastically than Disney, is using Mr. Lasseter as a key part of its marketing campaign for “Luck”. Advertisements for the film, directed by Peggy Holmes and produced by Mr Lasseter, describe it as “coming from the creative visionaries behind Toy Story and Cars”.

Apple’s chief executive officer, Tim Cook, shared a look at the film at the company’s latest product demonstration event in March. “Luck” is the start of Apple’s bets on Mr. Lasseter and Skydance Media, an independent studio that – controversially – hired him as animation chief in 2019. (Skydance hired lawyers to investigate the allegations against Mr. Lasseter and privately concluded that there was nothing serious.) Skydance will release several animated films to Apple TV+ and at least one animated series by 2024. Supply deal.

Fairy? Not in Apple.

“It feels like a part of me has come home,” Lasseter said in a phone interview, noting that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs helped build Pixar before selling it to Disney in 2006. “I really like the Apple TV+. Doing. It’s about the quality, not the quantity. And their marketing is just fantastic. This is by far the best movie I’ve made. “

Mr. Lasseter’s return to full-length filmmaking comes at a strange time for Disney-Pixar, which appears to be a little lost without him, having gone badly in June with the “Toy Story” prequel. About Buzz Lightyear before the toy became “Lightyear,” it seemed to be forgotten about what made the character so adorable. The film, which cost an estimated $300 million to make and market worldwide, has grossed about $220 million, which is worse than Disney’s bottom line because theaters account for at least 40% of ticket sales. Have a percentage. “Lightear” is the second-worst-performing title in Pixar’s history, just above “Onward”, which came out in March 2020 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Lasseter declined to comment on “Lightyear” coming to Disney+ on Wednesday. He also declined to discuss his departure from Disney.

More than 50 people have followed, from Disney and Pixar to Mr. Lasseter to Skydance, including Ms. Holmes (“Secret of the Wings”), whom she hired to direct “Luck”. The screenplay for “Luck” is credited to Keil Murray, whose Pixar and Disney writing credits include “Cars” and “Rae and the Last Dragon”. Mr. Lasseter and Ms. Holmes hired at least five more Disney-Pixar veterans for senior “Luck” crew jobs, including animation director Yuriko Senu (“Tangled”) and production designer Fred Warter (“A Bug’s Life”). ) Are included.

John Ratzenberger, known as Pixar’s “Good Luck Charm” because he has voiced so many characters over the decades, pops up in “Luck” as Ruthie, the unofficial mayor of The Land of Bad Luck. .

The result: With its superb animations, attention to detail, story twists, and emotional ending, “Luck” has all the hallmarks of a Pixar release. (Reviews will come Wednesday.) Some who have seen the film have commented on the similarities between “Luck” and the 2001 Pixar classic, “Monsters, Inc.”. Both films involve elaborate secret worlds that are accidentally disrupted by humans.

“I want to take viewers into a world that is so interesting and beautiful and clever that people love to live in it,” said Mr. Lasseter. “You want the audience to book a week’s vacation to the place where the movie took place.”

However, it is true that Mr Lasseter remains a polarizing figure in Hollywood. Ashlyn Anstey, a Cartoon Network director, told The Hollywood Reporter last week that she was unhappy that Skydance was “letting so-called creative talent continue to hold positions and space in an industry that’s filled with different people.” can start. “

Her public position on Mr Lasseter hasn’t changed since Emma Thompson stepped down from a role in “Luck” in 2019. He was cast by the film’s first director and stepped down when Mr. Lasseter joined Skydance.

In a letter to Skydance chief executive David Ellison, Ms. Thompson wrote: “I find it very strange that you and your company would consider hiring someone with a pattern of misconduct from Mr. Lasseter.” (His character, a human, is no longer present in the radically reimagined film.)

“Luck” director Ms. Holmes said she has no hesitation in joining Mr. Lasseter at Skydance.

“It’s been a very positive experience, and John has been a great mentor,” she said.

Holly Edwards, president of Skydance Animation, a division of Skydance Media, echoed Ms Holmes. “John has been incredible,” she said. “I am proud that we are creating an environment where people know they have a voice and know they are being heard.” Ms. Edwards previously spent nearly two decades at DreamWorks Animation.

Some of Mr. Lasseter’s creative strategy hasn’t changed. There’s a desire to radically overhaul projects when they’re on the assembly line—including the removal of a director, something that could hurt sentiments and cause fan shock. He believes that such decisions, while difficult, are sometimes critical to a quality outcome.

Credit…Michael Tran/FilmMagic

“Luck,” for example, was already in the works when Mr. Lasseter arrived at Skydance. Alessandro Carloni (“Kung Fu Panda 3”) was hired to direct the film, which then featured a battle between human agents of good fortune and misfortune.

“I was really jealous as soon as I heard the concept,” said Mr. Lasseter. “It’s a subject that every single person in the world has a relationship with, and it’s very rare in a movie’s original concept.”

But he eventually threw almost everything and started over. The primary cast now includes Jane Fonda, who voices a pink dragon who can smell bad luck, and Whoopi Goldberg, who plays a leprechaun taskmaster. Flula Borg (“Pitch Perfect 2”) voices the overweight, bipedal unicorn, who is a major scene stealer.

“Sometimes you have to take a building to its foundation and, frankly, in this case, to the very bottom of it,” said Mr. Lasseter.

Mr Lasseter did not invent the concept of doing real-world research to inform animated stories and artwork, but he is known to have gone far beyond what is typically done. As for “luck,” he had researchers dig into what constitutes good fortune and bad luck in myriad cultures; The film production team also researched the foster care system, which informed part of the story. (The main character grows up in foster care and is repeatedly passed over for adoption.)

Like Pixar and Disney, Mr. Lasseter established a “Story Trust” council at Skydance, in which a group of elite directors and writers openly and repeatedly criticize each other’s work. The Skydance Animation version will soon include Brad Bird, a longtime Pixar force (“The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille”), most recently in Mr. Lasseter’s operation to develop an original animated film titled “Ray Gun”. were involved.

Ms Holmes said Mr Lasseter was a nurturer of a creative force, not a tyrant.

“John will give you notes on the scenes,” she said. “He will suggest dialogue. He will comment on color or timing or effect. He will pitch the story ideas. He’ll draw something – ‘Oh, maybe it could look like this.’

“And then it is up to you and your team to execute against those notes. Or not. Sometimes we came back to John and said the note wasn’t working – and that’s why – or we decided we didn’t need to address it.

Ms Holmes said: “When the answer is no, she’s really okay with it. he is really ok with it,

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