Well, it’s official: earlier this week we reported on the rumors that Pixar director Bob Peterson (who had won an Oscar for co-directing “Up” with Pete Docter) had left what would have been his big debut as a standalone director, “The Good Dinosaur,” a tale of what would have happened if the asteroid that killed all the dinosaurs missed earth entirely. Today, Pixar has confirmed the news via the Los Angeles Times, and while they haven’t named a replacement, they do say that Peterson intends to remain at the studio, which is very good news indeed.
Pixar president Ed Catmull told the LA Times, “All directors get really deep in their films. Sometimes you just need a different perspective to get the idea out. Sometimes directors … are so deeply embedded in their ideas it actually takes someone else to finish it up. I would go so far as to argue that a lot of live-action films would be better off with that same process.” Zing! Take that, live action films!
While a successor on the project, which was initially conceived and developed by Peterson, has not been named, the piece does indicate that a small group of Pixar’s elite is currently working on ironing out the film’s kinks, including Pixar Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter (who has some experience on this kind of thing, stepping in on both “Toy Story 2” and “Cars 2” when those productions ran into trouble), Mark Andrews (also with some experience; he took over on “Brave” once original director Brenda Chapman was removed), “Toy Story 3” director Lee Unkrich (who is currently working on a feature for the studio centered around Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations), and the original co-director of “The Good Dinosaur” Pete Sohn, who debuted the first footage from the movie at this month’s D23 Expo.
This kind of thing is fairly commonplace in the animation world, not just Pixar (as the LA Times piece points out, Genndy Tartakovsky was the sixth director to work on Sony’s “Hotel Transylvania” and under his leadership the film became a smash). It’s just that the studio has come under increasing pressure, not just from their corporate overlords at Disney but from the general public and, more specifically, the critics, who have suggested the quality in the films has dipped in recent years. While the creative changeover isn’t as loud or contentious as the “Brave” switcheroo (removing the Pixar’s first female director on her feminist fairy tale right before the movie opens doesn’t exactly suggest a gender-neutral open-mindedness), there is some reason to worry, if only because there isn’t clear leadership on the project yet and it’s opening so soon (Catmull says the May 30, 2014 release date will be met). With a movie of this size and complexity, there are a thousand moving parts both inside the production and out (already toys are being created, rides being drafted for the parks, promotions are being planned).
If there’s a silver lining to this story, it’s that Peterson (who refused to comment for the piece) is still very much at Disney. He is supposedly hard at work on his next directing assignment and Jim Morris, the studio’s general manager and executive vice president in development said, “Bob is still working at the studio, and we hope he will stay here for the rest of his natural life.” Whoa, that sounds kind of scary.
In an infamous 2011 New Yorker profile of “Finding Nemo” and “John Carter” director Andrew Stanton, he said that after thinking there must be some kind of foolproof Pixar formula for success, “They actually just make it up each time as they go along. Pete Docter’s analogy is ‘Everyone holds hands and jumps out of the airplane with the promise that they’ll build a parachute before they hit the ground.’ ” This was maintained by Catmull in his statement: “We’ve been around long enough to know it will never be smooth. But getting this process smooth is not our goal; our goal is to make the movie great.”
Hopefully it will be great. “The Good Dinosaur” opens on May 30, 2014.