Saturday, December 3, 2011

Top Ranked Films of John Lasseter

John Lasseter
3 toy titles, 63rd in points with 12,806

John Lasseter's main claim to fame (and we're all grateful) was as basically the idea behind, and the co-founder of Pixar Studios, with dollar help from Steve Jobs of Apple Computer. Lasseter was working as an animator at his dream job, for Disney (he also once operated the adventureland boat ride at Disneyland!), when he was told to experiment with using computer animation. He was still using hand cel animation for the characters, while using computers to control the background and scenery animation. After a year of this, which was slow as any new media would be, Disney let him go, telling him "you're wasting our time."

He continued this dream but had no money for implementing it. Ironic that capitalism, while claiming to be entrepreneurial based, really only supports those wealthy enough to create companies and jobs, that there is little or no government support for startups and other ideas that eventually will generate revenue and therefore tax dollars for the system. So it's a system closed to average people, who usually (just based on numbers alone) come up with most original ideas in the first place, like Lasseter and Disney, so most of these ideas generate the windfall revenue for the owners, not the creators.

Seeking someone with capital, Lasseter was able to convince Steve Jobs of Apple Computers that his dream was a viable one, and one that would likely generate revenue, so Jobs became backer and co-founder of Pixar, who created the films, subsequently a deal was worked out with Disney to distribute the films, using the network and clout they already had in place.

Lasseter's first success was Tin Toy (1988), a short animated film involving a pretty stiff baby and some toys, winning an Oscar® for animated short. The toys turned out to be easier to animate in the new medium, as hair especially proved problematic (if you remember, it always looked like sheets of plastic in the beginning, like Max Headroom). Lasseter's first envisioned film actually involved a robot, and was eventually made in 2008 as Wall-E (perhaps the best animated film ever) [photo below], but it took Pixar about 10-12 years to get to the technical level to create Wall-E as envisioned.

The toys came easier, so the first full-length Pixar release was Toy Story in 1994 - I believe it grossed 60 million it's first weekend, which made it the most successful animated feature in history right away. Lasseter's studio has since gone on to make about a dozen terrific films, with Wall-E and Finding Nemo probably my favorite two, but it's staple has always been the Toy Story series, and all three are Lasseter's only ranked films as director.

He usually produces the other Pixar films and lets newer directors take that role, such as Andrew Stanton on Wall-E and Peter Docter on Up. I also enjoyed Cars, having spent months on Route 66 growing up in three separate trips. For newer generations who don't know the original highway, this story won't be as touching as it is to those of us over 50, but it's truly about the death of a great U.S. highway, one that had a life of its own that's now gone forever, bypassed by progress and the lack of foresight to put the new highway on the old route.

These are all the films of American animation director John Lasseter that made the top 1000 in our 2011 update of the Top Ranked 1000 Films on the Net, all polls.

1. Toy Story (1995) #72
2. Toy Story 3 (2010) #180
3. Toy Story 2 (1999) #485

My favorite is now the last, Toy Story 3 - which was so good that it was nominated for six Oscars®, including best screenplay and best picture, the first animated feature ever nominated for picture (although in a year when they had expanded that award to 10 nominees), though Beauty and the Beast (1991), Finding Nemo (2003), and Wall-E all could have been, in my opinion - all three were certainly as worthy as all five real-action films in their years. I think it's the stories that have improved, the screenplays - they've perfected the art of humanizing the toys to the point that, like Wall-E the robot, they remind us of ourselves, so they become identifiable and realistic characters as a result, enabling us to empathize with their situations.

I was especially touched by the metaphor of aging applied in Toy Story 3, even though the toys don't get old, their human counterpoints do and the toys' lives irrevocably change as a result, just like for real humans. For me, this is brilliant storytelling, and they're putting it in a medium appreciated by all ages, down to about three years old. That is both art and magic, the creation of a new mythos for a new age. This is what cultures do, and our current medium for our modern mythos is cinema, which has replaced traditional art and books in this endeavor. Popular sentiment will alway change because we progress and evolve over time.

Lasseter himself has won 28 awards, including one Oscar®, for the Toy Story 3 screenplay (ironic, he wins one for writing, but it's a terrific screenplay and well-deserved) with over 40 nominations overall.

NOTE: Walt Disney has a long anti-labor history. Two terrific early animators quit over a contract dispute with Walt in the late 20's (he renigged on promises), named Ray Ising and Hugh Harman, and they started their own animated shorts called Happy Harmonies, renamed them Merry Melodies, became partners with Warner Brothers, and along with the Looney Toons, created the greatest pantheon of animated characters in history: Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam ("I smell a varmint!"), Sylvester and Tweety, Foghorn C. Leghorn, the Tasmanian Devil, and many more. Late in the series they created a cat and mouse cartoon, called "Puss n Boots", who were later simplified and renamed Tom and Jerry, winning several Oscars under that title for cartoon shorts.

Yep - and while at Disney these two created nearly every character after Mickey Mouse - they were responsible for Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto, even Minnie Mouse. Some people never learn to give equal financial footing for the real creators, since they have basically a slave mentality - I'm the owner and the workers are my volunteered slaves. In this case Disney's creative cartoon output was nearly eclipsed by the Merry Melodies series, still popular today. How many people do you know that still watch 30's Donal Duck or Mickey Mouse cartoons by comparison? There's also not nearly as many because Harman and Ising were producing their voluminous output elsewhere. (There's likely a thousand Warner Bros. cartoon shorts compared to 200-300 Disney ones).

See the full list of top ranked 100 directors here: Top Ranked 100 Directors, 2011 Edition

1 comment:

Matt Arriola said...

Just a few corrections, Lasseter did not direct Toy Story 3, nor did he write it (that would be Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine). He only produced and got a story credit for creating the characters. His oscar win was not for the Toy Story 3 screenplay (which lost to the Social Network), it was for Tin Toy the animated short. Toy Story 3 was the third animated film to be nominate for best picture (Beauty and the Beast 1991, and Up 2009)