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THE ENVELOPE | THE CORNER OFFICE

Grow Up? Why Should He?

January 10, 2007|JAMES BATES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JOHN LASSETER'S business card got a lot more crowded with the acquisition of Pixar Animation Studios by Walt Disney Co.

The computer animation pioneer is now chief creative director for both Pixar and Disney's animation group, as well as director of the acclaimed "Cars," nominated for a Golden Globe for best animated feature.

But another title he says he likes is "big kid who never grew up," which also reflects a childlike fun he continues to have during the awards season and, especially, the Oscars. He once showed up to the ceremony in the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. Every year, he dresses up each of his personal Oscars (earned for an animated short film and a special one for leading the "Toy Story" team) in a gown and tuxedo for Christmas and the Academy Awards.

You've been in the awards mix before; how is this year different?

One thing that's so awesome this year is the fact the Hollywood Foreign Press has a Golden Globe for best animated feature film. With the Oscars already having one for several years, I'm thrilled beyond belief, because I love animation. It's all I've ever wanted to do. It's all I'm ever going to do.

Is it another sign that animation is getting respect?

Absolutely. Both of these organizations see there are a number of studios producing quality feature films in animation that it warrants an award. Back in the day, when Disney was the only studio consistently making animated films, it would have been like giving an Oscar or Golden Globe to one studio. It's a testament to the industry as a whole that there are a number of studios producing quality films. This year we have 16 animated films released, which is absolutely remarkable.

What do you actually do with your Oscars?

I love the Oscars. I dress them up -- I'm dead serious. I have a friend at Mattel who designed a handmade gown and tuxedo for my two Oscars. Every Christmas the Oscars get dressed up on the mantle -- a beautiful velvet gown with red satin, off the shoulder. The guy wears a tuxedo with green lapels -- a Christmas look. And, of course, they get dressed up for the Academy Awards.

Does having a best animation Oscar preclude animated films from best picture?

It's like the category of best foreign language film. By and large, best pictures are not foreign language films. But occasionally a great one like "Life Is Beautiful" will get nominated. That is the way people should view it. If an animated film is truly one of the best five movies of the year, people should consider it as a best picture candidate and not say: "Well, they get their own category."

Some people believe there is a glut of computer-animated films.

No, no, no, no, no. Maybe there are some with similar subject matters. But I'm excited that studios believe in animation enough to fund these films. An animated film is not popular because of the medium it's created on. It's popular because of the story and what the filmmaker does with the medium. Yeah, this year it's been computer animation. But last year we had a cell animation film, a clay animated film and a puppet animated film. And it was fantastic.

How important to Pixar are the awards and accolades for "Cars"?

Everybody has such pride. It's a large group of people who worked for four years on this project, so it was a big part of everybody's life. To have it be a success and have audiences love it is the most important thing. It makes you want to work harder on the next one.

How important are awards from a commercial point of view?

The most important thing is that with nominations and awards it makes people say maybe they should see the movie.

james.bates@latimes.com

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