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Leaping Back To Old-school Style

December 09, 2009

With its critically acclaimed new release "The Princess and the Frog," Disney returns to its hand-drawn animation heyday. The man making that push? The same guy who helped usher in the computer animation takeover with the 1995 blockbuster "Toy Story."

John Lasseter, the guiding force at Pixar Animation Studios, admits he was dismayed when Disney and DreamWorks and other studios decided to close up their 2-D hand-drawn divisions earlier this decade after several such films performed poorly.

"Never in the history of cinema has a movie been purely entertaining because of the technique," Lasseter says. "We felt that 2-D animation became the scapegoat for bad storytelling. At Pixar, we believe our films work because of the story, the characters and how entertaining the films are."

When Disney purchased Pixar in 2006, Lasseter was named chief creative officer and among the first things he did was bring back the old format. He rehired Ron Clements and John Musker, who had directed two of Disney's biggest hits, 1989's "The Little Mermaid" and 1992's "Aladdin," but lost their jobs when the 2-D division was shuttered.

"We believe in being a filmmaker-led studio, not an executive-led studio, so I said, 'I want you guys to think about what you want to do. It's up to you. But we are ready to support a hand-drawn animated film.' "

Lasseter, though, did suggest an idea Pixar had been kicking around -- doing a version of the Brothers Grimm's "The Frog Prince," set in Lasseter's favorite city of New Orleans. "I fell in love with [the story idea] immediately and we started bringing back all of these animators who had been let go by Disney," he says. "You never met a group of animators that had more to prove to the world than this group. They have really dedicated themselves."

-- Susan King

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