When it was officially announced that Bob Peterson was no longer directing The Good Dinosaur, I saw two different kinds of reactions around the web. One was sadness, since many of us wanted to see how the Up co-director would do at the helm of his own film. The other one was outrage at Pixar. People apparently think Pixar is no longer a movie studio, but instead a money-making machine corrupted by the evil Disney corporation. Here are my thoughts on the whole situation.
Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff. Ron Clements and John Musker. Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud. These are some of the most successful animation directors of the last two decades. Yet if you asked the general public if they knew who they are, I don’t think many would recognize the names. I work for a site dedicated solely to animation and I had to look up who had directed Despicable Me 2, one of the most successful animated movies of this past summer. My point is, directors of animated movies (unfairly) don’t receive the attention and praise live-action directors get. For example, 2010’s Tangled replaced its two directors during its development and that’s not a widely known fact.
But Pixar is a star amongst studios. People may go to movies like The Great Gatsby, Pacific Rim or World War Z and have no idea what studio made the film, but almost everyone knows when they go see a Pixar film. And since for 15 years they gave us a level of excellence no other studio has equalled, the studio is much more present in everyone’s minds. Plus, with the rise of the fan sites that report everything (like this fine site you’re reading), audiences have a level of knowledge about the production of movies that was impossible to dream of 20 years ago. So if Pixar changes the director of one of its movies everyone will hear about it and everyone will have an opinion. Not a bad thing.
The bad thing is that people tend to judge Pixar way more harshly than other studios. For example, movies like The Croods and How To Train Your Dragon changed direction halfway through their development process and not a lot of people heard about that. And while the general public may not know that Lee Unkrich co-directed Finding Nemo, they heard about the whole Brenda Chapman controversy in 2012. Personally I think Pixar didn’t behave the right way with her, but I think that whole situation now colors the way people see a change of director at Pixar. But the fact is Toy Story 2, Ratatouille and Brave all changed directors and directions in advanced stages of development and nobody could argue they’re bad movies, especially the first two.
Animated movies are developed and animated for long periods of time and it’s almost normal that considerable parts of the movie are rewritten, important cast members change (remember how Reese Witherspoon was the voice of Merida originally?) and productions are generally troubled. Disney’s Frozen added Wreck-It-Ralph writer Jennifer Lee as co-director with about a year to go until the movies’ release, yet no one is outraged about that (mainly because only people who read the Rotoscopers know about Frozen. Tell your friends about us!).
So I think people are angry at Pixar because 1) They hear if there’s problems during production unlike with other animated movies, 2) Pixar hasn’t been up to its usual standards lately so the press is looking for problems to report and 3) Pixar gets attention in a way few other studios do.
And don’t get me wrong, I’m sad about Bob Peterson. But when John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich and Mark Andrews take over your film, at least you know it’s in good hands. I’m sad, but not angry as many. People are saying Pixar suddenly cares about deadlines and money. Yet Toy Story 2 was practically rewritten and remade in 6 months of insane pressure because every studio has to meet deadlines. I’ve read people who say replacing Bob Peterson means Pixar doesn’t care about the story like it used to. Maybe it replaced him because it still does. Maybe this isn’t a bad thing.
It doesn’t look as if The Good Dinosaur is as deep in trouble as Toy Story 2 and Ratatouille were but don’t take this and say Pixar is dead because of it. They work more like the old Hollywood Studio System (The Wizard of Oz and Gone With The Wind both had multiple directors and they’re considered some of the greatest films ever made) and this, at least to me, means they’ve done the whole changing directors plenty of times and they’ll keep doing it. And maybe it’s not such a bad thing.