John Lasseter "Saved Disney From The Executives” (Exclusive)


Producer Roy Conli has been at Disney Animation Studios for over 20 years. He’s worked through the good times (‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’) and the bad (‘Treasure Planet’), and now the studio is enjoying another resurgence with ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ and ‘Frozen’ and he pins the success solely on the shoulders of studio head John Lasseter.

"I’ve been there [at Walt Disney Animation Studios] for 21 years and John’s been there 8 now,” explains the ‘Big Hero 6’ producer. “So it occurred to me that John’s been there longer than any other regime that I’ve known, and yet it still feels fresh.”

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Lasseter began his movie career at Disney in 1979 as an animator before parting ways with the firm in 1984 over a disagreement about the future of CG animation. He went on to form Pixar with Ed Catmull, changing the face of animated films forever with the release of ‘Toy Story’ in 1995.


Above: John Lasseter and Roy Conli attend the ‘Tangled’ premiere

When Disney acquired Pixar in 2006, Lasseter was named chief creative officer at both companies, and Disney Animation Studios has gone from strength to strength because, says Roy, of his back-to-basics approach.

"I think John has brought to the studio, in a certain sense, its DNA back.” explains Conli. "John being from Disney originally and then going off and working with Pixar, he has been really good at creating an artist-driven studio."

"That’s what John really believes in: that the directors will drive the story and must own the story. Seeing the arc of where we’ve been, it was coming back to that, that’s where we were 20 years ago when I started with ‘The Lion King’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, ‘Little Mermaid’ – those were artist-driven films.”


Above: ‘Treasure Planet’

Disney enjoyed a 10-year renaissance from 1989’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ to 1999’s ‘Tarzan’, but then the studio floundered in the early 00s, suffering huge box office losses with ‘Treasure Planet’ and ‘Home on the Range’. Conli served as producer on ‘Treasure Planet’, and he thinks the problems of that era at Disney stemmed from interference by company “suits”.

"We got into an executive-driven era and now we’re back.”

"I walk into the building every day excited, because it’s not like we went and hired a new crew at Disney Animation Studios. What John did was bring the best out of everybody.

"I’m a better producer because of John. I’ve learned so much over the last 8 years that it’s just been a complete joy.”

Conli’s next film for Disney ‘Big Hero 6’ hits UK cinemas in January 2015.

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Image credit: Wenn/Press Association/Disney