Saturday, May 26, 2012


Cartoon Brew put up one of the companion pieces to this yesterday ...

But here John L. talks about his digital "Eureka" moment at Disney thirty years ago. And says (right at the end): "Then I got fired."

Funny thing about firings ...

In the early eighties, Disney Feature Animation was going through turbulent times. Don Bluth had exited with half the feature animation staff. Tom Wilhite, head of the publicity department, had been installed by Ron Miller as head of productions and he was shaking things up, working to get new ideas and talent going in both live action and animation.

On the cartoon side, Wilhite encouraged the younger animation staffers -- many from Cal Arts -- to try new things. (This got resentful push-back from animation department old-timers. Who would have thought?) On the live-action side, Mr. Wilhite greenlit break-the-mold properties like Something Wicked This Way Comes and Tron.

I remember everybody in the younger ranks was kind of jazzed and excited. But time passed. The animation old-timers gained the upper hand with the next animated project, The Black Cauldron, and Something Wicked was having production problems.

And Tron?

The computer picture came out the same weekend as Mr. Spielberg's E.T., and suffered a box office defeat. The visuals were dazzling but the story and characters were a bit on the skim milk side, and it didn't do the kind of business Walt Disney Productions was hoping for. So Tom Wilhite's stock and company-wide influence fell, and the animation department got rid of John Lasseter.

Mr. Lasseter's separation from Disney was the first of several terminations, for a little bit later, Tom W. was pushed overboard to make way for a production head from M-G-M. But the M-G-M guy only lasted nine months, because in the interim Disney Chairman Ron Miller got axed in favor of Michael Eisner, who brought in Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Are we clear on all the departures and arrivals? Fine. Because there's a few more.

Eisner lasted twenty-odd years, then he was decapitated -- metaphorically speaking -- by Roy Disney, who himself was pushed out by both Eisner and Ron Miller in previous palace coups. This left the way clear for Robert Iger, Eisner's second-in-command, to ascend to the throne. And Iger, of course, brought back the earlier-fired John Lasseter to run animation.

Which only goes to show that hirings and firings are temporary; all part of the great, eternal Circle of Corporate Comings and Goings. If you're fired today, you can always come back in 2022.


Floyd Norman said...

I was watching this whole chain of events from the sidelines having had my butt kicked out of Disney years earlier. Keep in mind that clueless morons occupied animation management at Disney... so what would you expect anyway?

The good news remains, getting fired was probably the best thing that ever happened to John Lasseter.

Diablo said...

Bad management can happen to good companies....

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