It's official... Bob Peterson has been removed from the director's chair of Pixar's The Good Dinosaur...
Co-director Pete Sohn is still on board, John Walker has "left" the project to work with Brad Bird on Tomorrowland. This makes sense, since the film is coming to theaters the same year and he also produced Bird's The Incredibles. So, why was Peterson removed from his very personal film?
Ed Catmull surprisingly made a statement. According to him, Pixar's top brass removed him from the project because many creative choices were apparently "unmade" and the release date is approaching fast. This implies that Peterson's film ran into some major story issues, but we heard the same story when it came to Cars 2 and Brave. Why the director removal when they can just fix the script?
He went on to say...
"All directors get really deep in their films. Sometimes you just need a different perspective to get the idea out. Sometimes directors... are so deeply embedded in their ideas it actually takes someone else to finish it up. I would go so far as to argue that a lot of live-action films would be better off with that same process."
"We've been around long enough to know it will never be smooth. But getting this process smooth is not our goal; our goal is to make the movie great."
So was that the reason why Brenda Chapman was fired from Brave? Is Catmull revealing a legitimate problem with some of Pixar's rookie directors? Or is it all just PR sugarcoating and that Lasseter just wants these directors off of projects so things go his way? "Really deep"? Was Bob Peterson, a veteran who has been there since Toy Story was in production, really taken off of the film because he was really buried in it? ("Dwelling in the Cretaceous") Is it possible that Pixar's Brain Trust doesn't have too much faith in first-time directors and takes them off of projects a little too quickly?
|Peterson and the comedic canine he voiced...|
Image from Pixar Talk.
However, Catmull's "live action" comment from that excerpt also hints that Pixar is picking up a new business model: Having directors let their ideas flourish for the first few years of production, then remove them, and get other people to "finish" the work. A weird model, one that can be seen as both unfair to directors and unorthodox. It's either that, something else entirely or the executives are losing their minds. If Catmull thinks most live action films should go through this, then there's something we don't know. What if Cars 2 and Brave were seriously problematic and needed salvaging, even if the finished film displayed mixed results?
In my opinion, Monsters University was Pixar's most consistent film since Toy Story 3, and there was no director change there. That kind of says something, or maybe it doesn't. Pete Docter also added that the way the studio chooses directors is "imperfect". That also says a lot. He also said, "We take our best guess. We try to diagnose: What are the necessary skills? How does this person measure up? They're going to need buttressing here, here they totally shine, and try to pair them with the right people. But if you figure it out, let us know."
Maybe that's Pixar's current problem. Maybe the executives' willingness to let rookies take the car for a drive blinds them to the possible ramifications? Perhaps Pixar's top brass needs to choose the directors more carefully, because some may be able to direct while some can't. After all, we also have no idea what shape Disney Animation's Bolt, Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph were in when their respective original directors were behind them. But it seems strange... Jan Pinkava getting removed from Ratatouille is one thing - during pre-production no less - but why 3 first-time director removals in a row when physical production is underway?
On the other hand, Peterson isn't much of a rookie himself, but he's never been a lead director before. Brad Lewis (he produced Ratatouille) and Brenda Chapman (she never directed, produced or wrote anything at Pixar) were Pixar rookies, Peterson co-directed Up and wrote several other Pixar greats from Toy Story 2 to Finding Nemo, as well as voicing numerous characters such as Roz, Mr. Ray and Dug. This makes the removal all the more confusing, and again, the fact that it's the third one in the last three years makes it suspicious... Very troubling...
Peterson was removed from the project earlier in the summer. His absence (and Walker's) at D23 has been fully explained, and right now, no new director has taken the reins. Currently, John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich and Mark Andrews are working with Pete Sohn to fix various sections of the film... Will they settle on a director? Will it just be credited to Pete Sohn with Bob as co-director? Or will the finished film say it was directed by both much like Brave? Or will they get someone else to helm the project, so it's a [insert Pixarian here]-directed film? Is it Bob Peterson's The Good Dinosaur, but "finished up"?
I've been thinking this for a while, and this is my top theory that explains what is going on with Pixar: Could it be that Pixar's recent problems could come from their release schedule?
Since 2006, Pixar has one film ready for release every calendar year. Starting in 2015, they're going to be releasing two films every other year. Is this schedule causing problems for projects? That could be it, considering that the directors don't have much time to iron out the supposed problems with their films. (Catmull's release date comments add to this, if you ask me.) Maybe Pixar should loosen their schedule a bit, if it means better quality films and less behind-the-scenes worries. Maybe they can space things out a bit, so it doesn't have to be "one every summer". Animated films do very well at several other times, whether it's March or November. Maybe Pixar should take note of this, so they don't come down to rushing films and showing directors the door. Like for instance, what if "X" film was a June 2018 release, "Y" film is a November 2019 release and "Z" film is a summer 2020 release?
What if Pixar got different story/director units to tackle different films? Maybe this could boost rookie directors, and what if they didn't announce and pick dates so soon? What if Pixar simply secured a bunch of dates (for instance, all the 2016, 2017 and 2018 ones that they claimed earlier in the year) and the execs told the various crews, "Take your time, we'll release whatever is ready"? Look at Walt Disney Animation Studios. Nothing is really set in stone for their 2016 and 2018 releases; Zootopia could very well be the fall 2016 release with something else preceding it. Will Giants precede it? Or will it come after some time in 2018? What if something like Moana is going along swimmingly and Lasseter decides that's ready for 2016? Maybe sitting it out for a year allows directors and writers to breathe a bit when running into story problems.
This is currently my new theory, but it really could be anything: Lasseter is a tyrant, he's paranoid about his baby, he's unsure about first-time directors, etc. Maybe The Good Dinosaur was shaping up to be a subpar film. Maybe Peterson's direction wasn't up to snuff. Who knows, who knows...
The good news is, Peterson is still there and he's got another project that he's supposed to direct. Pixar's general manager Jim Morris certainly hopes that he stays, but something tells me that he might leave. After all, the other removed directors did so and so did a lot of animators.
At this rate, I can only hope for the best and that bridges are not burned. Hopefully the removal isn't the result of some nasty drama, and that Peterson had to step down for the good of the project. I certainly hope that he stays and gets to tackle his next film, and hopefully The Good Dinosaur turns out to be great. We shall know, come this May...