John Lasseter Now Officially Co-Directing Cars 2

In February, ComingSoon reported that the Walt Disney Company revealed during their first quarter earnings call yesterday that Pixar's Cars 2 has been pushed back to a December 2011 release. Disney quickly contacted us claiming that no release date change announcement was made. At the time we just assumed it was a screw up in the transcript of the conference call... But something fishy was definitely going on.

Less then a week later Blue Sky reported a rumor the John Lasseter, director of Toy Story 1 & 2, A Bug's Life, Cars, and now the chief creative officer at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, has been spending most of his time at Pixar Animation Studios in Emmeryville, instead of his usual office in Southern California. Rumor had it that Cars 2 was having massive story problems, and that Lasseter had been brought back to Pixar to help fix the issues. At the time we had heard rumblings that he was co-directing the film, helping out Brad Lewis, who is making his directorial debut with the film. At the time it was rumored that Lasseter would not be credited as co-director on the final film. Jim Hill now reports that Disney reps have officially confirmed that Lasseter will be the credited co-director of Cars 2 when it is released in June 2011.

Now don't jump to any conclusions. This doesn't mean that Cars 2 is doomed. Any employee of Pixar will be the first to tell you that every movie they've made has been a disaster at one point, that the key to their success is reworking and reworking a project until it becomes something great. In fact, this is what happened with Ratatouille and Toy Story 2.

Czech-born Jan Pinkava got his start writing and directing the 1997 Pixar animated short film Geri's Game, which I absolutely loved, and went on to win an Oscar. He served as an animator and story artist on A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, and Monsters Inc, and was set to make his feature directorial debut with Ratatouille. Pinkava came up with the idea for the film, and developed the project for five years. He created the core story (a rat who cooks), designed the sets and created the key characters.

However, it is somewhat debatable how much of the final film he was responsible for, as Brad Bird was brought in to take over the project and essentially rewrote the entire story using the sets and characters created before hand. From what I understand, the entire movie was drastically changed. For instance, the a big portion of the story was originally set in the catacombs of Paris, but was moved aboveground. Bird took the basic premise and characters/designed and reworked everything. Pinkava was left with a story writing and co-director credit on the final film. And the final film was released the critical acclaim, being named the best reviewed film of the year, and was nominated for five Oscars including Best Animated Feature Film, which it won.

The same type of situation happened with Toy Story 2. Here is the story from wikipedia:

Toy Story 2 was not originally intended for release in theaters. Disney asked Pixar to make a direct-to-video sequel for the original Toy Story with a 60 minute running time. The task was turned over to a secondary production team at Pixar, while the primary team focused on the production of A Bug's Life. When Disney executives saw how impressive the in-work imagery for the sequel was, they decided to convert Toy Story 2 into a theatrical movie. However, many of the creative staff at Pixar were not happy with how the sequel was turning out. John Lasseter, upon returning from European promotion of A Bug's Life, watched the development reels, and agreed that it wasn't working. Pixar met with Disney, telling them that the film would have to be redone. Disney, however, disagreed, and noted that Pixar didn't have enough time to remake the film before its established release date. Pixar decided that they simply could not allow the film to be released in its existing state, and asked Lasseter to take over the production. Lasseter agreed, and recruited the creative team behind the first film to redevelop the story. Over the course of a weekend, the script was completely rewritten. To meet Disney's deadline, Pixar had to complete the entire film in nine months. Some animators got repetitive stress injuries rushing to complete the film, which taught the Pixar managers to arrange breaks between each project from then on.

So for Pixar to rework a film in the 9th or 10th hour isn't unusual, and definitely isn't an indiction of bad things to come.

John Lasseter came up with the idea for Cars 2 while traveling the world doing publicity for the original movie. He wondered what the characters of Cars would think about all these different locales, with the weird traffic situations and strange foreign automobiles. The sequel will follow Mater the tow truck who gets his passport and takes a worldwide trip with Lightning McQueen.

The lead characters this time around still seem to Lightning McQueen and Mater, the tow truck voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, with new addition Finn McMissile, an Aston Martin smooth-looking James Bond-type. The story is also said to have a North by Northwest set up with Mater caught up in "Hitchcockian case of mistaken identity" and "embroiled in a huge spy thriller" though, as expected, nobody believes him.