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Disney picks two animation filmmakers to replace John Lasseter

Disney picks two animation filmmakers to replace John Lasseter
Pete Docter, director of "Inside Out," seen here, has been named chief creative officer of Pixar. Jennifer Lee will lead Walt Disney Animation Studios. (TNS)

Walt Disney Co. has named two acclaimed animation filmmakers to lead its key Walt Disney and Pixar animation studios after the departure of top creative executive John Lasseter.

Jennifer Lee, who co-directed the blockbuster “Frozen” for Disney Animation, and Pete Docter, the writer-director behind Pixar’s “Inside Out” and “Up,” will become chief creative officers of their respective studios, the company said Tuesday. Their appointments are effective immediately.

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The announcement comes less than two weeks after Disney said Lasseter, who served as chief creative officer of both units, would leave the company at the end of the year. Lasseter’s departure follows an extended leave of absence in response to allegations that he engaged in inappropriate workplace behavior.

Lee, 46, and Docter, 49, will be responsible for the creative oversight of the films at each of the studios. The Times and other news outlets previously reported that Lee and Docter were the front-runners to replace Lasseter.

They will report to Alan Horn, chairman of Walt Disney Studios.

Analysts and animation industry insiders cheered the decision to elevate Lee and Docter, who are both accomplished filmmakers in the tightknit animation business.

“Who better to take the helm?” said Dan Sarto, publisher of the online animation resource Animation World Network. “These are two of the most experienced and respected filmmakers at their respective studios who understand both the inherently grueling animation production process, as well as the needs and demands of the immensely talented artists.”

The company declined to make Lee, Docter and Horn available for interviews.

Disney said this month that Lasseter will leave the company at the end of the year and will assume a consulting role until then, marking a sudden fall for one of the most influential figures at the Burbank entertainment giant.

Lasseter, who had been on a leave of absence from Disney since November after self-described “missteps,” including unwanted hugs, spearheaded numerous Pixar hits, including the “Toy Story” and “Cars” movies.

The newly appointed executives face several challenges. One is to fill the shoes of Lasseter, 61, who led an unmatched run of successful films. Pixar films have grossed more than $12 billion worldwide since the Emeryville studio’s inception. He also led a remarkable turnaround at Disney Animation with movies such as “Zootopia.”

Another challenge will be to stabilize the companies after the executive turmoil of the last few months. Disney executives wrestled over what to do about Lasseter. Despite his value to Disney’s lucrative animation business, failing to respond decisively to complaints against Lasseter could have backfired amid the #MeToo movement and tarnished Disney’s standing among female employees.

Lee and Docter were natural picks because they are both Disney insiders who were intimately involved in some of the company’s biggest hits. Notably, Lee will be the first female chief creative officer in Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 95-year history.

Lee joined Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2011 as co-writer of “Wreck-It Ralph.” The 2013 musical fairy tale “Frozen,” which she wrote and co-directed with Chris Buck, became the top-grossing animated movie ever ($1.3 billion) and won two Oscars (best animated feature and original song).

Docter, who joined Pixar in 1990, was one of the company’s first employees and contributed to the creation of films such as “Toy Story,” on which he served as supervising animator. He also wrote and directed "Monsters, Inc." and was executive producer of “Brave” and “Monsters University.”

“Jennifer Lee and Pete Docter are two of the most gifted filmmakers and storytellers I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with,” Horn said in a statement. “Each of them embodies the unique spirit, culture and values of these renowned animation studios.”

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Disney’s animation business is riding high on Pixar’s latest blockbuster, “Incredibles 2,” which opened last weekend, 14 years after the original. The action-comedy sequel about a family of superheroes — directed by Brad Bird — grossed more than $180 million in its opening weekend, shattering the record for an animated movie opening previously held by “Finding Dory.”

Ed Catmull, 73, will continue to serve as president of the Walt Disney and Pixar animation studios, reporting to Horn.

2:50 p.m.: This article was updated to include reaction to Disney’s animation appointments.

This article was originally published at 1:35 p.m.

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