There is no film studio that is recognized for its emphasis on perfecting a story as much as Pixar. “Story is king” is a mantra that is oft-repeated by the filmmakers that walk the buildings of the studio campus in Emeryville. That focus on story has also been known to raise tension behind-the-scenes, with last-minute reworking of scripts and storyboards and even the replacement of directors. Jan Pinkava and Brenda Chapman were famously removed from Ratatouille and Brave respectively, even though they pitched the films originally. Now, a report has emerged that The Good Dinosaur director Bob Peterson has been removed from the project.
Blue Sky Disney (via /Film) reports that they have learned of Peterson’s removal, but did not provide a reason for the change in directors. However, one look at Pixar’s aforementioned past and the studio’s emphasis on story is the most obvious reason. John Lasseter and other talent at Pixar have repeatedly stated that they always set out to deliver a great film and will do what they need to in order to accomplish this feat. While Cars 2 can be utilized to produce a crack in that argument, it is more of an exception as there is no denying that Pixar works harder than any other studio to ensure audiences see a quality film.
Like Pinkava and Chapman, the film originated from Peterson’s imagination. At the D23 Expo in 2011, he spoke about attending the 1964-65 World’s Fair in NY with his mother, and being inspired by the large animatronic dinosaurs in Ford’s Magic Skyway attraction, which was put together by Disney. Peterson and producer John Walker were announced as the heads of the film, but neither was found at the 2013 Expo a few short weeks ago. Co-director Pete Sohn was in attendance at the Expo’s Animation presentation, along with producer Denise Ream, implying that Ream has taken over the producer role from Walker, and making it more likely that Peterson has been replaced.
Even in the press release supplied by Walt Disney Studios following the D23 Expo presentation, there was no mention of Peterson:
Disney•Pixar’s heartfelt and hilarious “The Good Dinosaur” roamed the convention center this morning. Co-director Peter Sohn and producer Denise Ream ( “Cars 2,” “Up”- associate producer) were on hand to announce key members of the voice cast, including Lucas Neff, voice of Arlo; Bill Hader, voice of Forrest; Judy Greer, voice of Ivy; Neil Patrick Harris, voice of Cliff; John Lithgow, voice of Poppa; and Frances McDormand, voice of Momma.
Neff and Greer appeared on stage, alongside Hader, whose voice was also heard in Disney•Pixar’s “Monsters University.”
“The Good Dinosaur” asks the generations-old question: What if the cataclysmic asteroid that forever changed life on Earth actually missed the planet completely and giant dinosaurs never became extinct? In theaters May 30, 2014, the film is a humorous and exciting original story about Arlo, a lively 70-foot-tall teenage Apatosaurus with a big heart. After a traumatic event rattles Arlo’s tranquil community, he sets out on a quest to restore peace, gaining an unlikely companion along the way—a young human boy named Spot.
Fellow blogger William Jardine of A113 Animation, the eagle eye that he is, noted earlier today that Peterson had edited his Twitter bio, removing “Been at Pixar since 1995.” This seems to imply that Peterson may even have left the studio or is in the process of doing so. If this turns out to be the case, it will be heartbreaking to see, as Peterson has been a mainstay at Pixar since the original Toy Story. Starting out as an animator, he worked his way up the ranks, contributing to the screenplay for Finding Nemo and going on to co-direct Up with Pete Docter. He may be more known for his great voice work, though, voicing fan favorites such as Roz in Monsters, Inc., Mr. Ray in Finding Nemo, and Dug in Up. He is an incredible talent who had become an integral part of the studio.
After Chapman was taken off Brave, she remained at Pixar to finish out her contract, which also likely prevented her from speaking out about what went on while she remained an employee. After Brave arrived in theaters, she moved onto collaborating with other studios, and also shared some thoughts on her experience at Pixar. If Peterson is no longer directing The Good Dinosaur, do not expect him to say anything in the near future because he will be unable to. Similar to Chapman, if he chooses to exit Pixar, it will likely happen after the film has been released.
It is never easy to see a director replaced, especially when the film was his or her idea. After having discussions with Pixar talent over the last few years, I have learned that it is indeed challenging to be faced with altering one’s ideas but it is beneficial to remove emotion from the process because of the knowledge that what ends up in the film will make the film better. While we may view Pixar’s decisions emotionally, the heads at the studio have proven that they are willing to do what they feel is necessary in order to release a better film. After all, when Toy Story 2 was just one year away from release, Lasseter and others were unhappy with the film and started from scratch, reworking the story of the entire film in one weekend. Given that Pixar usually spends approximately four years developing its feature films, it is astonishing that the film is still considered by many to be one of the greatest in the studio’s catalog.
Although a directorial change could lead to upheaval in the production process, Pixar is still reportedly aiming for its release in May next year, according to Blue Sky Disney.
It is important to note that the rumor of Peterson’s removal is based on a single report and speculation. It is entirely possible that Peterson has been taken off the project, and that he is leaving Pixar, but nothing has been confirmed at this time. It will be up to Disney to confirm or deny this report. Stay tuned for more.