Anyone who follows movie news – and particularly what’s been going on with Disney and Pixar – has heard the story of John Lasseter shutting down production of the direct-to-DVD the TinkerBell movie last June. Recently, I was fortunate enough to get an inside peek at what has happened to the TinkerBell property.
The TinkerBell movie was in full swing, and the studio was even dropping ads on the head of some of their DVDs. However, when Disney acquired Pixar, Toy Story director John Lasseter was put in charge of the new animation department. After looking at the already in-progress project, Lasseter shut it down. The official word is that he didn’t feel the story was up to snuff.
This had to have been quite a blow to the people working on the film. However, Lasseter did something that demonstrates why he’s one of the classiest guys in animation today – he gave everyone a second chance. The TinkerBell team had 18 months to reboot the project. Instead of crushing the dream, Lasseter gave them a chance to not just start over, but to make it better.
Lasseter wanted to beef up the story angle. Using inspiration from the already published Disney Fairies properties, he pushed for a new story about how TinkerBell works with the other pixies to accept herself. Overtones of nature and the seasons were used to enrich the characters, and TinkerBell was given a slate of new challenges to face as an emerging tinker pixie.
Soon, the production was back on track, with the DVD release of TinkerBell slated for the fall of 2008. As a special bonus to the people working on the project, three more films were put into production, each with a seasonal theme. North of Neverland, which features TinkerBell and the boy pixie Terrence to help broaden the demographic, is scheduled for a 2009 release. Additional films will be released in 2010 and 2011.
John Lasseter has shown he has the Midas touch, turning one doomed direct-to-DVD project into a series of four films. Disney screened several scenes to the press in February 2008, which featured temp voices and music, as well as some finished scenes with a haunting tune from Loreena McKennitt. The high definition teaser to the project looks fantastic, much better than what ended up on earlier DVD advertising. And, the film will be getting a Blu-Ray release, which gives viewers at home a chance to see the quality animation in its high definition glory.
Early reports of the production hiccup last summer painted John Lasseter as the bad guy, saying he shut down direct-to-DVD sequels to the classics. I cant speak for the future sequels (although a new Little Mermaid film is due out later this year), but there is a different tone to the reception of Lasseter at the Disney studios.
Speaking with animators at Disney, I got the sense that they are rejuvenated with John Lasseter as the new head honcho. Alice Davis, the widow of legendary animator Marc Davis (who designed Cruella De Vil, among others), said, “Happiness is back.” After chiming in with a chorus of “Happy Days Are Here Again,” master animator Andreas Deja explains, “We are thrilled because John is an animator. If I’m meeting with John, I have to tell him something only once, and he gets it. And he tells me something, and I get it. It’s like you speak eye-to-eye. That’s not necessarily the case previously.”