The current head of animation at Skydance Animation, John Lasseter, is undoubtedly one of the most successful filmmakers in history. His career began in earnest with The Walt Disney Company; after leaving that position, he joined Lucasfilm and helped pioneer a groundbreaking use of CGI animation that has now become the gold standard. He oversaw all of Pixar’s films—either as a writer, director, or executive producer—during what many fans continue to see as the company’s “golden age.”
Between the original Toy Story and its sequels, Monster’s Inc., The Incredibles, and Cars (which ended up including one of the final performances of the late, great Paul Newman), you’d be hard-pressed to find someone with a more successful, consistent track record.
1. Toy Story
The importance of the original Toy Story film—both from a storytelling perspective and in terms of its visual style—is something that literally cannot be overstated.
John Lasseter and his team worked so hard to create such compelling visuals that they changed the way an entire industry was run. Before 1995, nearly all animated films were still being hand-drawn, and computer animation was in its infancy. Then, they proved what was actually possible in a brand-new format of movie making—and now you’d be hard-pressed to find a hand-drawn animated film in the last decade.
WALL-E is a film set in the future of 2805, starring a tiny robot of the same name. It’s notable not just for its message—one that stresses the importance of taking care of the environment and the potentially devastating ramifications if we don’t—but also for a first act that occurs with virtually no dialogue. The fact that John Lasseter and his team, including director Andrew Stanton, were able to pull off such a feat remains impressive to this day.
3. Finding Nemo
As is true with a lot of the other entries on this list, John Lasseter has shown that he knows how to create films that will resonate with an audience for years to come. The same is true of Finding Nemo, which features the voice work of the great Albert Brooks, among others. It’s spawned an endless array of merchandise, theme park rides, and its sequel—all after winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature as well.
4. The Lion King
To be clear, John Lasseter did not work on the original version of The Lion King. What he did was use his knowledge, expertise, and technological prowess to help create the 3D version that was released in 2011. It was in theaters for a two-week limited run and then was eventually released on 3D Blu-ray.
What makes this impressive is the fact that, at the time, it seemed like everything was getting a 3D conversion, and most of them were poor quality. You can’t just take a film that was originally intended for 2D—an animated film, no less—and convert it to 3D. Indeed, John Lasseter’s work on the 3D version of The Lion King remains one of the most impressive examples to date of what can be done with care and attention to detail.
5. Red’s Dream
Finally, we arrive at Red’s Dream—an animated short film produced by the company that would eventually become Pixar and directed by John Lasseter in 1987. It runs just four minutes long, but the potential of the company he would help build is already on display. It features a sentient unicycle that dreams of one day becoming the star of a circus, and it deftly showed off how easy it would be for John Lasseter and his crew to tug at the heartstrings of America for years to come.