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Animation legend and Academy Award winner John Lasseter recalls the moment he set a life goal to become a cartoonist

John Lasseter on stage at the 2017 D23 Expo. Picture: Getty Images

John Lasseter is a god in the cartoon world.

A pioneer of computer animation, Lasseter is a multi-Academy Award winner behind cartoon favourites such as Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Cars, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, WALL•E, Up, and many more.

At this year’s D23 Expo, Disney’s version of Comic Con, Lasseter, the chief creative officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios and principal creative advisor of Walt Disney Imagineering, recalled the moment he decided to be a cartoonist.

As part of the anecdote, he recalls his mother encouraging him to pursue his goals and what he did in order to achieve his dream career.

Here’s the moment Lasseter reflected on in full.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

JOHN LASSETER: “I grew up loving Disney. Disney films. They were really meaningful to me and to family… I always loved cartoons growing up. My mother was an art teacher, so I was surrounded by the arts and drawing. I was drawing constantly. Cartoons were always my favourite thing, and Disney cartoons had a special place. I love the Warner Bros cartoons as well, especially the cartoons of Chuck Jones.

“But the Disney films, they had heart to them, and really moved me and touched me. My favourite movie of all time is Dumbo. I just love Dumbo.

“But there was one moment… When I was a freshman in high school, I read a book and had to do a book report, you know… and I read a book called The Art of Animation by Bob Thomas. And it dawned on me, people actually make cartoons for a living. They actually can do that as a job. Get paid for it. And I was like, ‘That’s what I’m gonna do.’

“Right at that moment there was a re-release of The Sword in the Stone in theatres, and I talked my mom into taking me out to the movie theatre, dropping me off, and watching it by myself. And with this new realisation that you can do this for a living… The Sword in the Stone, was one of the most magical experiences. And I came out, my mom picked me up, I got in the car, I looked at her, I said, ‘I’m gonna be an animator for Disney. That’s what I want to do.’ She said, ‘That’s a great goal to have.’

“So that was it. And my entire life, I was focused of doing that. So flash forward to Disney… and I return to Disney as a chief creative officer… The leadership before us, they felt that world had grown too cynical for a sincere fairytale, and for that kind of classic Disney type of story telling. That everything would be kind of smart alecky and that kind of stuff, and really popular stars, you know, it’s more about the name than whether they’re good or not.

“And I knew that was not right, you know? …And so when I came back, I said, ‘This is what I want to bring back, this type of classic Disney story telling’ but it had to be told through today’s eyes. And if you look at each of the princesses that I’ve been involved with, they’re not waiting around for a guy to come and save them.

“We read about Princess and the Frog, Tiana, wants to finish her father’s dream of having a restaurant. That’s her goal… You know, Rapunzel. She’s the one that drives to get out of that tower, follow and see the lights that happen on her birthday, and she’s driven to do that… You’ve got Meredith from (Brave), she wants, she doesn’t want others to choose who she marries. She wants to choose herself. She wants to be in charge of her own destiny.

“Anna and Elsa? The beginning of Frozen was the anti-Disney princess movie.

“This is something I love doing, getting to these deeper levels, and a lot of it is through research. It’s hard work. It’s hard work, what we do… We don’t just hard copy another sequel, exactly the same story, just to print money. We throw it out, we start from scratch, and then we get a new emotional arc… it’s really, it’s meaningful.

“And right now, I’m so proud that we put joy out into the world. And I’m so proud to be part of a Walt Disney company that puts joy out into the world. I couldn’t be more proud of that.”

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