John Lasseter confirmed as co-director on “Cars 2”

By Sean O’Connell John Lasseter has a tough time letting go of his individual Pixar creations.

And can you blame him? We become so emotionally attached to Lasseter’s original characters, from Woody and Buzz of “Toy Story” to cocky race car Lightning McQueen. Imagine how enamored with them Lasseter must be?!?!

Riding the wave of “Toy Story 3,” I finally popped the excellent documentary “The Pixar Story” into my player. It gives tremendous insight into the “birth” of Pixar from the misguided decisions at Disney, the risks taken by Steve Jobs, and the overwhelmingly creative powers of Lasseter, a genius who also happens to serve as the animation studio’s beating heart. Some compare him to Walt Disney, and in the context of the discussions made in the documentary, it’s hard to argue.

One of the best stories told in the doc involves “Toy Story 2,” which Disney intended to release as a straight-to-DVD sequel (created without Pixar’s input or consent). Lasseter, having just come off an international promotional tour for “A Bug’s Life,” scanned the reels and deemed the sequel unworthy. So instead of letting Disney sully the “Toy Story” legacy — which was still relatively new at this point — he dove right back into the mix and reworked a proper sequel in 9 months. Staggering. Even more impressive? He and his team created a masterpiece in that pressure cooker.

Lasseter gets the benefit of the doubt, particularly when it comes to characters he has created. So it’s no real surprise that today, stories are breaking that he will receive co-directing credit for the upcoming “Cars 2” alongside Brad Lewis, who is making his feature-film directing debut.

This should be expected. The Pixar productions are collaborative affairs. Lee Unkrich, Andrew Stanton, Pete Doctor and the rest of the wizards in Emmeryville likely contributed ideas and script suggestions to the “Cars” sequel. I wonder why Pixar doesn’t just release each film with the director’s credit, “Pixar.” According to the Pixar doc, they are such group efforts that singling out one filmmaker is almost silly.

“Cars 2” opens one year from today, June 24, 2011. That gives Pixar time to tinker under the film’s hood. And now that we know Lasseter put one hand on the steering wheel, the film has a much better chance of reaching Victory Lane.

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