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Commentary: Another director bites the dust at Pixar, but it shouldn’t be cause for worry

By Jeff Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 4 2013 6:03 p.m. MDT

Bob Peterson, left, with Ed Asner and Pete Docter.

Deborah Coleman, Pixar

Enlarge photo»

With a release date already set for May 30, 2014, it might seem like Pixar’s next animated feature, “The Good Dinosaur,” is in trouble after recent news. The studio announced Saturday that Academy Award-winning director Bob Peterson (“Up”) has been pulled from the film, leaving it temporarily director-less.

For a normal Hollywood movie, a personnel swap this big at any stage could spell disaster, but even more so this late in development.

Just look at something like “The Island of Dr. Moreau” or even “X-Men: The Last Stand.”

In this case, though, there’s little cause for concern. Far from it, in fact. Last-minute shakeups have practically become standard procedure for the legendary Pixar brain trust.

Peterson’s removal marks the fourth time in the studio’s last eight movies that directors have been shuffled mid-production.

Of the other three — “Ratatouille,” “Cars 2” and “Brave” — two of them won Academy Awards, as pointed out by Rebecca Keegan of the Los Angeles Times.

Even “Toy Story 2” and “Toy Story 3” — two of Pixar’s most critically acclaimed films — underwent massive changes well into production, as detailed in a story on www.denofgeek.us. In fact, both were at first planned as direct-to-video sequels. Luckily for Disney and Pixar, Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang eventually found their way, and the two films together pulled in around $1.5 billion worldwide.

In a brief statement released by the company (via the Los Angeles Times), Pixar Animation Studios president Ed Catmull said, "All directors get really deep in their films. Sometimes you just need a different perspective to get the idea out. Sometimes directors ... are so deeply embedded in their ideas, it actually takes someone else to finish it up. I would go so far as to argue that a lot of live-action films would be better off with that same process."

Currently, responsibilities on the upcoming feature are being shared among a veritable dream team of animation veterans, including Pixar’s chief creative director John Lasseter (“Toy Story”), Lee Unkrich (“Toy Story 3”), Mark Andrews (“Brave”) and Peter Sohn, according to the L.A. Times article.

“The Good Dinosaur,” featuring the voice talent of John Lithgow, Frances McDormand, Neil Patrick Harris and Bill Hader, is about a world where dinosaurs never became extinct and now live alongside humans.

Barring some cataclysmic disaster, it will be Pixar’s 15th animated feature when it arrives in theaters nine months from now.

A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff Peterson is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.

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