It’s worth acknowledging before we dig into this that John Lasseter, the director of “Toy Story” and one of the key figures in Pixar’s ranks for decades, has since become a controversial figure. After mounting accusations of inappropriate behavior behind the scenes during his years at Disney, Lasseter left the company and now has a concert at Skydance. That said, you can’t tell the story of this movie or Pixar’s success without Lasseter. It’s just the truth.
For years, Lasseter wanted to make a full computer-animated movie and even brought the idea to Disney long before “Toy Story” even saw the light of day. They rejected him, and so he took his business elsewhere. Namely: Pixar, which at the time had Apple overthrown Steve Jobs as majority shareholder. However, when Lasseter’s “Tin Toy” short won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1989, it managed to catch the attention of Disney executives. As a filmmaker explained in 2015it was actually Tim Burton who managed to get the ball rolling in a roundabout way.
“Disney kept trying to rehire me after every one of the shorts I’d done. I kept saying, ‘Let me make a movie for you here [at Pixar]’. He always said, “No, a Disney animated movie will always be made at Disney.” He had no interest in doing an outside project. What made them change their minds was Tim Burton. Tim and I went to college together and he had developed an idea for a feature [while employed by Disney] called ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas.’ He became a successful live-action director and was trying to buy “Nightmare” from Disney. And he said, ‘Why don’t you just do it for us?’ It opened the door for Disney to think about these ‘niche’ animated films that could be made.”
Indeed, until then, Disney was campaigning to do things internally. But they wanted Lasseter, and Burton’s “Nightmare Before Christmas” proved that partnering with outside companies could work. So it happened that Pixar produced a fully computer-animated feature film for Disney, becoming the first of its kind.