The Pixar chief who changed the animation game with his innovative use of computer technology in 1995’s Toy Story will return to the directing chair to make a fourth movie about the adventures of Woody, Buzz, and the gang, Walt Disney CEO Robert Iger announced Tuesday.
The film is set to hit theaters in June 16, 2017, and in a somewhat surprising twist it will be written by Rashida Jones, formerly of NBC’sParks and Recreation, and her screenwriting partner Will McCormack (who did the indie romantic comedy Celeste and Jesse Forever.)
The story was conceived, however, by the Pixar brain trust: Lasseter, Finding Nemo‘s Andrew Stanton, Up and Monsters Inc.‘s Pete Docter, and and Toy Story 3‘s Lee Unkrich.
Iger who revealed the news in a quarterly earnings call for investors late Thursday afternoon, did not say whether Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Wallace Shawn or any of the other actors who voice the toybox crew will be returning, but it’s inconceivable that a movie would be made without them.
In the four years since Toy Story 3 came out, Woody and Buzz haven’t exactly been strangers — the characters have turned up in a series of short films and television specials, which picked up with the family of playthings after original owner Andy handed them over to a new child, the sweet little girl Bonnie.
The first of these was 2011’s Hawaiian Vacation, playing before Cars 2, in which Barbie and Ken (voiced by Jodi Benson and Michael Keaton) are treated to a trip to the islands without ever leaving their new owner’s bedroom.
That same year, The Muppets was preceded bySmall Fry, in which spaceman Buzz being left behind at a fast-food restaurant, and 2012’sFinding Nemo 3-D featured Partysaurus Rex, in which Shawn’s timid plastic dinosaur discovers his wild and crazy size in a bathtub rave.
Last year, a grade-school friendly horror film was produced as a Halloween broadcast for ABC. Toy Story of Terror followed Woody, Buzz, Jessie and the rest getting lost at a scary hotel during a family trip.
Although these characters were clearly not going away, and remain omnipresent among Disney’s consumer products and theme parks, there was never a guarantee that we’d see them in a feature film again. Few were even speculating about it — until this afternoon.
THE GOLDEN GOOSE IN A HAWAIIAN SHIRT
Iger’s announcement is potentially good news for lovers of Toy Story, it’s potentially nervous-making news for investors in the company, which is probably why he chose to reveal it in an earnings call as opposed to a fan gathering. Lasseter reigns as the supervising animation guru for three divisions: Pixar, Walt Disney Studios Animation, and DisneyToon Studios, which makes predominantly home-video titles such as the Tinker Bell movies and Planes.
In the eight years since The Walt Disney Co. bought Pixar for more than $7.4 billion, inheriting him in the process, Lasseter has become not just the Hawaiian-shirt-wearing chief creative officer for Pixar, but has also supervised a renaissance at Walt Disney Studios Animation — which went from making flops like Treasure Planet and under performers like Chicken Little to blockbusters like Wreck-It Ralph and last year’s Frozen.
Frozen not only collected the Best Feature Animation Oscar — which, astoundingly, was company’s first — it was the No. 1 movie of the year, earning north of $1.27 billion globally.
Still, every movie to emerge from the studio, be it shorts like Paperman or Feast, to Disney Animation’s latest feature, Big Hero 6, hits theaters with filmmakers talking about Lasseter’s hands-on approach.
TURNING OVER THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR
He hasn’t directed a film himself since Cars 2 in 2011. Last March, in a similar earnings call, Iger revealed that Cars 3 was in development, and although no release date was set, it now seems unlikely Lasseter would direct that unless it were pushed back until around 2020.
He has handed off the directing reigns before, turning over Toy Story 3 to Lee Unkrich, his co-director on 1999’s Toy Story 2, who went on to make arguably the most acclaimed film in the series.
With Unkrich, who also collected a Best Animated Feature Oscar for No. 3, busy on an untitled Dia de los Muertos movie for Pixar, Lasseter is returning to the toy box — though there’s no telling how that will influence his other work producing the dozens of other theatrical, short and home-video releases he oversees.
There’s not going to be any playing around for him.