Disney Picks New Chiefs of Animation

Posted June 19, 2018 8:30 p.m. EDT

LOS ANGELES — Pete Docter is a 6-foot-5 Minnesotan who comes across like Tom Hanks in “Big” and lives in a literal tree house. Jennifer Lee is a 5-foot-3 Rhode Islander and self-described former “flute-playing band nerd” who loves books and is known for her showstopping laugh.

On Tuesday, they became two of the most important people in Hollywood.

As expected, the Walt Disney Co. named Lee to lead its revered Walt Disney Animation Studios and Docter to lead its Pixar Animation Studios. Both were given the title of chief creative officer. They succeed John Lasseter, 61, who managed both animation studios until earlier this month, when he resigned following complaints about his workplace behavior.

Docter, 49, is a 28-year Pixar veteran who directed three of its most successful films — “Up,” “Inside Out” and “Monsters, Inc.” — and helped write the screenplays for “Toy Story” and “Wall-E.” He has won two Academy Awards.

Lee, 46, only got her start in animation in 2012, when she co-wrote the screenplay for “Wreck-It Ralph.” But the following year, she directed, with Chris Buck, the musical sensation “Frozen,” and won an Oscar. She also helped write “Zootopia” and “A Wrinkle in Time” and played a critical role in bringing “Frozen” to Broadway.

The ascensions of Lee and Docter represent a generational changing of the guard in animation, a genre that Disney dominates — most recently releasing “Incredibles 2,” a Pixar sequel that arrived to a record-breaking $182.7 million in ticket sales. In a statement, Alan Horn, Disney’s film chairman, praised Docter as a “genius creative force” and said Lee brought “bold vision” and “a new and exciting perspective.”

A woman has never led Disney’s animation studio, which developed the art form into mass entertainment in the 1930s and ‘40s. Lee emphasized the collaborative nature of animation in a statement, saying, “My hope is to support the incredible talent we have, find new voices and work together to tell original stories.”

Docter also emphasized originality. “Together we will keep pushing animation in new directions,” he said.

Docter and Lee inherit a strong pipeline of films. “Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2” will arrive in November from the studio Lee is taking over and “Frozen 2” will come next year, along with Pixar’s “Toy Story 4.”