It is worth acknowledging before digging into this that John Lasseter, the director of “Toy Story” and one of the key figures within the Pixar 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 gig at Skydance. That said, you can’t tell the story of this movie or Pixar’s success without Lasseter. It’s just the truth of the matter.
For years, Lasseter wanted to make a full, computer-animated movie and had even brought the idea to Disney long before “Toy Story” ever came to be. They rejected him, and so he took his business elsewhere. Namely: Pixar, which at that time had Apple dounder Steve Jobs as a majority stakeholder. However, when Lasseter’s short “Tin Toy” won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film in 1989, that managed to get the attention of Disney execs. As the filmmaker explained in 2015, it was actually Tim Burton who managed to get the ball rolling in a roundabout way.
“Disney kept trying to hire me back after each of the short films I had made. I kept saying, ‘Let me make a film for you up here [at Pixar]’. It always said, ‘No, a Disney animated film will always be made at Disney.’ It had no interest in doing an outside project. What changed their mind was Tim Burton. Tim and I went to college together and he had developed a feature idea [while employed by Disney] called ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas.’ He went on to become a successful live-action director and was trying to buy ‘Nightmare’ back from Disney. And it said, ‘Why don’t you just make it for us?’ That opened the door for Disney to think of these ‘niche’ animated films that could be done.”
Indeed, up until that point, Disney was militant about doing things in-house. But they wanted Lasseter, and Burton’s “Nightmare Before Christmas” proved that partnering with outside companies could work. So it came to pass that Pixar would produce a feature-length, fully computer-animated film for Disney, becoming the first of its kind.