A Pixar veteran is leaving the animation powerhouse. Lee Unkrich, who first arrived at Pixar Animation Studios as they were making what would turn out to be a game-changing film called Toy Story, informed employees at Pixar on Friday that he would be leaving the studio after 25 years. Per THR, here’s what Unkrich had to say about his decision:
“I’m not leaving to make films at another studio; instead, I look forward to spending much-needed time with my family and pursuing interests that have long been back-burnered.”
The 51-year-old filmmaker served as an editor on Toy Story and A Bug’s Life before co-directing Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., and Finding Nemo. When Pixar decided to close out the Toy Story franchise (for the time-being), they turned to Unkrich to step into the director’s chair that was held by Pixar head John Lasseter on the first two Toy Story films. After that Oscar-winning feature, Unkrich helmed the phenomenal hit 2017 film Coco, which garnered his second Oscar.
Unkrich’s departure comes at a time of great change at Pixar. Lasseter was put on a leave of absence last year after reports of years of sexual misconduct surfaced. He was ultimately forced out when his contract expired last December, and he’s now set up shop at Skydance Animation—though not without controversy.
Pete Docter, the director behind Monsters Inc., Up, and Inside Out, was subsequently tapped to take over Lasseter’s head honcho role at Pixar, and Unkrich was one of the last original Pixar filmmakers still spearheading features there. Andrew Stanton, the director behind Finding Nemo, Wall-E, and Finding Dory, has been working in television on shows like Stranger Things (though he co-wrote the story for the upcoming Toy Story 4), and while Brad Bird returned to direct Incredibles 2, he’s not a full-time presence at the studio like Unkrich was.
It’s unclear what spurred Unkrich’s decision, but one has to imagine Lasseter’s exit had at least something to do with it. As he says in his statement he’s not looking to set up shop elsewhere, and THR notes that he was not currently working on a new project when he decided to leave. It’s a curious departure to be sure.
Unkrich has a “story by” credit on this summer’s Toy Story 4, and after that Pixar has a few original films on deck, including a secretive new feature from Docter and a fantasy film from Monsters University filmmaker Dan Scanlon. But the fact remains that with the exits of both Lasseter and Unkrich, and with Docter due to take on more of a management role, it’s the end of an era at the iconic animation studio.
Docter had these parting words to say about Unkrich, via THR:
“Lee arrived at Pixar as we were crafting Toy Story, and he’s had a profound effect on all Pixar films since. He literally taught us rookie filmmakers about staging, composition, and cutting,” said Docter, who directed Monsters Inc and became Pixar’s chief creative officer after Lasseter’s exit. “His artistry and expert craftsmanship as an editor and co-director became a major reason for the high quality of our filmmaking, and as Lee went on to direct, his ability to find the deep humor and emotion enabled him to create some of the strongest films we’ve made.”
For his part, Unkrich took to Twitter to confirm his departure:
After twenty-five incredible years, I’ve decided to leave Pixar.
The time has come for new adventures. pic.twitter.com/0KZyHXhs8L
— Lee Unkrich (@leeunkrich) January 18, 2019