We spoke with Lasseter in his Burbank office for his five favorite
movies of all time. He agreed to list them but with one request: “In a John
Lasseter top five, I would put a short in front of each of these. Typically,
these are Chuck Jones shorts. Can’t have a top five without having the
Dumbo is my favorite movie of all time. A remarkable motion picture. Just over 60 minutes, it’s so tight in terms of storytelling. It’s like [snaps fingers]. When you have kids and you watch
Dumbo, it really nails you because there’s that “Baby Mine” sequence. I like [Dumbo] because it’s the most cartoony of Disney features. I like it because the main character doesn’t talk. Such a wonderful film. It is very funny.
Great music. It also really moves you. It has a really huge heart. Walt Disney always said that for every laugh, there should be a tear. I live by that.
Lasseter’s bonus short:
Probably everybody has that on their list. [Star Wars] came out and I just finished my sophomore year at CalArts. The May of ’77, saw it opening weekend at the Chinese Theatre. It worked in so many ways, but one of the things personally [that] was so inspiring [was] how it entertained an audience to a new level. I was there with a packed audience. I waited six hours. Towards the climax, when Luke is in the X-Wing and he’s going down the trench, I was just shaking I was so excited. And I’d never seen an audience so excited. First of all, it was everybody, from kids to adults, teenagers. Everybody was going crazy for this film. The quality of the storytelling, where it’s one foot in sort of the past and one foot in the future, I was so impressed by that. I came out and said, “That’s what I want to do with animation.” Many of my friends left animation [because of
Star Wars] and went to actual special effects. At that time, animation was thought of just for kids. I saw this and said, “No, no, I want to entertain audiences.” That’s all I think about when I make my movies.
What’s Opera, Doc?
I saw this for the first time at CalArts [and] since then I’ve become a big fan of all Preston Sturges films. Again, I [had] already chosen what I wanted to do for a living but [this] story touched me so deeply.
Here’s a guy who makes comedies during the Depression and he’s so isolated in Hollywood [that] he sets out to learn what’s going on with people. He becomes a hobo. And he ends up way in the South and [is] put into this work prison. And everyone in Hollywood believes that he’s dead, that a hobo stole his coat and was killed by a train. And so he’s there and [he can’t] get word back that he’s still alive. It’s a horrible situation. For Christmas Eve, at the depth of his misery, a black church in the segregated South invites all the prisoners out. And they sit there and what they watch is a Pluto cartoon. It’s the famous scene of Pluto getting the flypaper stuck on him and he can’t get it off. And [the audience] starts howling with laughter. Howling with laughter. People who you wouldn’t think would still have laughter in their bodies. And Sullivan came out of this and gets back to Hollywood and everyone’s like, “Oh, you had this horrible situation, you must make a great drama.” And he goes, “No, I’m going to make a comedy. Because that’s what the world needs.”
A Bear for
This is between Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life and
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Hmm, I’m going to go with Mr. Deeds. Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur. It’s just an amazing film. It’s very funny. Longfellow Deeds is the main character, Gary Cooper plays him and he’s so appealing. I think it’s the definition of appeal.
So Longfellow Deeds is this guy who lives in this tiny town, he’s makes a living writing greeting cards. Just a sweet guy. There’s a distant relative who’s this gigantic millionaire. Has a huge fortune. So this industrialist dies in New York City and they trace [him] down, he’s the only heir to this huge fortune. So they bring him to New York and now he runs this company. [But] this really ace reporter for the local paper wants to get the dirt on him, and [she’s played by] Jean Arthur. So she waits for him to come out and she acts like she’s starving, like she’s a homeless woman during the Depression. So he picks her up and feeds her some food and they start doing things together. And he absolutely falls in love with her. But, so, there’s all this dirt that’s coming out in the newspapers and they don’t know how it’s happening. But the scene…it starts very funny, but, again, it’s that heart, it’s balancing humor and heart that Frank Capra did so well, the scene in which he finds out the woman he’s fallen in love with is actually the one who’s doing all the dirt is one of the most emotional scenes in the film. And it’s so underplayed. So beautifully underplayed. He gets behind this column but you know he’s crying. And he can’t bear anyone to see him. It’s so incredibly moving and touching.
I’m going to choose Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr. It
was either Steamboat Bill Jr. or The General. You know, let me change it to
General. Love the train. Anyways, Steamboat Bill Jr.-slash-The General. It’s
about Buster Keaton. He was one of the great inspirations in my career, my
life, in studying his works. He’s like a human cartoon character. But, more
importantly, he developed character and personality. These films are so
appealing because of the personality of the characters he created. His comic
timing is staggering.
Zoom and Bored
John Lasseter accepting a Certified Fresh award.