How Disney knew it needed Pixar
By Brent Schlender, FORTUNE editor-at-large

NEW YORK (FORTUNE) - A couple of weeks before the Pixar deal was finalized, Disney (Research) CEO Bob Iger spoke with Brent Schlender in Iger's Burbank, Calif., office.

What is it about Pixar and John Lasseter that made you willing to spend $7.4 billion to acquire the company rather than renew a co-production deal?

Disney CEO Robert Iger
Disney CEO Robert Iger
Pixar's magic man
John Lasseter and his merry band of animators have a way with blockbusters. The master storyteller explains how he does it - and how he plans to sprinkle some of that Pixar dust at Disney.

I have two young boys. They're almost 8 and almost 4, and they consume John's work on a regular basis. My younger son went to sleep last night watching "Toy Story 2." So you ask yourself, "Okay, whose mind is behind this?"

One thing that you detect right away is there is not an ounce of cynicism in Pixar's films. And in a world that I think is more cynical than it should be, that's pretty refreshing. I think it's a critical ingredient to the success of Pixar's films. It's one of the reasons why people love them, and not only as much as they do but for as long as they do.

What accounts for Lasseter's skill as a manager and leader?

It starts with his own prowess and ability, although we've certainly seen creative geniuses who can't communicate with anyone else and can't manage anyone else. Creative people want two things: First, they want a yes or a no answer; second, they want to know if what they've created is any good.

He's decisive. I've never seen him second-guess his creative decisions. A lot of it comes down to the fact that he listens, and he also has a great way of telling somebody that he doesn't like something. Even things he doesn't like he has a way of dismissing in a respectful manner.

Clearly, you thought Disney was missing something or you wouldn't have made this deal.

The importance of animation to Disney over the years is obvious. Nothing creates more of an impact at this company than a successful animated film. When we go into China, for example, it's not because we're called Disney, it's because of "Snow White" and "The Lion King" and "Toy Story," and all of those things. So I felt animation ought to be great, and I couldn't think of a better way to make sure of that than to have John and Ed [Catmull, Pixar founder and president] come aboard to manage animation.

Since we announced the deal, my confidence in their ability and in the future of Disney animation has actually increased. They're providing leadership not just to Disney animation - they've ignited the whole company's creative spirit, and that is just a very, very positive thing.

Christopher Tkaczyk contributed to this article. Top of page

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