Pixar has gone through many changes recently and is continuing to change as the studio prepares for another exciting few years of innovative works that include Toy Story 4 and Onward. However, one thing that is sadly changing is the departure of longtime Pixar veteran Lee Unkrich, who has been an instrumental part of Pixar Animation since the very beginning of the development of Toy Story. Unkrich made his departure official on Twitter, and explained that his departure is for personal reasons, in the hopes of spending more time with his family. As fans of his amazing work, today, we pay tribute to the wonderful legacy that Unkrich will continue to leave upon Pixar, and remember his amazing work from the beginning of his days with the company.
Letter sent to my Pixar family. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/UUonemVbLe
— Lee Unkrich (@leeunkrich) January 19, 2019
Unkrich began his work at Pixar and an editor on Toy Story, and A Bug’s Life before beginning his first co-directorial role on Toy Story 2. From there, he would go on to co-direct Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo, act as an additional editor on Cars and Ratatouille, and earn a spot on the senior creative team for Up, before landing his first solo directing gig at the studio: Toy Story 3. Directing Toy Story 3 made sense, since Unkrich previously co-directed Toy Story 2, presenting familiarity with the brand before stepping in. The screenplay for Toy Story 3 is written by Michael Ardnt, based on the story written by Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich, and John Lassetter.
It’s always difficult to put into words how truly mesmerizing Toy Story 3 is and continues to be even nine years beyond its release. Toy Story 3 is a story about the acceptance of change, and the journey of these characters become deeply personal through their own struggles of self-worth and abandonment. Unkrich’s film delivers powerful, emotional statements throughout, including the unforgettable gripping sequence that sees the characters coming to terms with their unfortunate fate, holding hands in unity, as they prepare themselves to enter into the abyss of death together. Toy Story 3 is a powerful, emotional roller coaster of a film, that lives on through brilliant storytelling in large part to Unkrich’s superb storytelling abilities.
Unkrich then took the next seven years perfecting his next project that focused on the Mexican holiday of Dia De Los Muertos, the project that would eventually become Coco. The film is co-directed with Adrian Molina and based on an original idea by Lee Unkrich, with Unkrich in the role of writing and directing the story. Just like his previous role on Toy Story 3, Unkrich’s work certainly has a habit of being emotional tear-jerkers, making Coco a beautiful, heartfelt tribute to culture, music, and family. Combined with gorgeous visuals and a stellar story, Coco certainly is a brilliant landmark in cinematic storytelling, and it could not have been possible without Unkrich’s vision and passion to see his story done right.
Unkrich has brought two Academy Awards to Pixar Animation Studios for both of his directorial roles on Toy Story 3 and Coco, as both took home the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film in 2011 and 2018, respectively. In addition, his work on Toy Story 3 helped leap the film into a historic position, becoming the third animated film to be nominated for Best Picture. Unfortunately for Pixar, the film lost to The King’s Speech that year, but Toy Story 3 is still one of the only three animated films ever nominated for Best Picture, behind Beauty and the Beast (1990) and Up (2009).
While Unkrich may be leaving the studio this year, it will be quite some time until we see the last of his work with the studio, as he continued to have involvement on films, including this year’s Toy Story 4, and we’re certain his work has also been left upon other Pixar films, including Onward, set to hit theaters in 2020. However, his departure certainly marks the end of an era, one that Unkrich has been so instrumental in founding. Unkrich’s work represents the creativity and innovation that Pixar Animation Studios was founded upon, and its dedication to meaningful, impactful storytelling. Unkrich’s work may be done with the studio, but if Toy Story 3 and Coco are any indication, his work will continue to live on in cinematic history.
Mitchell Stein is the founder and operator of the Disney-fan based website The Mickey Mindset which is a leader in delivering Disney news, articles and opinions across the company. He can be contacted by following him on Twitter @MitchellStein1.