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Toon Tuesday : Was John Lasseter stung by that mean caricature of him that appears in "Bee Movie" ?

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Toon Tuesday : Was John Lasseter stung by that mean caricature of him that appears in "Bee Movie" ?

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Everybody knows about those "Hidden Mickeys" that Disney sometimes stashes in its motion pictures & theme park attractions. But have you ever heard about the "Hidden Lasseters" ?

Yep. As a tribute to the creative Grand Pooh-Bah of Pixar, the folks who work at this Emeryville-based animation studio have slipped John's image into a few of their films & shorts. Take -- for example -- "Tin Toy" ...

Copyright 1988 Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Did you ever notice that framed photograph that sits on the coffee table in the background of this Oscar-winning short? Well, were you to look closely at that image, you'd discover that it's actually a picture that was taken of the young John Lasseter right after he won his "Best Boy Camper" award.

Then -- of course -- there's "Toy Story" ...

Copyright 1995 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Where Lasseter's own noggin provided the inspiration for what Buzz Lightyear's head should look like.

But the above two "Hidden Lasseters" are basically affectionate tributes to John. Whereas the one that I'll be talking about today -- which was deliberately dropped into "Bee Movie" by DreamWorks Animation artists -- is not.

Now please don't misunderstand. I'm not saying that DreamWorks hasn't previously thumbed its nose at Pixar. Those of you who saw "Flushed Away" will no doubt recall that moment in this Aardman film where Roddy -- as he's swirling down the sewer -- suddenly finds himself with a goldfish in his lap.

Copyright 2006 DreamWorks Animation. All Rights Reserved

Who -- in true "Finding Nemo" fashion -- then turns to this drowned rat and says: "Have you seen me Dad?"

Copyright 2006 DreamWorks Animation. All Rights Reserved

This Nemo-inspired character then goes on to make several appearances in this 2006 Aardman film. Take -- for example -- the image capture below. Where -- if you look past Roddy & the bobby in the foreground -- you'll see that this poor little goldfish seems headed for a grisly fate as the Blue Plate Special.

Copyright 2006 DreamWorks Animation. All Rights Reserved

But then -- by the end of "Flushed Away" -- this "Nemo" -like character seems to have really charmed that fish-and-chips salesman. For that goldfish is now being kept as a pet.

Copyright 2006 DreamWorks Animation. All Rights Reserved

So -- as I said earlier -- it's not that DreamWorks Animation hasn't ever included characters and/or individual gags that then pay tribute to particular Pixar films. But what's different about "Bee Movie" ...

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation. All Rights Reserved


... is that the in-joke in question doesn't target a film. But -- rather -- an individual that works at Pixar. And -- to be honest -- this poke at John Lasseter is rather mean-spirited.

So what moment in "Bee Movie" am I talking about? The gag in question happens during the end of the film. When Barry B. Benson (i.e. the bee character that Jerry Seinfeld voices) and Vanessa Bloome (i.e. the human character that Renée Zellweger plays in this animated feature) are trying -- all by themselves to land a jumbo jet full of flowers at JFK. But -- of course (because this is a movie and you always need additional complications to help heighten the tension) -- the cockpit controls have cut out and thick cloud cover prevent Vanessa & Barry from seeing the runway.

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation. All Rights Reserved


Things look pretty bleak at this moment in the movie. So thank goodness that hundreds of thousands of Barry's bee friends now fly up and intercept this damaged aircraft.

As they take hold of the plane, Barry's long dormant bee instinct kicks in. Which is why he then tells Vanessa to cut the engines ...

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation. All Rights Reserved


... So that -- by working together with all of the bees who are now clinging to this craft -- Vanessa & Barry bring this damaged plane for a very insect-like landing at JFK. At one point literally hovering above a giant " ... black and yellow pulsating flower made of bees" that Barry's friends have come together to create right there on the runway.

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation. All Rights Reserved

"So where does the mean John Lasseter-related joke come in?," you ask. Well, you have to understand that it takes Barry & Vanessa several tries before they finally settle on the right flower on the right runway. So for a few moments there, their bee-powered plane hovers around a 747 that has some huge blossoms painted on its tail section.

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation. All Rights Reserved

Barry turns to Vanessa and says " Not that flower. The other flower." So Ms. Bloome now moves their plane over to the next large flower-covered object that she finds out on the runway.

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation. All Rights Reserved

But as the camera moves in for a close-up, we see that this isn't a plane at all. But -- as Barry puts it -- "That's a fat guy in a flowered shirt."

Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation. All Rights Reserved

Ah, but not just any fat guy in a flowered shirt. Given John Lasseter's penchant for wearing loud Hawaiian shirts ... Well, for that brief moment in "Bee Movie" when you can see this CG character in profile and you can then get a clear view of his glasses, those thin lips, the shape of the ear ... It's pretty darn obvious who this particular character was modeled after.

Yes, this character's hairline is different. And yes, his hair is a different color than John's. But I'm told that that was a deliberate choice on the "Bee Movie" production team's part. So that -- should this story ever leak out -- DreamWorks Animation would at least then have some plausible deniability.

Copyright 2007 Disney & DreamWorks Animation. All Rights Reserved

Which then begs the question: Why did DreamWorks Animation actually go out of its ways to take a cheap shot at John Lasseter in "Bee Movie" ? Well, according to what my sources at that studio have told me, it was Seinfeld himself who allegedly insisted that this gag be inserted into that film.

Why For? Well, as I understand it, Jerry & John supposedly had an awkward encounter at Vanity Fair's 2006 Oscar party. Which reportedly came about because Seinfeld casually mentioned to Lasseter that he was working with DreamWorks Animation on "Bee Movie."

From what I've been told, John supposedly used Jerry's brief mention of his new insect-based project as an opportunity to bring up the "Antz" / "A Bug's Life" episode. Where (it's been alleged) Jeffrey Katzenberg "borrowed" the initial premise for Pixar's second picture to use as inspiration for DreamWorks Animation's first CG release.

This conversation then reportedly closed out with Lasseter telling Seinfeld to be careful around Katzenberg. Which was unfortunate. Given that this comic had already been working closely with Katzenberg for a number of years at that point to try & make "Bee Movie" a reality. Which is why Jerry now considers Jeffery to be a good close friend.

So what Lasseter allegedly intended as a helpful bit of advice, Seinfeld supposedly took as a rather insulting remark about a friend of his. Which is why -- the very next time Jerry got together with the "Bee Movie" production team to discuss how that they could "plus" their animated feature -- it was Seinfeld himself who reportedly suggested that they add that blink-and-you'll-miss-it gag that deliberately twitted Lasseter. Which is where this "fat guy in a flowered shirt" gag allegedly came from.

But what you folks think ? Was that "Bee Movie" in-joke an unnecessary cheap shot on DreamWorks Animation's part ? Or is John Lasseter's personal appearance and/or wardrobe choices really now fair game for gags in today's Hollywood ?

Your thoughts?

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  • Ha! Ha! sincker!  That is pretty funny but, not surprising.

    First off, I feel that type of antic is just part of the Hollywood game; they deal with it just like they have to deal with the paparazzi and tabloids.

    Secondly,  99% of viewers woudn't even recognize that character on the tarmac is supposed to be anyone famous. Only insiders who know the industry or people who visit here get the connection. They spoof presidents and others all the time in satire and so forth so who really cares if it is a jab at Lasseter or whether he is hot under the collar over it. He'll get over it or not.

    Is this supposed to further fuel the competition between PIXAR and DREAMWORKS?  I doubt it but, if it does, than all the better for the movie-goer. Better competition should bring on better movies.  

  • I don't think it was crazy offensive, but I don't see the reason for it. Disney doesn't take cheap shots in their animated films like that. Everything I've heard about Katzenberg has been especially greedy and snake-like. If Seinfeld didn't know that already, he must not be paying any attention.

  • what else is knew with dreamworks  Lord farquat was Eisner... All the disney references in Shreks...    Disney and Pixar are always targets because they are the leader in the field...  and unfortunately   dreamworks has to resort to it...  I  have always known seinfeld to be a class act guy it could of been a misinterpertation we may never know.

  • Oh please... its a joke.  Get over it.  Artists caricature their peers all the time.  Disney himself was caricatured (and not always in a positive light) by his own studio many times in his life.

    There was an old episode of Tiny Toon Adventures that caricatured Roger Ebert in a pretty vicious way.  This Lasseter thing is nothing.  He should feel honored that people are thinking of him, if anything.  

  • It's fair game. Dreamworks has a tradition of making fun of Disney. Shrek is a great example. I don't think a joke about a particular person is anymore harmful. It's just a silly reference that makes animation and Disney geeks giggle or say, "Hey wtf?!" But who cares. The movie was okay. I liked it, but it did seem very cliche.

  • It's harmless, but it's also classless.  Seinfeld should be better than that.  Otherwise it's just another joke that bombed in a movie that should've been better.  I'm sure Lasseter will be eager to help performers who might be screwed over by Katzenberg in the future...

  • Ummm, couldn't that guy in the shirt pass for a few other folks, too? Why, even Jim Hill?

  • C'mon, Jim - you reported Pixar including a Thomas Shumaker-like character in The Incredibles:  http://jimhillmedia.com/blogs/jim_hill/archive/2005/08/21/664.aspx

    This sort of stuff happens all the time.  Lasseter isn't staying up nights fretting about his Bee Movie "appearance".

  • Wow that Seinfled is realllllllllllllllllllllly funny.....

    That "gag" is probably the only thing he added to the script...

    once again he proves how unfunny he is...

    He is better at helping his wife steal other people's ideas for books...

    Neither one has an original thought in their body...

  • Well, the joke is on Dreamworks. They still can't put out an animated feature equal to Pixar's excellent films. Maybe they should stop spending their time littering their movies with dated pop culture references and write an actual story.

  • Considering how poorly Bee Movie did at the box office, it's not like anyone really saw it anyway.

  • Much ado about nothing.

  • Errr, CapnSkip, Jim has a beard and isn't as fat as John.... O_o.

    But anyway the people at Dreamworks are a bunch of douchebags. They're cruel and uncreative. Plus their animation tends to look... really bad. I mean, compare Bee Movie to Ratatouille. Rather, you can't.

    Dreamworks will undoubtedly keep pulling crap stunts like the ones Jim has outlined above in the future, but since nobody really cares now, it's unlikely that people will ever start caring.

    Kudos to John Lasseter.

  • How many people even saw Bee Movie ?  Who was still awake by the time that scene came on ?

    Capn' Skip said it : "Ummm, couldn't that guy in the shirt pass for a few other folks, too?"

    Yes,  "fat guy in a Hawaiian shirt" describes quite a few people in the animation industry  (I'm one of them, so I should know).   If that was supposed to be a real swipe at JL it wasn't a very distinctive caricature ... sort of ambiguous and bland.  Yeah, I suppose it sort of looks like Lasseter .   Kind of ... if someone tells you ahead of time that's who it's supposed to be.  Lame.   Did they lose their nerve after putting it in the movie so they made it ambiguous enough that they could deny it was really supposed to be JL ?   Dude, then why even bother ?  

  • Sniffles, your last paragraph is totally spot-on.

    I think that they did lose their nerve, but decided to go ahead with an ambiguous version of Lasseter because... well, because they're just kind of really stupid.

    I mean, the joke in the movie (at least from Jim's description, since I've never actually seen Bee Movie) seems very forced and lame.... you'd have to be desperate for laughs to put something like that in...

    The people at Dreamworks are just stupid.

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