He was with Pixar since the early days at Lucasfilm. Originally a Disney animator, Lasseter was inspired by TRON to try to make a computer-animated feature film, but was fired while trying to adapt Thomas M. Disch's novella The Brave Little Toaster (which was distributed by Disney but made by independent company Hyperion). At Lucasfilm, he created its first four short films, including his most famous short, Luxo Jr. He also directed Pixar's first feature film and the world's first CGI movie, Toy Story, for which he got a Special Achievement Award at the Oscars. After Toy Story 2, he stuck to executive producing Pixar's films for a while, though he still provided creative input into the companies' films. He returned to directing with the film Cars, which, despite performing weaker and not being as well received as the other Pixar films, still got more good reviews than most other animated films that year and made a truckload of money, particularly through merchandising. His latest directorial effort, Cars 2, proved an artistic debacle that shattered the near spotless artistic reputation of the company such as leading to Pixar being shut out of contention for that year's Best Animated Feature Oscar for the first time in the award's history. Not wanting to cause the studio further embarrassment, John snapped into action by postponing the Troubled Production The Good Dinosaur by a year to ensure that the next film in their roster, Inside Out, would be on par with their other classics.
John's eye for quality is no doubt the reason why, when Disney merged with Pixar back in 2006, he was not only made Chief Creative Officer of both Pixar and Disney Feature Animation, but also Principal Creative Advisor for Disney's Imagineering department, meaning he even had creative say in theme park rides. While his decisions at Disney did cause a bit of behind-the-scenes drama (his insistence on changes for Bolt led director Chris Sandersnote to leave the company), general consensus is that he helped the studio considerably during his tenure. After becoming Chief Creative Officer, he cancelled all of the Disney sequels in production and greenlit The Princess and the Frog. Lasseter then opted for DisneyToon Studios to produce more original properties and spinoffs, such as the Tinker Bell films and the spinoff from Cars, titled Planes. Somewhat ironically, the hope for Disney to continue creating traditionally animated feature films depended with him for a long time; despite playing a large part in computer animation becoming more dominant, he expressed interest in bringing 2D animation back.
A few days from before the release of Coco, Lasseter publicly announced that he would take a six month sabbatical from the company after a number of female employees came forward with claims of sexual misconduct (this being a few months after Harvey Weinstein and several other Hollywood people were accused of the same, it's safe to assume he didn't want the studio's work to be Overshadowed by Controversy), along with writer Rashida Jones announcing her departure from Toy Story 4 amidst accusations that he mistreated female and minority artists.
In June 2018, Disney announced that they had no intention of renewing their contract with Lasseter, meaning he would no longer hold an office at either Pixar or Walt Disney Animation Studios, ceasing his involvement with the studio at the end of the year. Pete Docter and Jennifer Lee replaced his position at Pixar and Disney Animation, respectively. A year later, up and coming studio Skydance Animation put him on their creative team, a controversial move that resulted in actress Emma Thompson stepping down from Luck (2022), a movie the studio was producing.
- The Adventures of Andre and Wally B. (1984)
- Luxo Jr. (1986)
- Red's Dream (1987)
- Tin Toy (1988)
- Knick Knack (1989)
- Toy Story (1995)
- A Bug's Life (1998)
- Toy Story 2 (1999)
- Cars (2006)
- Mater and the Ghostlight (2006)
- Tokyo Mater (2008)
- Cars 2 (2011)
Tropes associated with films he has directed:
- Animate Inanimate Object: His bread and butter. It began in earnest with Luxo Jr. and a handful of other Pixar shorts, continuing on to his two biggest film series', Toy Story and Cars.
- Associated Composer: Randy Newman scored all of his films except Cars 2.
- Author Appeal: Inanimate objects coming to life.
- Awesome, Dear Boy: His reason for becoming an animator: "I get paid to make cartoons!"
- Black-and-White Morality: A Bug's Life, Cars, and Cars 2
- Eagleland: All of his films have Americana in their aesthetic. The Toy Story films play up the fact that Woody is a cowboy and Cars is heavily influenced by the folklore of Route 66 and have a cast mostly consisting of good ol boys. The music for nearly all of them borrow heavily from Aaron Copland.
- Old Shame: John Lasseter's attempt to keep 2D animation alive alongside CGI at Disney. Since the idea flopped, he's refused to speak of it. However, there have been some other brief revivals, such as Mauis tattoos in Moana and a sequence (which, while not directly done by Disney, was handled by many ex-Disney talents) in Mary Poppins Returns afterwards.
- Signature Style: Feel-good, emotional, idealistic films about inanimate objects like bikes, toys, or cars, coming to life.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Heavily idealistic, even by Pixar's standards.