Mind Behind Woke Disney Failure Gets the Ax, But the Bad News Doesn't Stop There


To Galyn Susman and Angus MacLane, two of the members of the senior team behind the woke Pixar flop “Lightyear,” let me put my feelings about your current employment situation — as well as that of 73 of your colleagues — in Disneyspeak:

“So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu! / Adieu, adieu, to you and you and you!”

Yes, apparently when a company loses over a quarter of a billion dollars on two movies deliberately positioned as propaganda in the culture war, Gen. Mickey Mouse has to make some troop cutbacks.

Thus, 75 positions at the company’s Pixar computer animation division, which was behind “Lightyear,” were terminated in May, Reuters first reported Saturday.

While the firing of 75 people doesn’t exactly seem like a big deal, it represents the first major job cuts at the studio in over a decade.

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MacLane had co-written and directed “Lightyear” and had worked at Pixar since 1997. Susman is arguably the biggest departure; not only did she produce “Lightyear,” but she also had been with the studio since its first movie, “Toy Story,” was released in 1995.

Unfortunately, Susman did exactly the opposite of what Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom did in Mel Brooks’ “The Producers“: She took a surefire hit and turned it into a flop.

“Lightyear” was the easiest possible sell ever; it was supposed to be the movie that inspired Andy, the boy in the original “Toy Story,” to want a Buzz Lightyear toy in the first place. It was a prequel to the most beloved and well-known franchise in the studio’s history.

It was, in effect, Pixar’s origin story. How do you screw that up?

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Well, first, you get all worked up about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” bill — which didn’t say “gay” but instead merely prohibited instruction in sexual or gender identity for public school kids in third grade and under — and reinsert footage of a lesbian kiss that had little to do with the plotline into the movie to shove it conservatives’ faces.

You then send the voice actor behind the titular character in “Lightyear,” Chris Evans, on a media tour in which he calls parents who objected to the LGBT agitprop “dinosaurs” and “idiots.”

That’ll do, pig. (OK, not quite a Disney reference — but it fits.)

The film, unsurprisingly, had a disappointing opening weekend at the box office, which the media blamed on anything but that lesbian kiss.

Some said the reviews weren’t as great as other Pixar movies. This didn’t hold true because 1) critics still liked it, they just found it pleasant if slight, 2) the film that beat it at the box office, “Jurassic World Dominion,” was already out for two weeks and had garnered reviews that made “Ishtar” and “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo” look like Oscar contenders, and 3) this is Pixar, a studio that made nearly half a billion dollars in box office off of a movie about anthropomorphic talking cars that got roughly the same kinds of reviews.

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Some blamed it on people being used to streaming movies at home now, as if the wizards who set box office estimates hadn’t factored that in.

Others blamed it on people not being able to figure out where “Lightyear” sat in the wider “Toy Story” universe, absurdly entertaining the concept that a prequel is just too difficult for audiences to contemplate.

I reiterate: Pixar is the studio that made “Cars,” a film about cars that are like humans, which raises all sorts of ontological questions you just don’t want to ponder — but let’s face it, you’re going to anyway. (Is a tire change considered an amputation? Do they hold funerals at junkyards? Is being born a Yugo considered a birth defect?)

In any case, the bad returns from the first weekend continued apace, with “Lightyear” taking home $226.7 million in worldwide ticket sales versus $1.2 billion for “The Incredibles 2,” another Pixar film with a similar budget, released in 2018.

Further evidence that this wasn’t just the fault of streaming or reviews came when the Disney film “Strange World” — an even woker beast, advertised as featuring the first queer teen character in a Disney picture — was an even bigger flop than “Lightyear” was.

In addition to Susman and MacLane, Pixar’s vice president of worldwide publicity Michael Agulnek, who had been in that job since 2015, was also laid off.

While the cuts were first reported Saturday, the layoffs were originally made May 23 as part of new Disney CEO Bob Iger’s plan to cut $5.5 billion in costs.

And again, while 75 jobs at Pixar might not sound like a big deal, the animation studio has a workforce of only about 1,200, and two of those let go had major roles in the debacle that was “Lightyear.” If I were someone involved in the creation of “Strange World,” let’s just say I wouldn’t be buying any green bananas for the office lunchroom.

And it’s not just woke movie types getting the ax from Iger.

In April, Nate Silver — the left-leaning elections stat nerd best known as the impresario of FiveThirtyEight, now a property of Disney — announced his website’s staff would be on the chopping block, as well, and that he expected to leave the site he’s been most prominently identified with when his contract is up.

Celebrating layoffs is generally bad form, but we ought to acknowledge the reality here: Disney staked out an extreme, extremely visible position in the culture war — and then discovered, apparently to its shock and surprise, that Americans not only didn’t rush to its side as reinforcements, they began actively organizing the counterattack.

Now, the mouse ears and Magic Kingdom logos are no longer just trademarks but warning labels to parents: Inculcation lies ahead. A lesbian kiss, the first queer Disney teen hero, a “fairy godmother” with a mustache — whatever. It’s basically like a sign on an old-timey map saying, “Here be wokeness.” Steer clear.

And as for those employees caught in the crossfire, even if they had nothing to do with the wokeness itself, ah well: You leave and heave a sigh and say goodbye — goodbye! Auf wiedersehen, everyone.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture