Disney Fires Exec Credited With Saving Multi-Billion-Dollar Film Franchise

disney films and "laid off" words
Credit: D23/Canva

Heads have continued to roll at Disney as the company attempts to right the ship, stop the financial bleed, and become more profitable, but in at least one incident, it seems the company may have gone too far.

walt disney company building

Credit: Disney/Canva

In February, during The Walt Disney Company’s fiscal first-quarter earnings call, CEO Bob Iger announced the planned layoffs of 7,000 Disney employees, part of a company-wide effort to cut $5.5 billion in costs. At the time of the announcement, it was unclear which Cast Members and employees in which departments across Disney and its subsidiaries would be on the chopping block. In March, managers across the company were told to make a list of their most “useless” employees ahead of the impending waves of layoffs within the company.

As soon as the Disney layoffs began in April, it was clear that no one was safe from the threat of termination in the name of profitability. Layoffs led to a major restructuring of the Disney-owned ABC News division and even dethroned some long-time employees from their proverbial ivory towers.

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Credit: Disney/ABC

But the removals didn’t stop there, and Disney’s most recent wave of layoffs in late May cut deep into one of the company’s most beloved divisions. On May 23, PIXAR Animation Studios was forced to lay off 75 employees, though news of the specific layoffs didn’t surface until early June. It’s the first time in more than ten years that the studio has seen a significant reduction in its creative workforce, according to Reuters.

The layoffs included some key players in the company’s rise to fame and profitability, including Angus MacLane, a veritable jack of all trades who worked as an animator, storyboard artist, filmmaker, and voice actor. During his time at PIXAR, he worked as an animator in every PIXAR feature film, from A Bug’s Life (1998) to Toy Story 3 (2010). MacLane also helped develop characters for PIXAR’s Monsters, Inc. (2001) and The Incredibles (2004) and co-directed Finding Dory (2016) before making his solo directorial debut with PIXAR’s box office bomb, Lightyear (2022).

But the layoff of veteran producer and real-life PIXAR superhero Galyn Susman has fans in an uproar.

PIXAR's Galyn Susman

Credit: PIXAR

Susman started with PIXAR in 1995 and has worked as an artist, a technical director, an effects supervisor, a producer, and more. If you have a favorite PIXAR film, chances are that Galyn Susman had a part in bringing the film to fruition. Her resume at PIXAR includes the following films and positions:

  • Toy Story (1995): lighting supervisor/modeling artist
  • A Bug’s Life (1998): modeling artist
  • Toy Story 2 (1999): supervising technical director
  • Monsters, Inc. (2001): simulation & effects supervisor
  • Finding Nemo (2003): studio tools r&d lead
  • Ratatouille (2007): associate producer
  • WALL-E (2008): end titles production management
  • Up (2009): DVD & promo production
  • Toy Story 3 (2010): DVD & promo production
  • Cars 2 (2011): DVD & promo production
  • Brave (2012): DVD & promo production
  • Toy Story OF TERROR! (2013): producer
  • Toy Story That Time Forgot (2014): producer
  • Cars 3 (2017): additional voice
  • Toy Story 4 (2019): producer
  • Lightyear (2022): producer

But Susman’s greatest contribution to PIXAR’s fame and history comes in the form of the best (actually true) “the dog ate my homework” story ever. Four years after Toy Story debuted at the box office, PIXAR added a sequel–Toy Story 2, which has been hailed by many critics as one of the few sequels that was actually better than its predecessor. In addition to that, PIXAR finished the entire project in only nine months. But something happened during those nine months that threatened to shelve the entire project–and ultimately, the entire franchise.

Production was underway on Toy Story 2, and had been for some time when an employee with PIXAR was doing some housekeeping with files that were no longer needed in the project. It’s a common practice, not unlike deleting photos from a cellphone when they’re no longer needed.

But the near-tragedy happened when the employee working on the deletion of data accidentally purged the wrong files–in fact, he accidentally applied a “remove” command to the root files that were used in every part of the film. Right before his eyes, things that had been synonymous with Toy Story began to disappear, including things like Woody’s trademark hat and his boots too.

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Credit: PIXAR Animation Studios

Then Woody himself disappeared, and none of the files were duplicates; they were root files. In an instant, Toy Story 2 and everything that went with it was gone. Even the catchy “Woody’s Round-Up” song!

One of PIXAR’s associate technical directors, Oren Jacob, saw Woody’s disappearing act, and out of sheer panic, he rushed to tell the systems crew to stop everything in the hopes that the deletions would stop, but when the dust settled, 90% of the film had been deleted. The studio had backup systems, but that day, animators discovered that the backup program had glitched out as well–and it had been doing so for almost a month, meaning there was no backup that could be used. Jacob called Galyn Susman, who was home on maternity leave, to tell her the bad news, but his phone call to Susman turned everything around.

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Credit: PIXAR Animation Studios

Susman had just welcomed her newborn son, Eli, but it wasn’t all bottles and burping for the PIXAR lead, who maximized the benefits of remote work and used her maternity leave to bond with Eli and direct one of PIXAR’s most popular and successful films from the comfort of her own home. Because she was going to be on leave, she had backed up the files for the entire film on her personal computer.

Woody and the gang would be saved–boots and all–as long as they could get the files back to the studio and upload everything in working order. This happened in the late 1990s, so it didn’t seem strange to anyone that a team of people came to Susman’s home, wrapped her computer in blankets, and seatbelted the mammoth PC into the backseat of her Volvo so nothing would be damaged or destroyed in the event of an accident. The film was saved, though not instantly, as there were thousands of files that had to be processed by employees one at a time. But ultimately, Susman and baby Eli were the reasons for the film’s revival–and why we still have the franchise today.

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Credit: PIXAR Animation Studios

This week, the internet is abuzz (no pun intended) with variations of the story of Susman’s heroic contributions to PIXAR–contributions that ultimately saved an animated film franchise that has grown to amass billions in revenue for Disney.

Galyn Susman’s departure from Pixar marks the end of an era, as her contributions to the studio and the beloved Toy Story franchise were undeniably substantial. Her ability to navigate challenges and safeguard the essence of storytelling showcased her passion for the craft. Although her involvement with PIXAR has come to an unfortunate conclusion, it is important to acknowledge the impact she made during her tenure.

Thanks to Susman’s prowess for preparation and preservation, as well as her quick thinking, the Toy Story franchise, which would have otherwise ended in 1999, continues to grow and expand today, as a fifth installment of the Toy Story franchise is currently in the works at PIXAR.

pixar toy story 5 woody and buzz

Credit: Disney/PIXAR/Canva

Disney’s apparent indifference to firing two of PIXAR’s most valuable employees doesn’t bode well for the House of Mouse. Though Disney remains profitable, the company continues to exude an air of pride and forgetfulness–about its fan base, about what it took to get to the 100th anniversary of the company, how the company became so profitable, and about what Guests want from their visits to Disney’s theme parks.

Disney’s decision to remove MacLane and Susman seems to perseverate that forgetfulness and pride, and everyone knows that pride comes before a fall. The company would do well to celebrate those who’ve played such invaluable roles in the development of the company along the way rather than counting them among its most “useless” and “replaceable” employees.

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!