Disney Animation head John Lasseter announced today that he is taking a six-month sabbatical from Pixar Studios as a result of "painful" and "difficult" conversations that he has had with Disney about actions he describes as "missteps."
In a statement that has been obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, John Lasseter says that it has been brought to his attention that he has "made some of you feel disrespected and uncomfortable." While he says that it was never his intention, Lasseter acknowledges that his actions around co-workers -- from "an unwanted hug" to "any other gesture they felt crossed the line" -- has created a rift in the creative culture at Pixar.
This announcement appears to arrive on the heels of a separate story at THR, where the trade reports that Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, the credited writers on Toy Story 4, left after Lasseter made an unwanted advance on Jones. The trade publication cites accounts by former Pixar insiders to say that Lasseter's alleged advance on Jones was not an isolated event. There are details in the THR piece about maneuvers Pixar employees would adopt to block unwanted physical advances from Lasseter.
John Lasseter's name has been associated with Pixar Animation Studios from the earliest days. He has been front and center as the animation studio rose from pioneering storytelling outfit -- with the release of Toy Story, A Bug's Life and Monsters Inc. -- to an industry behemoth with the ability to earn Oscars and box-office receipts with each new release.
Lasseter's name, however, now is caught up in the current string of allegations being levied at power brokers in Hollywood who might have a reputation for being aggressive with female co-workers and possible collaborators. The floodgate of accusations started around the time that Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual allegations. Since then, the list of potential aggravators has grown longer with each passing day.
Here is the memo John Lasseter sent to Pixar employees, as obtained by The Hollywood Reporter:
I have always wanted our animation studios to be places where creators can explore their vision with the support and collaboration of other gifted animators and storytellers. This kind of creative culture takes constant vigilance to maintain. It's built on trust and respect, and it becomes fragile if any members of the team don't feel valued. As a leader, it's my responsibility to ensure that doesn't happen; and I now believe I have been falling short in this regard.
I've recently had a number of difficult conversations that have been very painful for me. It's never easy to face your missteps, but it's the only way to learn from them. As a result, I've been giving a lot of thought to the leader I am today compared to the mentor, advocate and champion I want to be. It's been brought to my attention that I have made some of you feel disrespected or uncomfortable. That was never my intent. Collectively, you mean the world to me, and I deeply apologize if I have let you down. I especially want to apologize to anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of an unwanted hug or any other gesture they felt crossed the line in any way, shape, or form. No matter how benign my intent, everyone has the right to set their own boundaries and have them respected.
In my conversations with Disney, we are united in our commitment to always treat any concerns you have with the seriousness they deserve, and to address them in an appropriate manner. We also share a desire to reinforce the vibrant, respectful culture that has been the foundation of our studios' success since the beginning. And we agree the first step in that direction is for me to take some time away to reflect on how to move forward from here. As hard as it is for me to step away from a job I am so passionate about and a team I hold in the highest regard, not just as artists but as people, I know it's the best thing for all of us right now. My hope is that a six-month sabbatical will give me the opportunity to start taking better care of myself, to recharge and be inspired, and ultimately return with the insight and perspective I need to be the leader you deserve.
I'm immensely proud of this team, and I know you will continue to wow the world in my absence. I wish you all a wonderful holiday season and look forward to working together again in the new year.
In 2007, John Lasseter shifted away from Pixar Animation Studios to oversee the films at Walt Disney Animation Studios, helping that division deliver such hits as Bolt, Tangled and Frozen. Pixar, meanwhile, has a new movie reaching theaters this weekend in Coco, a musical from Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich.