Pixar co-founder John Lasseter is taking a six-month sabbatical as Walt Disney Animation Studios’ chief creative officer after possible misconduct during his leadership.
Lasseter, who co-founded Pixar in 1979 when it was under the purview of Lucasfilm, issued a memo on Tuesday, Nov. 20 to Disney/Pixar staff announcing his leave of absence and apologizing for his “missteps,” reports The Hollywood Reporter.
“It’s been brought to my attention that I have made some of you feel disrespected or uncomfortable,” he writes in the memo.
“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.
Lasseter, according to another report by THR, has made unwanted physical advances at women working at Pixar — including Rashida Jones, who left her writing post at Toy Story 4 because of his inappropriate behavior. Other sources have witnessed Lasseter kissing, hugging and touching women at Pixar's Emeryville office and during company events. He has an established reputation as a "hugger," a fact that has been documented since a USA Today feature on him published back in 2006.
Lasseter has been integral in Disney Studios' revitalization since 2006, when the conglomerate purchased Pixar. As chief creative officer of both studios, he executive produces or produces every Pixar and Walt Disney Animation project, including Frozen, Tangled, and Inside Out.
On Nov. 7, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at a fundraising event held by the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. Lasseter is also slated to speak at the Hanna Boys Center in Sonoma as part of the city’s Speaker Series in December. Lasseter is a longtime Sonoma County resident, where he owns a winery with his wife, Nancy.
"We are committed to maintaining an environment in which all employees are respected and empowered to do their best work," reads a statement to io9 by a Disney spokesperson. "We appreciate John’s candor and sincere apology and fully support his sabbatical."
Pixar’s latest project, Coco, will be released on Thanksgiving day.
The full memo can be found below.
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.