John Lasseter, the head of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation, is taking a leave of absence after allegations of inappropriate behaviour that included touching and hugging his female employees without their consent.
In a memo to his staff on Tuesday, Lasseter said, “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.”
According to a story in The Hollywood Reporter, Rashida Jones, one of the writers on the animated movie Toy Story 4, and her writing partner Will McCormack, left the project after Lasseter, made an “unwanted advance”.
“Based on the accounts of former Pixar insiders as well as sources in the animation community, the alleged incident was not an isolated occurrence,” the report says. “One longtime Pixar employee says Lasseter, who is well-known for hugging employees and others in the entertainment community, was also known by insiders for ‘grabbing, kissing, making comments about physical attributes.’”
The report added, “Sources say some women at Pixar knew to turn their heads quickly when encountering him to avoid his kisses. Some used a move they called ‘the Lasseter’ to prevent their boss from putting his hands on their legs.”
In his memo, Lassetter wrote, “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.”
Lasseter is credited as the visionary filmmaker who transformed Pixar’s fortunes, starting with Toy Story (1995). He has been heading Walt Disney Animation since 2006, and “lead a revival that included such gigantic hits as Frozen and Inside Out”, The Hollywood Reporter said.
Pixar has won eight Oscars for its animated films, while Lasseter has two golden statuettes to his credit. Among the upcoming Pixar productions are The Incredibles 2 and Toy Story 4, and the Wreck It Ralph sequel. Pixar’s latest movie Coco will be released in India on November 24.