John Lasseter, the head of Walt Disney Animation Studios, overseer of Pixar Animation Studios, and a giant in the industry, is taking a leave of absence as anonymous sources allege that he engaged in inappropriate behavior.
The news of Lasseter’s sabbatical came just minutes before a new Hollywood Reporter story broke in which multiple unnamed “former Pixar insiders as well as sources in the animation community” accuse Lasseter of a pattern of misconduct. One “longtime Pixar employee” reportedly said that Lasseter made a habit of “grabbing, kissing, making comments about physical attributes” and drinks heavily at social events and premieres. Others in the story allege that women at Pixar would routinely turn their heads to avoid a kiss from Lasseter and that Lasseter would touch women inappropriately at meetings and company functions.
The Hollywood Reporter story also cites anonymous sources who claim that an unwanted advance from Lasseter is the reason that Rashida Jones and writing partner Will McCormack stopped working on Toy Story 4. Jones and McCormack have denied this to the New York Times in a joint statement, attributing their departure to an environment they say is unfair to women and minorities:
The breakneck speed at which journalists have been naming the next perpetrator renders some reporting irresponsible, and, in fact, counterproductive for the people who do want to tell their stories. The Hollywood Reporter does not speak for us. We did not leave Pixar because of unwanted advances. That is untrue. We parted ways because of creative and, more importantly, philosophical differences. There is so much talent at Pixar, and we remain enormous fans of their films. However, it is also a culture where women and people of color do not have an equal creative voice.
Disney declined to comment on the story to the Hollywood Reporter, but in an internal staff memo obtained by THR and confirmed by Variety, Lasseter announced that he would be taking a leave of absence, writing that he recently had “a number of difficult conversations” and referring to unspecified “missteps.”
The memo continues:
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.
Lasseter also wrote that he would be taking a six-month sabbatical 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.”
Update, Nov. 21, 9:15 p.m.: This post has been updated with Rashida Jones and Will McCormack’s statement to the New York Times.