John Lasseter, the co-founder of Pixar and chief creative officer of both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation took a leave from both companies back in 2017 over allegations of harassment and misconduct, including (as one anonymous source put it) “grabbing, kissing, [and] making comments about physical attributes” of women at Pixar—activities that Lasseter characterized as “unwanted hugs.” When he took his leave, Lasseter implied that he would be taking the holidays off and would return at some point in 2018, but according to a bombshell new report by The Hollywood Reporter, Lasseter will not be coming back to the house of mouse.
According to one sourcem, Disney CEO Bob Iger is “not anxious to take on defending somebody” with the reputation that Lasseter has, so it seems unlikely that he will be willingly take on the PR nightmare that welcoming Lasseter back would be. On top of that, another source who used to work at Pixar says that allowing him to return to Pixar would in fact “kill women in animation,” adding, “The message will be so clear: Shut up and take it.”
Surprisingly however, Lasseter’s issues at Pixar apparently go back a long time, with the THR story exploring years of bad behavior that the now-disgraced animation icon has been accused of. He would drink heavily at company parties, and he had a habit of bullying and belittling employees that would only get worse when he consumed alcohol. “That happy-ass guy in the Hawaiian shirt? That was a well-crafted persona,” says one former colleague.
Other sources spoke about Steve Jobs, once a majority shareholder and CEO at Pixar, was one of the few people who could keep Lasseter in check, and after he died Lasseter began to push employees around more and would force them out of the company if they refused to bend to his will. This would also ring true again when Pixar legend Joe Ranft suddenly died as a result of a car accident. The suggestion in the Hollywood Reporter piece is that Lasseter’s alleged behavior was an open secret at Disney and Pixar, but nobody wanted to do anything about it because they were afraid of him or because he had convinced everyone that he was the singular genius responsible for creating the studio’s biggest hits.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, there have been several stunning accusations against well-known actors and executives in Hollywood. But for me personally, this one hits home the most. Growing up as Pixar found its footing in the animation industry and as Disney reignited its animated film line, John Lasseter had always been presented as the modern Walt Disney and for me, he was someone I looked up to. WAS, being the key word. What Lasseter is being accused of by several past and present Pixar and Disney colleagues is terrible and, no matter what his contributions to animation may be, no person should conduct themselves in such a horrible manner. There are many parties at fault here, Disney as well for apparently trying to cover this up but none more so than Lasseter himself. This was someone who had helped create some of Disney’s most complex and compelling characters and now, he has tainted his own legacy (not that it was much of one anyway I guess since he reportedly mooched ideas off others, but you get the point). It is time for Disney to take this issue head on and move past the Lasseter era.
Reports are now saying that Iger is actively looking at potential candidates to replace Lasseter at both Pixar and Disney. Names floated include Pete Docter (Up, Inside Out) for Pixar and Rich Moore (Zootopia) and Jennifer Lee (Frozen) at Disney Animation. Only time will tell what Iger and the rest of Disney have in store for the future…