John Lasseter, co-founder of Pixar and chief creative officer for Pixar and Walt Disney Animation, is the latest high-profile Hollywood power player to take a leave of absence amid charges of sexual harassment—or, as he puts it, “unwanted hugs.” Lasseter uses that very Disney-esque phrase in a memo to his employees reprinted in The Hollywood Reporter, in which he acknowledges his “missteps” and recent “difficult conversations” he’s had with staff.
“It’s been brought to my attention that I have made some of you feel disrespected or uncomfortable,” he writes, adding, “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.” Lasseter goes on to say that he will be taking a six-month leave of absence from Pixar “to start taking better care of myself, to recharge and be inspired,” after which point it sounds like he will return to the company in his previous position.
A new story in The Hollywood Reporter released just after the news of Lasseter’s leave of absence broke paints a less rosy picture, with an anonymous Pixar employee telling the publication that Lasseter was known not only for those unwanted hugs, but also for “grabbing, kissing, [and] making comments about physical attributes” at social events and in the office. Other anonymous sources say that women at Pixar had perfected their techniques to deflect Lasseter’s propensity for kisses and wandering hands, including a defensive posture, known internally as “the Lasseter,” designed to keep him from putting his hands on their thighs in meetings. The same sources allege that although she’s still credited as a writer on the film, Rashida Jones and her writing partner Will McCormack left Toy Story 4 early on after an “unwanted advance” from Lasseter.
Lasseter, who made his feature directorial debut with 1996’s Toy Story, is named as a producer or executive producer on every Pixar film, and as an executive producer on all Walt Disney Animation films. He’s been credited with overseeing Disney Animation’s return to prominence with recent efforts like Frozen and Moana. The full memo sent out earlier today to Disney Animation staff is 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.