John Lasseter, the head of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios and one of the most powerful figures in the entertainment industry, acknowledged Tuesday that he had crossed the line with employees. He is taking a six-month leave of absence.
Lasseter sent a memo to staff apologizing for making employees feel disrespected or uncomfortable, Variety has confirmed.
“That was never my intent,” he wrote. “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.”
Lasseter is taking a leave as several prominent Hollywood figures are grappling with allegations of sexual harassment. His name has continued to be mentioned privately, with a number of former Pixar employees telling Variety that he has behaved inappropriately and describing a culture at the company as “toxic” and “sexist” for women. His leave was first reported by the Hollywood Reporter.
Lasseter is the most influential figure in animation, and has been a driving force for some of the most beloved family films of the past two decades. As the co-founder of Pixar, he led the development of computer animation, while creating critical and popular successes such as “Toy Story” and “Wall-E” (he recently stepped down from co-directing “Toy Story 4,” with Josh Cooley taking over).
When Disney bought Pixar in 2006, Lasseter took the helm of Walt Disney Animation Studios, and helped rejuvenate the brand with hits such as “Frozen” and “Wreck-It Ralph.” Frequently outfitted in Hawaiian shirts, Lasseter has long been known as an ebullient figure around the studio’s Emeryville, Calif., offices, and is a prolific hugger.
Since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke in October, however, some female employees have begun to discuss how Lasseter’s behavior has crossed boundaries, describing it as creepy. In the letter to employees, Lasseter acknowledged that he has “recently had a number of difficult conversations that have been very painful for me.”
Pixar has long been known as a “boys club,” though the company has taken steps in recent years to acknowledge and encourage its female employees.
“We are committed to maintaining an environment in which all employees are respected and empowered to do their best work,” a Disney spokesperson said in a statement. “We appreciate John’s candor and sincere apology and fully support his sabbatical.”
In the memo, Lasseter said he would return to the company in the new year.
“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,” he wrote.
The full memo:
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.