Lasseter, who was chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar, has been on a “sabbatical” since Nov. 21, when he sent a memo to staff apologizing for “unwanted hugs.” Female employees told Variety at the time that Lasseter had a reputation for touching women inappropriately in the office, including rubbing their legs and kissing them on the lips. Lasseter was also reprimanded for making out with a subordinate at an Oscar party in 2010, sources told Variety.
Over the last two weeks, many in the animation community have urged Disney to oust Lasseter for good. Social media users adopted the tag #LoseLasseter. Though Lasseter was executive producer of “Incredibles 2,” he did not appear at the film’s premiere on Tuesday.
In a statement on Friday, the company said that Lasseter will take a consulting role until Dec. 31, when he will leave the company. The statement did not acknowledge the reasons for Lasseter’s departure, nor did it give any indication that the company investigated his conduct.
“John had a remarkable tenure at Pixar and Disney Animation, reinventing the animation business, taking breathtaking risks, and telling original, high quality stories that will last forever,” CEO Bob Iger said. “We are profoundly grateful for his contributions, which included a masterful and remarkable turnaround of The Walt Disney Animation Studios. One of John’s greatest achievements is assembling a team of great storytellers and innovators with the vision and talent to set the standard in animation for generations to come.”
In his own statement, Lasseter said, “The last six months have provided an opportunity to reflect on my life, career and personal priorities. While I remain dedicated to the art of animation and inspired by the creative talent at Pixar and Disney, I have decided the end of this year is the right time to begin focusing on new creative challenges. I am extremely proud of what two of the most important and prolific animation studios have achieved under my leadership and I’m grateful for all of the opportunities to follow my creative passion at Disney.”
Disney did not announce a replacement for Lasseter at either studio. It is believed that Jennifer Lee, the writer-director of “Frozen,” is the frontrunner at Walt Disney Animation Studios, while Pete Docter, the director of “Inside Out” and “Up,” is the top contender at Pixar.
Lasseter is not expected to have an office at Disney or Pixar during the period of his consultancy. Several Disney employees have told Variety they would be uncomfortable with Lasseter’s continued employment at the studio.
“It feels very weird he can stay on payroll for the next six or seven months. They do know there’s a problem,” said one Disney employee. “It doesn’t feel like a great compromise.”
Lasseter was the most influential animator since Walt Disney. He joined Pixar in 1984, when it was still just a division of Lucasfilm. Together with Ed Catmull and others, he pioneered the use of computer animation in a series of short films. He directed the company’s breakout hit, “Toy Story,” in 1995. He oversaw the company’s remarkable run of hits and its exponential growth. When the company was sold to Disney in 2006 for $7.4 billion, Lasseter was put in charge of Disney’s moribund animation operation, and helped revive it as well. Lasseter also had a hand in the theme parks, making him perhaps Disney’s second-most valued employee after Iger.
Lasseter was a dominant personality at Pixar, and the company was largely shaped by his enthusiasms as well as his blind spots. Lasseter was known to drink to excess at wrap parties, and was also known as a hugger around the office. Some employees appreciated the physical affection, while others felt he lacked boundaries. At various times, Lasseter had minders who were tasked with reining in his impulses.
While Pixar was an astonishing success, Lasseter’s legacy will also reflect its struggles with gender representation. The company waited almost 20 years to produce a film with a girl in the lead role, “Brave,” and when it did, the female director was fired and replaced by a man. Women within the company complained that their careers were stifled, or that their ideas were not afforded adequate weight.
Last fall, Rashida Jones explained her departure as a writer on “Toy Story 4” by pointing to “creative and philosophical differences,” saying that Pixar had developed “a culture where women and people of color do not have an equal creative voice.”
Disney declined to comment beyond its official statement.