[Update 6 p.m.: Rashida Jones and Will McCormack have issued a statement to the New York Times clarifying that they “did not leave Pixar due to unwanted advances. That is untrue. We parted ways because of creative, and more importantly, philosophical differences.” The duo then go on to allege that Pixar is a culture where women and people of color do not have an equal creative voice,” pointing to the studio’s director demographics. Meanwhile, Vanity Fair reports that according to one current Pixar employee, “rumors have circulated within the studio over Inside Out and Up director Pete Docter taking the helm.” Our earlier story is below.]
On the same day that Coco hits theaters, industry icon John Lasseter said he’s taking an immediate leave of absence from Pixar and Walt Disney Animation — an announcement that came just minutes before a Hollywood Reporter story outlined a series of alarming transgressions and a pattern of concerning behavior from Lasseter.
One of the alleged incidents involved Rashida Jones, who had been co-writing Toy Story 4 with her writing partner Will McCormack when Lasseter reportedly made an unwanted advance, prompting her to exit the project. Disney is said to have chalked up her departure to “creative differences,” while Jones declined to respond to THR at all.
Lasseter is well-known in industry circles for hugging people, including his employees. But THR alleges that Lasseter’s unwanted behavior went further than long hugs, as it also included “grabbing” and “kissing,” with Pixar staffers often forced to quickly turn their heads to avoid his kisses — a move they reportedly called “the Lasseter.” Animation is a notorious boys club, and THR‘s sources also accuse Lasseter of having wandering hands, especially after he’d been drinking — both at social events and non-work settings.
The allegations couldn’t come at a worse time for Pixar, which has Coco opening on Tuesday night. I thought for sure that Lasseter’s powerful lawyers would do everything in their power to stall the publication of any story until after the release of Coco, but in the end, Lasseter rushed to get ahead of THR‘s story by announcing his leave of absence in a memo to staff — not that the pre-emptive move, or his self-imposed punishment (the leave will reportedly last six months) helped matters.
To be honest, I’m not sure Lasseter will be able to recover from this, nor do I think we’ve heard the last of this story. The fact that Lasseter essentially functions as not just a studio head, but the head of two animation studios, only compounds the severity of the situation. The fact of the matter is, you have to wonder how temporary the 60-year-old’s leave of absence will be — especially with Variety reporting that Pixar insiders have described a company culture that is “toxic” and “sexist” for women. Perhaps it’s time to retire and hand the reins to another member of the Pixar brain trust.
Disney, for its part, appeared to stand by Lasseter and accept his apology. “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 that appeared on Deadline. “We appreciate John’s candor and sincere apology and fully support his sabbatical.”
Clearly, this is a sad story all around, but it’s heartening to see that those who have abused their power in this industry are finally being called out on their behavior in spectacular fashion. Expect more jaw-dropping names like this to surface in the coming weeks, because as others before me have written, this is just the beginning of The Reckoning.
Read Lasseter’s full memo 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.
Jeff Sneider | Editor in Chief