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Pixar’s John Lasseter taking leave of absence after sexual harassment complaints

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The executive apologizes for making women feel ‘disrespected or uncomfortable’

Disney's D23 EXPO 2017 Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney

John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, is taking a six-month leave of absence in the wake of complaints about his professional behavior. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Lasseter announced the news in a staff memo on Tuesday, where he admitted to “missteps” and behavior that left employees feeling “disrespected or uncomfortable.”

“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,” he writes in the memo. “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.”

Lasseter has been a creative force in animation since the 1980s. As an early employee of Pixar, he directed the first two Toy Story films, and he’s been a core member of the company’s creative brain trust since the company was founded. When Disney bought Pixar in 2006, Lasseter became chief creative officer of both Pixar and Disney Animation. After taking on dual duties, he has overseen a creative revitalization of Disney’s animated output, leading to films like Frozen, Tangled, and Wreck-It Ralph.

But a second story from the Reporter details complaints about Lasseter’s behavior toward women going back more than a decade. Lasseter is described as an enthusiastic hugger, but the allegations go far beyond that. According to the story, women in the company resorted to a move they nicknamed “The Lasseter” to prevent the executive from putting his hands on their legs without consent, while another source stated photos from company events had been strategically cropped to remove evidence of impropriety.

The story also alleges that writer and actor Rashida Jones — who co-wrote the upcoming Toy Story 4 — left the project after the executive made an unwanted advance toward her.

The news comes as Hollywood is undergoing a massive shake-up in the wake of sexual assault allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein. In the weeks since that story first broke, Amazon Studios head Roy Price was forced to step down after allegations about his behavior became public, while actor Kevin Spacey was fired from House of Cards and dropped by his representatives after multiple stories alleged sexual assault and other behavior. Comedian Louis CK also admitted to long-standing rumors about his treatment of women, leading to the canceled release of his latest film and the collapse of deals with FX and HBO.

The throughline in most of these stories — other then powerful men abusing that power — is the entertainment industry’s quick-snap reaction to cut ties with the individuals in question. (Director Ridley Scott even went so far as to recast Spacey’s role in a movie that was already shot, and is set to come out next month.) While it’s taken some time for that momentum to build in the wake of the original Weinstein accusations, in Louis CK’s case, the network FX made a move within a day.

While the current allegations against Lasseter are not as extreme as the ones CK admitted to, they nevertheless present a tremendous problem for Disney and Pixar. Not only would it be difficult to restore a culture of trust given the long-standing nature of the allegations, but Lasseter has also become an increasingly visible surrogate for both Pixar and Disney, frequently introducing the company’s animated films at events like the annual D23 Expo convention. That fact alone practically ensures that the Lasseter news will engulf coverage of Pixar’s latest film, Coco, which is scheduled to open on Thanksgiving. There have been no announcements about formal investigations into Lasseter’s behavior.