Disney Animation, Pixar chief John Lasseter taking leave after 'missteps' with employees

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Pixar co-founder and Walt Disney Animation chief John Lasseter is taking a six-month leave of absence citing "missteps" with employees. (KABC)

Pixar co-founder and Walt Disney Animation chief John Lasseter is taking a six-month leave of absence citing "missteps" with employees.

In an internal memo sent to company members, Lasseter says he knows he has made some employees feel disrespected and uncomfortable. He apologized to anyone who has received an unwanted hug or gesture and to those he has "let down."

"It's never easy to face your missteps, but it's the only way to learn from them," the memo states.

Among those allegedly subjected to unwanted advances from Lasseter was actress Rashida Jones. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Jones was a writer on the upcoming "Toy Story 4" but left the project after an unwanted advance from Lasseter.

Jones, however, issued a statement denying the report. She said she and her writing partner, Will McCormack, left the project because of creative and philosophical differences.

The two issued a statement that said in part: "We did not leave Pixar because of unwanted advances. That is untrue. That said, we are happy to see people speaking out about behavior that made them uncomfortable. As for us, we parted ways because of creative and, more importantly, philosophical differences."

They also criticized the company for a lack of racial and gender diversity in the hiring of directors: "There is so much talent at Pixar and we remain enormous fans of their films. But it is also a culture where women and people of color do not have an equal creative voice, as is demonstrated by their director demographics: out of the 20 films in the company's history, only one was co-directed by a woman and only one was directed by a person of color."

The Hollywood Reporter account also detailed a culture in which Lasseter was known to hug, kiss and grope female employees, to the point where women had to learn how to act to avoid him putting his hands on their legs.

Disney released this statement about Lasseter:

We are committed to maintaining an environment in which all employees are respected and empowered to do their best work. We appreciate John's candor and sincere apology and fully support his sabbatical.

Lasseter is known for directing films like "Toy Story" and "Cars" and has produced every Pixar feature since "Monster's, Inc." He has been the chief creative officer for Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios since 2006, overseeing hits like "Frozen" and "Moana."

Read Lasseter's complete internal 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.

John


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Disney is the parent company of ABC7.

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