Tuesday , December 11 2018
Home / Business / Pixar Co-Founder to Leave Disney After ‘Missteps’

Pixar Co-Founder to Leave Disney After ‘Missteps’

Pixar Co-Founder to Leave Disney After ‘Missteps’

Image
John Lasseter, a co-founder of Pixar, has long been one of Disney’s most important creative executives, serving as a force behind the “Toy Story,” “Cars” and “Frozen” franchises.CreditBrendan Mcdermid/Reuters

LOS ANGELES — John Lasseter, the animation titan who has been on leave from the Walt Disney Company following complaints about unwanted workplace hugging, will not return to the conglomerate.

Disney said on Friday that Mr. Lasseter — the creative force behind the billion-dollar “Toy Story,” “Cars” and “Frozen” franchises — would take on a consulting role at the company until the end of the year and then leave permanently. He will not have an office in the interim.

Mr. Lasseter, 61, served as chief creative officer of Pixar Animation Studios, which he helped found, and the separate Walt Disney Animation studio. Disney did not name replacements. Jennifer Lee, a director of “Frozen,” is expected to be promoted at Walt Disney Animation, and Pete Docter, the director of films like “Up” and “Inside Out,” is expected to take on greater responsibilities at Pixar, according to a person briefed on the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because plans had not been finalized.

A self-described Peter Pan, Mr. Lasseter has long been known for his jolly public persona and tendency to greet anyone in his proximity — subordinates, stars, fans, reporters — with lengthy bear hugs. In 2011, The Wall Street Journal published a photo slide show of his frequent squeezes, saying he had handed out at least 48 of them in one day at the office.

Mr. Lasseter said in November that he would take a “six-month sabbatical” after unspecified “missteps” that made some staff members feel “disrespected or uncomfortable.” He made the announcement in a lengthy email to employees apologizing “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.”

The email came as the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements gained momentum in Hollywood. It also coincided with an article in The Hollywood Reporter that cited “grabbing, kissing and making comments about physical attributes” as recurring behavior by Mr. Lasseter in meetings and at work events, particularly when consuming alcohol.

Since then, he has kept a low profile in Hollywood, skipping the Academy Awards in March, when Pixar’s “Coco” won the Oscar for best feature animation, and spending time in Italy and New Zealand. He did not attend the premiere on Tuesday for Pixar’s latest film, “Incredibles 2,” which will be released in theaters on June 15 and is expected to be a box office juggernaut.

In a statement announcing Mr. Lasseter’s departure, Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive, did not address the reasons. Mr. Iger instead emphasized Mr. Lasseter’s achievements, crediting him with “reinventing the animation business, taking breathtaking risks and telling original, high-quality stories that will last forever.” Mr. Iger also said that Mr. Lasseter was leaving behind “a team of great storytellers and innovators.”

Mr. Lasseter said in a statement that he had concluded that the time had come “to begin focusing on new creative challenges.”

He added, “I remain dedicated to the art of animation and inspired by the creative talent at Pixar and Disney.”

The accusations against Mr. Lasseter did not rise to the level of those against powerful Hollywood figures like Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of severe sexual misconduct going back decades, and Bill Cosby, who was found guilty in April of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman.

But Mr. Lasseter’s sabbatical revealed other areas of concern. Disney conducted what it called a “day of listening” in February as part of an effort to improve the culture at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation. Multiple staff members told managers that Mr. Lasseter had become increasingly domineering, according to two people who work at the company, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the process was private.

The decision to part ways with Mr. Lasseter was a complicated one.

People in Mr. Lasseter’s camp contended that he had been unfairly swept up in the Time’s Up movement and that his behavior did not warrant his ouster. Allowing him to return to his old job, or at least a similar one, would prevent Wall Street from worrying about the health of Disney’s animation engines. It would also prevent Mr. Lasseter, an executive widely heralded as a creative genius, from going to work for a competitor.

But retaining Mr. Lasseter would have divided employees, leaving some women particularly unhappy. The tension was palpable at the “Incredibles 2” premiere. The insiders in attendance raucously cheered as credits for the principal creative team appeared on the screen. But the theater became noticeably quieter when Mr. Lasseter’s name appeared as an executive producer.

In recent weeks, a #LoseLasseter campaign had appeared on Twitter.

Pixar has been criticized over the years as a boy’s club. Women have produced Pixar hits, but only one of Pixar’s 20 feature films, “Brave,” has a credited female director. That woman, Brenda Chapman, was fired halfway through production after she clashed with Mr. Lasseter. Ms. Chapman subsequently joined DreamWorks Animation, telling The New York Times in 2013 that “you can butt heads here and not be punished for it, unlike at another place I could name.”

Mr. Lasseter’s supporters have pointed out that he hired Ms. Lee as a director of “Frozen,” which was praised for its departure from Disney’s romantic “princess” formula. She is now working on “Frozen 2,” which is set for release in November 2019. Pixar has also started to focus more on female lead characters, including Joy in “Inside Out” and Dory the forgetful fish in “Finding Dory.”

But Rashida Jones, the actress and writer, said in November that she left a Pixar assignment early because of the way the studio treated female and minority employees.

“There is so much talent at Pixar, and we remain enormous fans of their films,” Ms. Jones and her writing partner, Will McCormack, said in a statement at the time. “However, it is also a culture where women and people of color do not have an equal creative voice.”

Ed Catmull, 73, a Pixar co-founder, remains president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios. Disney also has a deep bench of animation superstars, including the directors Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”), Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo”), Byron Howard (“Zootopia”) and Lee Unkrich (“Toy Story 3”).

Disney could gain animation leaders from its pending acquisition of 21st Century Fox assets, which include Blue Sky Studios. Blue Sky, founded by a group of animation innovators including Chris Wedge, is known for the “Ice Age” franchise.

Because of his enormous creative input across the entertainment conglomerate, Mr. Lasseter has been heralded in the news media as a latter-day Walt Disney. And the company held Mr. Lasseter up as a celebrity.

At a D23 Expo fan event in 2015, for instance, there was a museum-style exhibit of 20 of his most prized Hawaiian shirts. (He has more than 1,000.)

In recent years, however, Mr. Lasseter has stumbled at times. Disney was forced to scrap “Gigantic,” an animated take on “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and took a $ 98 million write-down. “The Good Dinosaur” in 2015 was a box office failure, and “Cars 2” in 2011 was Pixar’s first critical dud.

Mr. Lasseter, who also operates a winery in Sonoma County with his wife, Nancy, nonetheless pushed forward “Cars 3,” which received improved reviews but stalled at the box office. Sales of related toys were also disappointing.

Mr. Lasseter’s association with Disney started while he was a teenager. He worked at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., where he skippered a Jungle Cruise boat. He grew up in nearby Whittier, where his mother was an art teacher and father worked as a parts manager at a car dealership.

After graduating from the California Institute of the Arts, Mr. Lasseter started his animation career at Disney in 1978 but was fired a few years later. Disney was still clinging to hand-drawn animation, and Mr. Lasseter insisted that the future of animation involved computer graphics. He went on to help found Pixar, which is based near San Francisco.

Pixar became famous for its noncorporate atmosphere — encouraging artists to combine work with play as a way to spark creativity. The Pixar campus has a swimming pool and a basketball court.

Walt Disney Animation, struggling after years of cost-cutting and box office misfires like “Treasure Planet,” paid $ 7.4 billion for Pixar in 2006, or $ 9.4 billion in today’s money. Mr. Iger put Mr. Lasseter and Mr. Catmull in charge of turning around the Burbank-based Walt Disney Animation studio.

Mr. Lasseter, shuttling endlessly by jet between Northern and Southern California, was also given a role at Imagineering, Disney’s theme-park research and design division, where he advised on popular, Pixar-based attractions like Cars Land and Toy Story Mania. He also had major input at Disney Consumer Products, the world’s No. 1 licenser.

After a few stops and starts, Mr. Lasseter and Mr. Catmull resuscitated Disney’s well-known cartoon studio, delivering one of the biggest hits in the company’s history: “Frozen,” which has spawned theme park attractions, a Broadway musical, touring ice-skating shows and toys galore.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

NYT > Business Day

About Golden Turtle

Name: Phạm Kim Quy - Phone: +84932373830 - Email: [email protected]

Check Also

Huawei Executive’s Lawyers Fight for Bail Ahead of Extradition Decision

Supported by Huawei Executive’s Lawyers Fight for Bail Ahead of Extradition Decision Image Outside British ...