UPDATED with a statement from Women in Animation.
The Walt Disney Co.’s decision Friday to part ways with Pixar co-founder John Lasseter ends months of speculation about whether he would return to the two animation studios that thrived under his creative influence, but came without acknowledging the “misdeeds” that led to his abrupt departure on sabbatical over six months ago.
Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger issued a statement lauding Lasseter for reinventing animation, taking “breathtaking risks,” telling original stories and for revitalizing The Walt Disney Animation Studio. He was silent on the reason for the chief creative officer’s exit.
Lasseter, who was the creative force behind such billion-dollar franchises as Toy Story and Cars, had been accused of unwanted physical contact with female subordinates — from the “hugs” he acknowledged in a statement of contrition last fall to darker accounts of unsolicited kisses and groping that sources confided to Deadline. Disney placed Lasseter on sabbatical in November after he admitting to vague “missteps.”
Disney, which acted decisively in the case of Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet, reportedly spent months evaluating the claims against Lasseter. In February, Walt Disney Animation Studios held a “day of listening” to allow the animation staff to air workplace concerns.
As recently as last month, sources floated the possibility of Lasseter returning to Disney in a role that would retain his creative input but limit his managerial responsibilities.
But one well-placed source told Deadline there was a gathering sense that the employees didn’t really want Lasseter to return. Some even threatened to quit, according to another person familiar with the matter. Indeed, some in the animation community started a #LoseLasseter campaign on social media and launched a petition on Change.org demanding his ouster.
“If Lasseter is allowed to return, it is not only an insult to the current contributions of hundreds of employees that contribute more to the company’s success, but also will demonstrate that such behavior will be tolerated by Disney-Pixar,” Animation Heroine wrote in a Change.org petition that has attracted 68 signatures. “Lasseter’s return would be a direct dismissal of those he has hurt, and his continued presence would contribute to an unsafe environment of mistrust.”
Women in Animation President Marge Dean said the world changed last fall because courageous women spoke up.
“‘Misconduct’ is no longer tolerated in the work place and the safety of all employees has become a priority for our industry,” Dean said. “Women in Animation supports and celebrates that change with the expectation that it will encourage retention of women in the animation workforce.”
Lasseter will serve in a consulting role at Disney throughout the end of the year, after which time he’ll look for something new. His attorney did not respond to requests for comment.
“The last six months have provided an opportunity to reflect on my life, career and personal priorities,” Lasseter said in a statement. “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.”
Insiders say expect Frozen director Jennifer Lee to be promoted at Walt Disney Animation, and Pete Docter, director of films Up and Monsters, Inc., to take on greater responsibilities at Pixar. That scenario was first reported by The New York Times.
On the heels of the corporate drama, Pixar’s Incredibles 2 opens next weekend.