The industry backlash to Skydance tapping former Walt Disney Animation/Pixar boss John Lasseter as its new head of Animation was immediate today from Time’s Up and Women and Hollywood. Both groups took great concern with the hasty forgiveness bestowed upon an executive with an alleged history of sexual harassment.
“I believe in second chances, and I believe we should push the dialogue forward,” said a rival animation exec about Lasseter’s situation in the #MeToo era, “but this is challenging for anyone, not just women.”
In the wake of #MeToo, some question whether there’s a way back for some of these men who’ve been accused (and who are apologetic), particularly a legacy executive such as Lasseter who possess an unprecedented track record — his Pixar slate has generated $13 billion at the global box office — and isn’t mired in criminal trials like Harvey Weinstein or, for that matter, has a police record. Yet many females working in animation today were aghast at the news of Lasseter’s hiring. We also hear that executives at Paramount, which distributes, markets and co-finances Skydance’s movies, also were caught off guard about the Lasseter news. (That said, we also understand that there’s no talk internally at the studio about their refusal to handle any Skydance Animation titles).
But as Lasseter boldly begins work at Skydance Animation later this month, he’ll have a huge uphill battle in replicating his Pixar success at his new employer.
First and foremost, Lasseter’s sins of the past continue to haunt him. For example: Would any female film director or executive want to work for him? There already are a number of key female executives at Paramount and Skydance who’ll have to deal with him in the animation sphere. If Lasseter is looking to right his ship, it would be noble of him to hire a female executive. However, many believe that gesture would trigger another backlash from #MeToo and Time’s Up proponents. “It would be difficult,” said one rival animation executive about a potential female hire by Lasseter. “She could be perceived as being complicit.”
If Skydance Animation winds up becoming an all-guy shop, that’s also awful for diversity optics. Woman and Hollywood chief Melissa Silverstein called Lasseter’s hiring by Skydance “a message to all that the bro culture is alive and well and thriving in Hollywood.” In a note to his staff, Skydance CEO David Ellison said that the studio “has not entered into this decision lightly,” that Lasseter has admitted to his mistakes and an internal investigation revealed no hiccups prior to his hire. However, much like Louis C.K.’s recent return to the mic, many in town believe that Lasseter is returning too soon and that his apology tour should have lasted much longer. For Time’s Up, that includes having to “demonstrate true remorse, work deeply to reform your behavior and deliver restitution to those you harmed.” Word is that Lasseter has been working with a coach and seeing a therapist to analyze his behavior.
At Disney, Lasseter was accused of unwanted physical contact with female subordinates — from the “hugs” he acknowledged in a statement of contrition to darker accounts of unsolicited kisses and groping that sources confided to Deadline. Variety‘s Brent Lang reported tonight that Lasseter’s contract with seven-figure-plus box office bonuses comes with “ironclad” provisions that hold him responsible for all legal fees from any future misbehavior but also indemnifies Skydance from his past misdeeds should any accusations arise again.
Another notable reaction from executives in the animation world today about Lasseter’s Skydance appointment: They do not believe that the simple combination of awesome financing plus Lasseter easily equals Pixar 2.0. Many say Lasseter is in his zenith when working with a brain trust — guys like Pete Docter and Brad Bird, among several others — and that’s precisely what he’ll need in order to emulate any facet of his Disney success, which also included generating $8 billion globally in Cars merchandise and having his fingerprints on Disney’s California Adventure. Once a flagging theme park with 6.2M attendance in 2010, California Adventure flourished to 9.6M in 2017 following the opening of the executive’s Cars Land in 2012. Skydance insiders say Lasseter does have supporters who indeed would follow him to his new place of employment. However, there is word that Lasseter has a non-compete with Disney and feasibly can’t poach Pixar talent.
His immediate task at hand in reviving Skydance Animation is assessing its partnership with Madrid-based Ilion Animation Studios, the two pics in the pipeline — Alessandro Carloni’s Luck and Vicky Jenson’s untitled action fantasy — and whether to expand the Skydance Animation L.A.-based staff, which numbers between 60-70. Sources say the reason Disney waited so long to decide on Lasseter’s fate was because its execs worried about him being a competitor.
They can stop worrying.