John Lasseter's Disney career is far from over despite the sexual harassment claims

John Lasseter (AP)
John Lasseter (AP)

When it comes to animation, no person in Hollywood is as well-respected as John Lasseter. The animator started his career at The Walt Disney Company and 20 years later he was being dubbed “the new Walt Disney” because of his groundbreaking contribution to the animated medium. Now, that respect is starting to dwindle because of accusations of alleged sexual misconduct levied against him by numerous female colleagues.

In the last 24 hours, Lasseter has issued a statement confirming his decision to take a six-month sabbatical from his role as Disney, Pixar’s chief creative officer – which he has held since 2006 – because of “missteps” he’s made in his position:

“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…It’s been brought to my attention that I have made some of you feel disrespected or uncomfortable. That was never my intent.”

Lasseter joins a long list of high-powered men in Hollywood who have been outed for alleged inappropriate behaviour spanning a significant time of their career. Harvey Weinstein was sacked from his own company and is facing criminal investigation in the US and the UK. Kevin Spacey was fired from House of Cards and replaced in his latest film, All the Money in the World, just six weeks before its release. Brett Ratner was removed as a producer from Wonder Woman 2 after Gal Gadot refused to work with him because of the multiple sexual assault and harassment complaints against him.

The entertainment careers of these men seem to be very much over but it’s unlikely that Lasseter will suffer the same sort of fate. That has everything to do with his status at Disney for revolutionising it’s animation division.

Lasseter was actually fired from the company the first time he worked there during the mid-80s, and went on to work for Lucasfilm’s computer graphic division. Not long after, Steve Jobs bought the company from George Lucas (who was going through a very expensive divorce) and it became Pixar with John at the helm. In 1995, the company released Toy Story – his feature-length directorial debut that earned him an Oscar – and it was both a critical and commercial success. That’s when Disney started to take notice again and began optioning more features including A Bug’s Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999) and Monsters, Inc. (2001).

John Lasseter directed the 1995 film Toy Story (Pixar)
John Lasseter directed the 1995 film Toy Story (Pixar)

At the same time, Disney’s own animation outputs started to stagnate; The Emperor’s New Groove (2000), Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) and Lilo & Stitch (2002) failed to achieve the same sort of box office figures as the feature films it had released in the 90s. Recognising the talent and box office draw of the computer animated stories Lasseter and his Pixar team were coming up with, Disney bought the company for $7.4 billion and it’s proven to be very much value for money.

Lasseter has made billions for Walt Disney Animation Studios after spearheading the lucrative Finding Nemo, Cars, The Incredibles and Toy Story franchises and clearly his bosses aren’t willing to let him go so soon. The statement released by Disney’s spokesperson certainly implies that:

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

It looks like the Disney powers-that-be think the allegations against Lasseter are too low-level to warrant a full dismissal from the company. Unlike the Weinsteins and Louis CKs of the world, the Disney executive hasn’t been forcing women to watch himself masturbate. His alleged harassment has been far less disturbing but still inappropriate if proven to be true.

The Hollywood Reporter spoke to current and former staff who said Lasseter would often give people unwanted hugs as well as invade their personal space, while other sources have suggested he has been known for “grabbing, kissing, making comments” to women for years.

In a statement to staff obtained by the entertainment news outlet, Lasseter seemed to downplay the accusations: “I especially want to apologise 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.”

At this point, it’s safe to say that Disney are hoping that a six-month sabbatical will be enough time for the story to blow over. However, it doesn’t mean more serious allegations won’t come out against Lasseter in the next few weeks. Most of these sexual harassment scandals started with one story before a flood of alleged victims followed suit with their own, emboldened by the fact that they aren’t the only ones. Only yesterday, celebrated news anchor Charlie Rose was sacked by CBS after several women came forward sexual assault allegations after an initial report in The Washington Post.

Tomorrow or next week, someone could come forward with more disturbing allegations against the Disney Pixar head that may force the company to take more drastic action, especially when considering the plans set in motion for the next few years.

Disney has a significant number of animated films in the pipeline including Toy Story 4 and The Incredibles 2 as well as a streaming platform expected to be launched in 2019. A continuing scandal against one of their top execs would negatively impact these releases and the integrity of the company. This may be the point that Lasseter would lose his highly-regarded standing at Disney, but unless some more serious allegations come out against him it’s safe to say this “self-imposed” exile will be the only form of atonement in his future.

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