Disney Animation Head Takes Leave Amid Misconduct Allegations

John Lasseter, the executive behind Disney hits Frozen and Moana, has taken a leave of absence, citing painful conversation and missteps.

The Hollywood Reporter said it was preparing a story on Lasseter, head of Disney Animation and a founder of Pixar, when he announced his leave.

The story details Lasseter’s history of grabbing, kissing and making comments about physical attributes of women at Pixar. It alleges actress and writer Rashida Jones left Toy Story 4 because of an unwanted advance by the executive.

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In his memo to employees, he said: “It’s been brought to my attention that I have made some of you feel disrespected or uncomfortable. That was never my intent.”

Disney acquired Pixar in 2006. Lasseter directed Toy Story and Toy Story 2. He was put in charge of Walt Disney Animation Studios, which has produced films including Zootopia and Coco, set to be released this week.

Pixar films have grossed more than $6 billion domestically.

Related: CBS Cuts Ties to Charlie Rose

Here is Lasseter’s memo, obtained by the Hollywood Reporter:

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.

Lasseter's leave of absence comes amid a series of reports of sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry, which have seen the downfall of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey, comedian Louis C.K. and most recently CBS News anchor Charlie Rose, among others.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.