Pixar co-founder to leave Disney after 'missteps'

Brooks Barnes
John Lasseter speaks onstage during 'Inside the House of Disney' at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit in San Francisco, California.
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John Lasseter, the animation titan who has been on leave from the Walt Disney Company since November because of what he called "missteps" that made some staff members feel "disrespected and uncomfortable," will not return to the conglomerate.

Disney said on Friday that Mr. Lasseter — the co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios who has long been one of Disney's most important creative executives, serving as a force behind the "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.

Disney releases statement on John Lasseter
Disney releases statement on John Lasseter

Mr. Lasseter, 61, served as chief creative officer of Pixar 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.

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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" and sent 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 Times 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.

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.

WATCH: Disney's Lasseter takes leave of absence

Disney's John Lasseter cites 'missteps,' takes leave of absence
Disney's John Lasseter cites 'missteps,' takes leave of absence