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Pixar co-founder John Lasseter's fate up to Disney as six-month leave over ‘unwanted’ gestures ends

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May 16, 2018

The six-month leave of absence Pixar co-founder and Disney Animation chief John Lassester voluntarily took last November, after writing a letter apologizing to any employee “who has ever been on the receiving end of an unwanted hug or any other gesture,” is set to end soon, leaving Disney with a major decision about how to proceed with one of its most valued creative talents.

Citing unnamed Pixar sources, The Wall Street Journal reports that Disney is weighing the possibility of allowing the Oscar winner to return to a creative role at Pixar that, for the first time, would remove him from the decision-making process when it comes to personnel matters. 

While Disney has not yet publicly indicated how it may proceed, WSJ adds, via an unidentified Pixar source, that “[i]t is still possible [Lasseter] could leave altogether or come back with his old job unchanged.”

Lasseter, director of Pixar landmarks Toy Story and Toy Story 2, Cars and Cars 2, and A Bug’s Life, has been with the company since the beginning and has produced most of Pixar’s biggest hits, including last year’s Oscar-winning Coco. He abruptly went on leave late last year after issuing a blanket apology for self-confessed “missteps” related to physical contact that, he appeared to admit in his letter, not all employees had welcomed.

May 21 will mark the end of Lasseter’s self-imposed leave. Via information shared by its anonymous sources, WSJ reports that Lasseter has kept an exceedingly low profile for the past six months, and that the animation studio has had to devise a collaborative creative process to compensate for his often-singlehanded creative contributions to projects in development.

Pixar employees, the report states, say Lasseter’s “absence has been felt in every corner of Disney’s animation business” and that “[a]pproval from Mr. Lasseter was necessary to move past key benchmarks in writing, storyboarding, production, and editing” before he went on leave. 

To adjust, Disney has begun “relying primarily on a panel of artists, producers, and executives at each studio to make creative decisions, according to current and former employees, a more diffuse approach than Mr. Lasseter’s arrangement.”

Disney and Pixar currently have a number of major projects in development, including at least two in which Lasseter was involved before he went on leave: the sequel to Frozen, and Toy Story 4.