Rashida Jones is still credited as a writer on Toy Story 4, the next installment in the beloved franchise. But, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter, the actress and her writing partner at the time, Will McCormack, left the project early on after John Lasseter, the acclaimed head of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation, made an unwanted advance.
Jones and McCormack did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Disney declined to comment on the alleged incident though a studio source said the departure was over “creative differences.” Multiple sources spoke with THR but asked not to be named out of fear that their careers in the tight-knit animation community would be damaged.
Based on the accounts of former Pixar insiders as well as sources in the animation community, the alleged incident was not an isolated occurrence. One longtime Pixar employee says Lasseter, who is well-known for hugging employees and others in the entertainment community, was also known by insiders for “grabbing, kissing, making comments about physical attributes.” Multiple sources say Lasseter is known to drink heavily at company social events such as premiere parties, but this source says the behavior was not always confined to such settings.
Now Lasseter is taking a leave of absence from Pixar after acknowledging “painful” conversations and unspecified “missteps,” he wrote in a memo to staff on Tuesday. The leave is said to be for six months, a source tells THR.
“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,” Lasseter stated. “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.”
The executive added: “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 is hard to overstate Lasseter’s value to Disney. He is known as the genius behind Pixar films from Toy Story to Inside Out to Coco, opening Nov. 22. He took charge of Walt Disney Animation in 2006 and led a revival that included such gigantic hits as Frozen.
Sources say some women at Pixar knew to turn their heads quickly when encountering him to avoid his kisses. Some used a move they called “the Lasseter” to prevent their boss from putting his hands on their legs.
A longtime insider says he saw a woman seated next to Lasseter in a meeting that occurred more than 15 years ago. “She was bent over and [had her arm] across her thigh,” he says. “The best I can describe it is as a defensive posture … John had his hand on her knee, though, moving around.” After that encounter, this person asked the woman about what he had seen. “She said it was unfortunate for her to wear a skirt that day and if she didn’t have her hand on her own right leg, his hand would have traveled.”
The same source said he once noticed an oddly cropped photo of Lasseter standing between two women at a company function. When he mentioned that to a colleague, he was told, “We had to crop it. Do you know where his hands were?”
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SOURCE: The Hollywood Reporter, Kim Masters