Pixar co-founder John Lasseter abruptly announced a six-month sabbatical Tuesday, as allegations of misconduct came to light. “It’s been brought to my attention that I have made some of you feel disrespected or uncomfortable. That was never my intent,” wrote Lasseter in a memo to employees, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “I deeply apologize if I have let you down.”
Lasseter co-founded Pixar in 1979 as a division of Lucasfilm, but it was spun out as a standalone company in 1986, after Apple co-founder Steve Jobs invested in the animation studio, becoming its majority shareholder. In 2006, Disney bought the company for $7.4 billion. The Oscar-winning Lasseter is one of the most valuable assets in Pixar’s portfolio, having created many of the studio’s films and franchises, from 1996’s Toy Story to Coco, which opens in theaters on Thanksgiving.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Lasseter has been known to grab, kiss, and make comments about people’s physical attributes, say Pixar insiders. The report also details how female staffers would turn their heads quickly to avoid kisses from the company’s chief creative officer, as well as sit defensively to to block him from putting his hands on their legs.
Meanwhile, rumors had circulated throughout Hollywood that Rashida Jones had left Toy Story 4 over something other than “creative differences” between her and Lasseter. The actress and writer has since spoken out saying that allegation is untrue. Jones released a statement to The New Work Times saying that she and her writing partner left over “philosophical differences,” adding that they believe Pixar needs to hire more women and people of color in creative positions. She denies that she left over unwanted advances from Lasseter.
“As hard as it is for me to step away from a job I am so passionate about… I know it’s the best thing for all of us right now,” wrote Lasseter in the internal memo. “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.”
Nov. 22: This story has been updated to add Jones’ denial of rumors that she left Toy Story 4 over unwanted advances from Lasseter.