In late November of last year, news broke that John Lasseter, founder of Pixar and head of Disney Animation Studios, would be taking a six month leave of absence following ‘missteps’ in his professional conduct. The accusations included ‘grabbing, kissing, and making comments about physical attributes’. A report also alleged that Lasseter would drink heavily at events and could not be left alone with women dressed in character, or as Vanity Fair put it, ‘he was inappropriate with the fairies.’
The Hollywood Reporter is now revealing that the staff of Disney Animation would gather for a ‘day of listening’ in order to ‘facilitate a discussion of workplace concerns’. According to Disney veterans, this is unprecedented, but sources also claimed such listening days are frequent occurrences for staff-leadership liaisons.
As discussed in the piece, it seems like such an event could be a way for Disney to test the waters for a possible Lasseter return, but others claim that’s unlikely. Personally, I don’t think he’s returning. The happiest place on earth have an image to uphold and they are incredibly efficient in maintaining it. Having an accused sexual harasser, one whose big weakness was women dressed as Tinkerbell, doesn’t gel with that. Word in the animation community is that he’s not especially welcome right now, and hasn’t been for a long time. His behaviour, as seems to be the case for so many of these instances, was something of an open secret.
Lasseter wasn’t just a boss: He was an icon, a figurehead of the modern animation movement, and one whose public persona was contagious enthusiasm. He was loveable. That worked mightily in Disney/Pixar’s favour for a long time. As the face of the company, he projected the kind of image Disney wanted to keep in place. He was no Walt Disney, but he’s probably the closest the company’s had for decades.
With him gone and possibly not returning, talk of replacements are inevitable. Pete Docter, director of Up and Inside Out, is said to be a favourite. The issue, and the piece goes into this, is that it’s probably not a good idea anymore to have one almighty leader running both divisions and making all the decisions. In that case, the talk is of Disney Animation and Pixar having different leaderships, all made up of more than one person: Docter and Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton could head up Pixar (they are part of the famed brain trust of the company), while Disney are said to be considering Frozen director Jennifer Lee and the Zootopia pair, Rich Moore and Byron Howard. From a logistical point of view, this is a smart idea. It’s still heavily white dudes (a problem both Disney Animation and Pixar have had for a long time now), but it stops the formation of another cult of personality.
Disney are one of the most powerful corporations in the world. They shape our pop culture and consciousness in ways that it would probably be terrifying to admit out loud. The changes they make - or don’t make - here will send a ripple throughout Hollywood. Let’s hope they’re the right ones.