John Lasseter is officially exiting his top posts at Pixar and Disney at the end of 2018. The former animator was one of the founding employees of Pixar, helping to evolve the company from a computer company to an animation studio and directing Pixar’s first three features himself, Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, and Toy Story 2. Lasseter continued to oversee Pixar as the studio grew and became acquired by Disney, and in 2006 Lasseter was named the chief creative officer of both Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, overseeing the revitalization of the latter studio with films like Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, and Frozen.
However, last year reports surfaced that Lasseter’s tenure wasn’t all hunky dory. THR reported on a pattern of alleged misconduct from Lasseter involving alleged “unwanted touching” and what Lasseter himself described as “missteps.” In November, Lasseter announced he was taking a leave of absence from both Pixar and Disney after acknowledging “painful” conversations. The leave of absence was to last six months, and now that the time’s up, Disney has announced that Lasseter will be exiting both Disney and Pixar permanently on December 31st. Until that time, Lasseter will have a consulting role with the company.
Disney has not named replacements for Lasseter at Pixar or Disney, but THR reports that Pete Docter—the director behind Pixar films like Monster’s Inc., Up, and Inside Out, is expected to take on added responsibilities at Pixar while Frozen co-director Jennifer Lee will assume more duties at Disney.
Hopefully these promotions are permanent, as they make a lot of sense. Docter was one of the founding animators/storytellers at Pixar alongside folks like Lee Unkrich (Coco) and Andrew Stanton (WALL-E), and as other filmmakers have left Pixar to do other things, Docter has remained a consistent voice throughout the studio’s ups and downs. Lee, meanwhile, earned her first writing credit on Wreck-It Ralph and has subsequently become a massively important voice at Walt Disney Animation Studios, co-writing Zootopia, working on the Broadway musical adaptation of Frozen, and even writing the script for the live-action Disney film A Wrinkle in Time. She’s currently directing Frozen 2.
Lasseter issued the following statement concerning his departure:
“The last six months have provided an opportunity to reflect on my life, career and personal priorities. While I remain dedicated to the art of animation and inspired by the creative talent at Pixar and Disney, I have decided the end of this year is the right time to begin focusing on new creative challenges. I am extremely proud of what two of the most important and prolific animation studios have achieved under my leadership and I’m grateful for all the opportunities to follow my creative passion at Disney.”
Disney CEO Bob Iger also issued a statement, which reads thusly:
“John had a remarkable tenure at Pixar and Disney Animation, reinventing the animation business, taking breathtaking risks, and telling original, high quality stories that will last forever. We are profoundly grateful for his contribution, which included a masterful and remarkable turnaround of The Walt Disney Animation Studios. One of John’s greatest achievements is assembling a team of great storytellers and innovators with the vision and talent to set the standard in animation for generations to come.”
Iger’s statement is curious to say the least, especially given the current climate we live in. It makes no attempt to acknowledge the self-admitted “missteps” on Lasseter’s part and instead focuses on his legacy. Lasseter no doubt has left a huge mark on the world of animation, and his contributions are great, but it also seems strange to simply ignore the entire reason this is happening in the first place.
This is undoubtedly the end of an era, and Lasseter’s contribution—both creatively and financially to Disney and Pixar—can’t be ignored. But what also can’t be ignored is that the times are changing, and the culture at Pixar has long been described as a “boy’s club” of sorts (which is why Rashida Jones left Toy Story 4), with the firing of the studio’s only female director Brenda Chapman off of Brave serving as a pretty not-great mark on Pixar’s legacy. Domee Shi, the director behind the upcoming Pixar short Bao, looks to be the studio’s second attempt to put a female filmmaker at the helm, but after 20 films and 23 years, that’s a pretty terrible track record.
Here’s hoping the future at Pixar and Disney is bright as they turn a corner.