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What Will Disney And Pixar Do About John Lasseter?

As we near the end of John Lasseter’s six-month “sabbatical” from his role as chief creative officer at Walt Disney and Pixar animation studios, Disney CEO Bob Iger has still not revealed what he intends to do.

The Walt Disney Company’s public response to Lasseter’s “missteps” has been nonexistent, creating the impression that they simply do not care about women employees or how they are treated. It’s also completely at odds with how every other entertainment conglomerate has dealt recently with sexual harassment situations, from Comcast-NBCUniversal’s handling of Matt Lauer to Fox’s handling of Louis C.K. In nearly every instance, those companies have issued a swift response by launching an investigation into the accusations, and then based on those results, taken the appropriate action.

The idea of investigating Lasseter though doesn’t make as much sense at Disney where the company’s senior management has long been aware of Lasseter’s behavior, and in fact, has actively worked to cover up the messes resulting from his behavior.

As Cartoon Brew has previously reported, multiple sources have told us that there is allegedly at least one settlement the company made with a woman in Disney Animation’s marketing department after a physical incident between her and Lasseter. The studio also reportedly assigned “handlers” to attend events with Lasseter to keep him from behaving inappropriately.

Any investigation into Lasseter would potentially implicate a large group of Disney and Pixar’s executives all the way up to Bob Iger, who saw no problem with allowing Lasseter to act as he did until the #MeToo movement made Lasseter’s behavior indefensible.

“All of his behavior was condoned,” an animator told The Hollywood Reporter’s Kim Masters in a lengthy piece published yesterday. “It wasn’t just the drinking. It was his never having grown up. Some of senior management believed that was part of the secret ingredient when really the secret ingredient was a group of people.”

Masters’ piece doesn’t exactly reveal anything new about Lasseter’s behavior toward women — much has already been said — but it sheds new light on his substance abuse problems and ego issues.

The article quotes one former executive who said that Pixar co-founder Steve Jobs had become concerned about Lasseter back in the mid-2000s. According to that source: “[Lasseter] had ballooned up. Steve was afraid he would have a heart attack.” The person goes on to say that Jobs tried to get Lasseter to cut back on his drinking and lose weight, but then became sick himself, eventually dying in 2011.

The article also discusses Lasseter’s treatment of other artists and colleagues who he bullied and belittled. Among the people allegedly victimized by Lasseter were animator Glen Keane and producer Don Hahn, both of whom were “pushed aside” by Lasseter. “John treated [Don] like shit,” a Disney veteran is quoted telling The Hollywood Reporter. (Both Keane and Hahn declined to comment to the Reporter.)

Lasseter’s penchant for taking credit for the work of others is also exposed in the Reporter piece. Jorgen Klubien, who co-created Cars with Joe Ranft, told the Reporter that Lasseter would often repeat what other colleagues said, but the person taking notes included only Lasseter’s words, making it appear that Lasseter had originated thoughts that he was only repeating.

Klubien’s role in the development of the original script is not in question – he wrote it with Joe Ranft and has a story credit on the film – but he also claims that he played a bigger role in developing the overall universe and characters, and that Lasseter removed him from the project so he could claim all the credit.

Says Klubien: “I was the creative spark behind this franchise. It’s John’s genius that he got it going, that he was the master of Pixar. And if he had allowed me to be part of it all, I would’ve been his biggest champion. But I find it to be an abusive thing that he got rid of me to claim sole inventorship. The thing for me is, why can’t you say what it really was? You’re great enough in that role. What’s wrong with that? I just don’t get it.”

In a 2014 interview with a Danish publication, Klubien, who has known Lasseter since the late 1970s, foresaw much of what is happening right now:

John is about to explode from obesity and red wine these days. That’s because he’s living a lie. Like some strange Scrooge McDuck, he’s bathing in awards and money and people worshipping him because they think he’s made the whole thing. But one day the truth will come out. I’m not the only one he’s lying to.

In light of everything that has become publicly known about Lasseter in recent months, the Walt Disney Company is still standing by him. They refused to comment on any of the specific stories about Lasseter in The Hollywood Reporter piece, instead calling it a “character assassination” story based on “anonymous sources and rumor-mongering.”

The Hollywood Reporter piece repeats rumors that Pete Docter could take over at Pixar, while Jennifer Lee and Rich Moore could do the same at Disney, but for now, the situation remains at a standstill. Lasseter’s sabbatical ends on May 21.

(Photo: Shutterstock.com)

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