Pixar and Disney chief creative officer may return to the studio in a limited role following a six-month hiatus.
Walt Disney executives are considering bringing John Lasseter back from his six-month leave of absence, though in a reduced role where he’d retain some measure of his previous creative influence, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. While there has been no official timetable set for a studio decision on any possible Lasseter return from his acknowledged “missteps,” May 21, the six-month mark of his hiatus, is fast approaching.
Lasseter, Pixar and Disney’s chief creative officer, shocked the entire entertainment industry last November 21, 2017, when in an email sent to studio staff, he apologized “to anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of an unwanted hug or any other gesture they felt crossed the line in any way, shape or form,” and announced he was taking a six-month leave.
In the weeks following his departure, as the #MeToo movement continued spotlighting stories of unwanted attention and abuse in the entertainment industry, numerous reports surfaced siting current and former Pixar employees who were uncomfortable with Lasseter’s well-known penchant for hugging staff, though reports also noted not all were bothered by the physical interactions.
Lasseter’s legendary talents and role in Pixar’s ascent to the top of the animation industry, coupled with his day-to-day role overseeing creative decision-making for all Disney’s animation production efforts, makes his absence particularly troubling, and the decision-making about his potential return that much more complex.
Are his apologies alone enough? Will a return in a diminished capacity be sufficient to satisfy critics, yet still provide the studio with enough of his leadership to be anything more than a distraction? While the studio’s Coco, released right after Lasseter’s departure, went on to win an Oscar, their next two releases, The Incredibles 2, set to hit theatres June 15, and Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2, set for a November 21 release, are finishing their productions without his oversight. And while a group of senior artists and management have picked up the enormous and difficult task of creative decision-making, it’s too early to assess the full impact of Lasseter’s absence on the overall health of the studio, let alone its foreseeable future in the event he does not return.
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.