John Lasseter, Pixar cofounder ousted over #MeToo, returns to Hollywood

Toy Story creator toppled after #MeToo claims to join Mission: Impossible producer

John Lasseter: the animator is joining Skydance, which David Ellison started with money inherited from his father, the Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison. Photograph: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic/Getty

John Lasseter: the animator is joining Skydance, which David Ellison started with money inherited from his father, the Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison. Photograph: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic/Getty

 

John Lasseter, the Pixar cofounder who was forced to resign from the Walt Disney Company in June after complaints about unwanted touching in the workplace, has become one of the first men toppled in the #MeToo era to find a new Hollywood perch.

David Ellison, a Mission: Impossible producer and founder of Skydance Media, a production company affiliated with Paramount Pictures, said on Wednesday that Lasseter would become Skydance’s animation chief. Lasseter, who is 61, will start this month at the company, which Ellison started in 2010 with money inherited from his father, the Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison.

The comedian Louis CK has pushed to revive his comedy career – to vigorous opposition – after admitting to sexual misconduct. But Lasseter, a force behind the Toy Story, Cars and Frozen franchises, is one of the first executives in the entertainment industry to return to a position of prominence after #MeToo allegations.

In giving Lasseter a comeback opportunity, Ellison appears to have weighed his ambition to build a major entertainment company against any potential blowback, including from employees and advocacy organisations such as Time’s Up.

“John is a singular creative and executive talent whose impact on the animation industry cannot be overstated,” Ellison, who is 36, said in a statement. Skydance wants “to expand our animation efforts for the global marketplace”, he added. “We look forward to John bringing all of his creative talents, his experience managing large franchises, his renewed understanding of the responsibilities of leadership and his exuberance to Skydance.”

Still, Ellison continued: “We did not enter into this decision lightly. John has acknowledged and apologised for his mistakes, and, during the past year away from the workplace, has endeavored to address and reform them.” Ellison did not specify how.

#TimesUp: Saoirse Ronan joined the fashion black-out at the 2018 Bafta film awards. Photograph: Jeff Spicer/Getty
#TimesUp: Saoirse Ronan joined the fashion black-out at the 2018 Baftas. Photograph: Jeff Spicer/Getty

“Extensive investigation”

A Skydance spokesman noted that the company’s two most senior-ranking women, Dana Goldberg, its chief creative officer, and Anne Globe, its chief marketing officer, both supported the decision to bring aboard Lasseter. In an email to Skydance employees, Ellison said he had hired “outside counsel to thoroughly investigate the allegations, which we considered serious”. He did not reveal any of the conclusions but said that the company had “carefully evaluated the findings of this extensive investigation”.

In a statement of his own, Lasseter insisted he had spent time in “deep reflection, learning how my actions unintentionally made many colleagues uncomfortable, which I deeply regret and apologise for.” Lasseter added that he planned to build Skydance Animation in the same way he built Pixar, albeit with a new commitment to “safety, trust and mutual respect”.

He will replace Bill Damaschke, a former DreamWorks Animation executive. Time’s Up, the organisation founded by women in Hollywood in response to the #MeToo movement – and which led the fashion black-outs at film awards last year – criticised Skydance as “providing another position of power, prominence and privilege to a man who has repeatedly been accused of sexual harassment in the workplace”. The hire, Time’s Up added, “endorses and perpetuates a broken system that allows powerful men to act without consequence”.

Time’s Up, whose founders include Reese Witherspoon and Shonda Rhimes, said three things were needed for men such as Lasseter to return to positions of authority: a demonstration of true remorse, deep work to reform their behaviour and restitution to those harmed. “Offering a high-profile position to an abuser who has yet to do any of those things is condoning abuse,” the organisation said.

Weinstein and Moonves accusations

The accusations against Lasseter did not rise to the level of those against powerful Hollywood figures such as Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of acts of sexual misconduct and rape going back decades, or Leslie Moonves, the former CBS chief, who was found to have engaged in “multiple acts of serious nonconsensual sexual misconduct”, according to a report by CBS investigators. Both Weinstein and Moonves have denied engaging in nonconsensual sexual activity.

But the complaints made by Pixar and Disney employees against Lasseter were serious enough to prompt his ouster. The Hollywood Reporter cited “grabbing, kissing and making comments about physical attributes” as recurring behaviour by Lasseter in meetings and at work events, particularly when he had consumed alcohol. Multiple staff members also told managers at Disney that Lasseter had become increasingly domineering over the years.

As word spread in Hollywood this week that Lasseter was close to finding new employment, several influential women involved with the #MeToo movement noted that Lasseter expressed no regret for his behaviour or discussed making efforts to reform when he left Disney in June. Lasseter said at the time that he had made his own decision to “begin focusing on new creative challenges”.

Disney had put Lasseter on leave in November 2017. At that time he sent an email to employees at Pixar and the separate Walt Disney Animation studio apologising “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”.

As Lasseter looked for a new job in recent months, people in his camp contended that he had been unfairly swept up in the #MeToo movement. At one point he talked to Warner Bros about a role there.

Skydance, based in Santa Monica, has divisions dedicated to movies, television and video games. Skydance’s recent films include Mission: Impossible – Fallout, which collected $791 million, or about €685 million, at the box office last year. It controls the Terminator franchise and supplies the hit series Grace and Frankie to Netflix. Ellison is also working with Paramount Pictures on a Top Gun sequel and Gemini Man, a science-fiction thriller directed by Ang Lee.

Skydance releases most of its films through Paramount Pictures, which counts on Ellison as a major producing and cofinancing partner (and was told about Lasseter’s hiring only in the minutes before it was announced). Skydance raised $700 million, or almost €610 million, in new financing in 2016.

Skydance Animation, founded in 2017, has not released any films. One of its first movies, Luck, due for release by Paramount in 2021, explores a world where secret organisations called Good Luck and Bad Luck secretly control people’s lives. Another project is an untitled fantasy directed by Vicky Jenson, the Shrek director. – New York Times