John Lasseter, the chief creative officer of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, is taking a leave of absence, citing unspecified “missteps,” according to a memo to staff.
Lasseter, a Sonoma Valley resident, said in the memo that the decision followed “difficult conversations.”
“I’ve recently had a number of difficult conversations that have been very painful for me,” Lasseter wrote in the memo, which was first reported by the Hollywood Reporter. “It’s never easy to face your missteps, but it’s the only way to learn from them. … It’s been brought to my attention that I have made some of you feel disrespected or uncomfortable. That was never my intent.”
In his role overseeing creative aspects of Disney’s animation business, he executive-produced recent hit Disney family movies, including Oscar winners “Frozen” and “Zootopia,” which both grossed more than $1 billion at the box office. Since Lasseter took over, the studio’s hits have included “Tangled,” “Wreck-It Ralph” and “Moana.”
The move comes at an important time for Lasseter, Pixar and Disney. Pixar is releasing its Dia de Los Muertos-themed movie “Coco” this weekend, and the well-reviewed film is expected to perform well in its domestic opening during Thanksgiving weekend after a record-setting run in Mexico.
Lasseter in July stepped down as co-director of the upcoming “Toy Story 4,” leaving Josh Cooley in charge of the film.
Lasseter, 60, has been a key player in Disney Chief Executive Robert Iger’s strategy for the company’s film studio business, led by Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn. Along with “Star Wars” producer and Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy and Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, Lasseter has served as a pillar of Disney’s move toward blockbuster “event” films based on well-known brands.
Known for his big-kid personality and penchant for Hawaiian shirts and bear hugs, he is widely credited with resuscitating Disney’s in-house animation studio during the last decade after a long period of struggles.
His remarkable success in the competitive animation business led some to call him the next Walt Disney.
Lasseter also owns Lasseter Family Winery in Glen Ellen.