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John Lasseter cancels Dec. 4 appearance in Sonoma following Hollywood Reporter story

John Lasseter stands between Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell onstage during the Diane Disney Miller Lifetime Achievement Award ceremonies, at the Walt Disney Family Museum's 3rd Annual Fundraising Gala at the Golden Gate Club on November 7, 2017 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images for The Walt Disney Family Museum)

CHRISTIAN KALLEN,

John Lasseter, scheduled to be the guest at the seventh Sonoma Speakers Series discussion on Dec. 4 at Hanna Boys Center, has withdrawn from the event, according to John McChesney.

The withdrawal was a blow to the Sonoma Speakers Series, which had announced its first-ever sold-out event two weeks in advance of Lasseter’s scheduled appearance.

McChesney said they were hoping Pixar could produce a replacement for the animation legend, who has taken a six-month “leave of absence” from Disney/Pixar following a Nov. 21 article in the Hollywood Reporter detailing inappropriate conduct.

MChesney confirmed on Friday, Nov. 24, that the event had been cancelled and all tickets would be refunded next week.

Lasseter, who lives in Glen Ellen with his wife Nancy on an estate that escaped major damage in the Nuns Fire last month, has been a frequent supporter of film in the Sonoma Valley since 1995, when he premiered “Toy Story” at the Sebastiani Theatre. Among his other films are “A Bug’s Life” (1998), “Finding Nemo” (2003), “Ratatouille” (2007), and the “Cars” series that began in 2006.

He is a two-time Oscar winner and six-time nominee. He was employed briefly by Disney Studios in the late 1970s, but after he was fired formed a partnership with Lucasfilm that eventually led to the formation of Pixar Graphics Group in 1984, under majority shareholder Steve Jobs.

For almost 20 years Pixar was the main competitor to Disney Studio’s animation department, but in 2006 Disney purchased Pixar outright, naming Lasseter creative director of the new Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Pixar’s newest film – “Coco,” a Dia de Muertos computer animation that’s already hugely popular in Mexico – opens this weekend in Sonoma at the Sebastiani Theatre.

The Sebastiani held a benefit screening of the original “Toy Story” on its 20th anniversary in December, 2015.

More recently, Lasseter drove the pace car to kick off the Toyota/Save Mart 350 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday, June 25.

Earlier this month, he was honored with the Diane Disney Miller Lifetime Achievement Award in a ceremony at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.

But the accolades have slowed in recent days, as reports of Lasseter’s behavior have surfaced in the industry press from what the Hollywood Reporter termed “Disney/Pixar insiders.” These included statements that Lasseter was known for “grabbing, kissing, making comments about physical attributes” in situations that were not always purely social, as at parties.

“Sources say some women at Pixar knew to turn their heads quickly when encountering him to avoid his kisses,” the Hollywood Reporter article stated. “Some used a move they called ‘the Lasseter’ to prevent their boss from putting his hands on their legs.”

On Tuesday, announcing his six-month “sabbatical” from Walt Disney Animation and Pixar, Lasseter issued a statement that read in part, “I’ve recently had a number of difficult conversations that have been very painful for me. It’s never easy to face your missteps, but it’s the only way to learn from them. As a result, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the leader I am today compared to the mentor, advocate and champion I want to be. It’s been brought to my attention that I have made some of you feel disrespected or uncomfortable. That was never my intent.”

He concluded his statement, “I especially want to apologize 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. No matter how benign my intent, everyone has the right to set their own boundaries and have them respected.”

Contact Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.