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With grilling from employees at Skydance, animation czar John Lasseter’s comeback hits turbulence

A Skydance Animation all-hands meeting did not go well for the former Pixar and Disney animation director and executive.

With grilling from employees at Skydance, animation czar John Lasseter’s comeback hits turbulence
[Photo: Flickr user Dick Thomas Johnson]

John Lasseter’s second act as the new head of Skydance Animation remains in a glaring spotlight. On Monday, Variety reported that the former creative head of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation was grilled for over an hour and a half by concerned Skydance staffers over the allegations of sexual harassment that led Lasseter to step down from his role at Disney last year. 

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The report described the session, which took place at Skydance Animation’s Los Angeles headquarters, as intense and “heavy” in tone, with many blunt questions coming from young, female executives. Lasseter, meanwhile, “admitted to wrongdoing” and committed himself “to proving he had reformed.” 

Lasseter had been off the radar since he left Disney, and the announcement of his new role at Skydance last week shocked Hollywood, prompting outrage amongst many female employees at Pixar, according to sources. Other women in the animation industry were also deeply unsettled, according to The Hollywood Reporter, which cited some as vowing never to work at Skydance so long as Lasseter was there. Times Up, the activist group that was founded in the wake of the sexual misconduct allegations made against Harvey Weinstein, issued a statement saying that Lasseter’s hiring “endorses and perpetuates a broken system.” Also on Monday, Women in Animation broke its silence on the issue, saying that Lasseter’s appointment “weakened” progress the group has been making on sexual harassment issues in the animation industry.  

So far, despite these outcries, there has been no sense that Lasseter will step down or that Skydance CEO David Ellison will reverse his decision to hire the animation guru behind such films as Toy Story, Cars, and Monsters, Inc. Nor have any entities put any real pressure on Skydance to do so. Paramount, which has a distribution deal with Skydance, is reported to have been surprised at Lasseter’s hire, and many female employees there are uncomfortable with it. But the studio, at this point at least, has not said that it will not release films made by him. “Nor are they really in a position to,” noted one insider, who pointed out Paramount’s unimpressive ranking among studios, and Lasseter’s nearly perfect record of producing critically beloved blockbusters.

If anything, Hollywood has been unusually quiet in the wake of Lasseter’s return. Aside from a handful of articles, including an essay by Mary McNamara in the Los Angeles Times titled, “John Lasseter’s return proves that Hollywood still does not understand the damage he did,” top officials and chieftains have remained mum. 

Monday’s grilling shows that Lasseter’s return will not be easy for him, and that there will be further demands for answers about his behavior and what he’s done to change. Consider this attempted comeback far from over.

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About the author

Nicole LaPorte is an LA-based senior writer for Fast Company who writes about where technology and entertainment intersect. She previously was a columnist for The New York Times and a staff writer for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and Variety

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