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Skydance CEO David Ellison Explains Why John Lasseter Is Being Hired Following Sexual Harassment Claims

Skydance CEO David Ellison wrote in a memo to staffers that he has "not entered into this decision lightly."

John Lasseter

John Lasseter Leaves Disney and Pixar

When John Lasseter was hit with multiple allegations of workplace sexual misconduct and forced to step down in 2018 as the head of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, a seismic shift occurred at the two animation powerhouses. Directors Pete Docter (“Inside Out,” “Up”) and Jennifer Lee (“Frozen 2” and “Frozen”) were promoted as the new chief creative officers of Pixar and Disney. Then Pixar co-founder and tech guru, Ed Catmull, retired after Lasseter’s departure, truly ending an era.

Docter and Lee have already started changing the cultures at their studios, expanding inclusion and diversity from the top down in all creative areas. The Oscar-winning Docter (“Inside Out,” “Up”), one of Pixar’s first employees, is beloved and has been an essential leader of the Braintrust  He’s a warm, sensitive, bold director. Lee, a funny, sharp-eyed, and compassionate writer and director, has been a godsend to Disney. As co-writer of “Wreck-It Ralph,” she provided a fresh, hip, female voice. And her reward was being elevated to co-director of the Oscar-winning “Frozen,” helping create a phenomenon with the tender sibling story that resonated worldwide. Lee subsequently played a crucial role as a member of the Story Trust on the Oscar-winning “Zootopia,” and is currently finishing “Frozen 2.”

Both Docter and Lee immediately began emphasizing originals over sequels, with Docter determined to make his next movie, the cosmic “Soul” (June 19, 2020), while adjusting to his new leadership role. He also greenlit the initial feature by story artist Domee Shi (the Oscar-winning “Bao” short), the first sign of inclusion and diversity under his watch. Lee has reportedly put into development an Asian-themed, fantasy-adventure with a female hero, scripted by Adele Lim (“Crazy Rich Asians”), produced by Osnat Shurer (“Moana”), and directed by story artists Paul Briggs (“Frozen”) and Dean Wellins (“Zootopia”).

There have been departures: Oscar-winning director Lee Unkrich and producer Darla K. Anderson (“Coco,” “Toy Story 3”), and Oscar-winning director Rich Moore (“Zootopia”). Anderson went to Netflix and Moore will produce, direct, and advise on all projects at Sony Pictures Animation.

Meanwhile, Lasseter resurfaced as head of upstart Skydance Animation in 2019, which shocked and outraged the industry. Despite pressure to oust the fallen animation giant, Paramount Pictures’ refusal to work directly with Lasseter as part of its pact with Skydance, and actress Emma Thompson quitting the Skydance movie, “Luck,” in protest, Lasseter has begun an effort to forestall retirement through redemption and reinvention, returning to his roots of creative independence.—BD

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John Lasseter is returning to the industry as the head of Skydance Animation. Skydance CEO David Ellison confirmed the news to staffers via a memo (via Deadline). The announcement follows news from last fall that Disney was parting ways with Lasseter after he was accused of sexual harassment and admitted to making “missteps.” Disney originally put Lasseter on a six-month leave of absence after the allegations were made.

As reported by Variety, Lasseter will begin working with Skydance Animation by the end of January. The animation head reportedly was trying to mount a comeback for sometime in the industry, meeting with Warner Bros. and other studios about potential roles. Lasseter was the chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar when the company severed ties with him. During his time at Pixar, Lasseter famously directed “Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life,” and “Cars,” while producing all of their efforts.

In his memo to Skydance staff, Ellison wrote that “we have not entered into this decision lightly” and attempted to explain why the final decision was made to bring Lasseter on board following sexual harassment allegations.

“I know many of you are aware of John’s admitted mistakes in his prior role helming [Pixar and Disney],” Ellison wrote. “John has been forthright in taking ownership of his behavior, apologized for his actions and has spent the past year on sabbatical analyzing and improving his workplace behavior…We employed outside counsel to thoroughly investigate the allegations, which we considered serious and have warranted our full attention as we made this important decision. The senior leadership team and I have all carefully evaluated the findings of this extensive investigation.”

“While we would never minimize anyone’s subjective views on behavior, we are confident after many substantive conversations with John, and as the investigation has affirmed, that his mistakes have been recognized,” Ellison continued. “We are certain that John has learned valuable lessons and is ready to prove his capabilities as a leader and a colleague.”

Ellison concluded his memo by writing he is “very hopeful and excited about what the coming years will bring.” The CEO announced Skydance would also be hosting a town hall for all Skydance Animation staffers to talk openly on the matter and about Lasseter’s transition into the company.

Head over to Deadline to read Lasseter’s memo in its entirety.

Time’s Up reacted to the hiring with the following statement: “Skydance Media’s decision to hire John Lasseter as head of animation endorses and perpetuates a broken system that allows powerful men to act without consequence. At a moment when we should be uplifting the many talented voices who are consistently underrepresented, Skydance Media is providing another position of power, prominence and privilege to a man who has repeatedly been accused of sexual harassment in the workplace.”

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