Being able to leave the pinnacle of your accomplishment still in control of your legacy is a prize many fail to attain. Not that long ago, it looked like Pixar Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter would be one of the few able to attain it. Pixar, as a company, was a certified hit machine, with massive movies such as Up, Frozen, Moana and the Toy Story series to its credit. Lasseter was in the middle of all of that, a friendly, gregarious personality who, some have said, was a bit too friendly at times.
When the news dropped last year that Lasseter would be taking a “leave of absence” from his position as CCO of Pixar and Disney Animation, the rumor mill kicked into high gear. What had he done? Was he yet another member of the nefarious list of men getting a comeuppance thanks to the MeToo movement? That question was, kind of, answered when Lasseter admitted making some “missteps” that led certain coworkers to feel “disrespected and uncomfortable.”
There was more to the story, and several media outlets did some digging. They uncovered reports that Lasseter was being accused of giving “unwanted hugs” and other “gestures they felt crossed the line.” That still wasn’t much to go on, until another anonymous report claimed Lasseter has a “reputation for grabbing, kissing, and commenting about coworkers physical attributes…”
These stories got more people talking, and the story began gaining more traction. Now, it seems to have come to a head. Disney has announced Lasseter will step down, taking a “consulting role” through the end of this year, when he will officially leave the company he helped found.
Lasseter answered the obvious question — why — by offering this statement: “While I remain dedicated to the art of animation and inspired by the creative talent at Pixar and Disney, I have decided the end of this year is the right time to begin focusing on new creative challenges… I am extremely proud of what two of the most important and prolific animation studios have achieved under my leadership and I’m grateful for all of the opportunities to follow my creative passion at Disney.”
That statement, which doesn’t really answer the question, does create another: where does Lasseter go from here, in his career or to build on his legacy? In his industry, there’s no “up” from Pixar. That’s the undisputed king of the hill. But, even more to the point, what can he do about his legacy? Thanks to the allegations and the various different accounts, there’s really no definitive narrative… just a bunch of different options for people to choose from. And that has to be difficult for a guy who brought so many people so many happy or heartfelt moments.
Those are the things John Lasseter wants to be remembered for, and, that’s how many will remember him. But, at present, there’s an asterisk, and it’s something the man behind the name will have to address at some point.