Pixar founder John Lasseter takes leave after 'unwanted hugs'; he once hugged 48 people in a day

VIDEO: REUTERS
"I especially want to apologise 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," Pixar co-founder John Lasseter wrote in an email.
"I especially want to apologise 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," Pixar co-founder John Lasseter wrote in an email.PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (NYTimes) - One of the Walt Disney Co.'s most important executives, Pixar co-founder John Lasseter, said he would take "a six-month sabbatical" following unspecified "missteps" that made some staffers feel "disrespected or uncomfortable".

He made the announcement in a lengthy email sent to employees at Disney's animation division, which he leads as chief creative officer, just before noon Pacific Time on Tuesday (Nov 21).

"I especially want to apologise 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," he wrote in the email, a copy of which was viewed by The New York Times. "No matter how benign my intent, everyone has the right to set their own boundaries and have them respected."

Disney said in a statement: "We are committed to maintaining an environment in which all employees are respected and empowered to do their best work. We appreciate John's candor and sincere apology and fully support his sabbatical."

A spokesman declined to comment further.

Shortly after Lasseter’s announcement, The Hollywood Reporter published an article by Kim Masters that cited “grabbing, kissing, making comments about physical attributes” as recurring behaviour by Lasseter. 

Like many executives in Hollywood, Lasseter has long used hugs and kisses on the cheek in lieu of handshakes in business settings. Over the years, he has taken the practice to the extreme, giving long hugs to both men and women wherever he goes. In 2011, The Wall Street Journal published a photo slide show about his frequent hugging, saying he had embraced 48 people in one day.

Lasseter, 60, is the force behind Disney franchises like Toy Story, Cars and Frozen, each of which generates US$1 billion or more in annual revenue for the company. His departure comes one day before Disney is set to release Pixar's latest film, Coco, in North American theatres.

He oversees all films made by Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. He is also a principal creative adviser to Walt Disney Imagineering, which designs theme park attractions.