Although Walt Disney Co. officials so far remain silent about the issue, reports have emerged that John Lasseter, chief executive of Disney-Pixar’s animation divisions, may not return to either company amid allegations of sexual harassment and bullying.
The news will dishearten many fans of Route 66. Lasseter, who directed Disney-Pixar’s 2006 hit film “Cars” that portrayed the fictional town of Radiator Springs, probably is the figure most responsible for the Mother Road’s continued renaissance — except for Michael Wallis (who was a technical adviser and voice of the Sheriff in the film) and his best-selling book “Route 66: The Mother Road,” published in 1990.
The Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday published a story about Lasseter’s six-month “sabbatical” amid the allegations and an emerging consensus from Disney and Pixar officials that he will not return.
The trade magazine reported:
As The Hollywood Reporter first reported then, Lasseter was known by insiders for grabbing, kissing and making comments about physical attributes of women. Multiple sources said Lasseter drank heavily at such company events as premiere parties. Now, with the six months of his leave drawing to a close, many animators are convinced that Lasseter will not return. Disney remains mum, but multiple sources believe that Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger is prepared to bid Lasseter goodbye. “Bob is about keeping peace in the family,” says one Disney veteran. “He’s not anxious to take on defending somebody with that kind of reputation.”
Insiders say Lasseter had amassed so much power that his underlings at one point told Iger they needed to check with Lasseter before carrying out Iger’s instructions. Now if Lasseter returns, there is likely to be a negative reaction from some employees at Pixar and Disney who felt that Lasseter had bullied and belittled them and hogged credit for years. Finally, there is the issue of his conduct with female employees. “If John goes back, it will kill women in animation,” says a former Pixar insider. “The message will be so clear: Shut up and take it.”
The Reporter detailed Lasseter’s alleged misconduct in a November report here. (Disclosure: I remember reading initial reports about Lasseter but forgot about them amid a flurry of similar reports during the #MeToo movement and my impending move to New Mexico.)
A few other details from the new report:
- Esteemed fellow Pixar animator Joe Ranft for years blunted Lasseter’s alleged excesses. Ranft died in a traffic accident in 2004.
- Former Pixar animator Jorgen Klubien says he came up with the idea and many of the designs behind the “Cars” movie. Klubien says Lasseter took credit and removed Klubien’s credits from the film. Klubien said he received a $50,000 payout for his role, however.
The first “Cars” movie grossed more than $460 million worldwide, spurred more than $8 billion in merchandise sales and boosted Route 66 tourism. Even on this website, a post about the real-life people and places that inspired “Cars” remains the most popular story.
Lasseter’s work for the Mother Road was so esteemed, he received the 2006 Will Rogers Award. Lasseter wasn’t there to accept the honor, but Rock Cafe owner Dawn Welch, who served as the inspiration to Sally Carrera in the film, accepted it on his behalf. Lasseter and other members of Pixar conducted field research on Route 66 in 2001 and 2002 before starting on “Cars.”
The Lasseter allegations, if true, are discouraging. However, one should remember dozens of Pixar employees and actors contributed to the success of “Cars” and not one person. The film stands on its own and shouldn’t detract from what it’s given and will continue to give to Route 66.
(Hat tip to Peter Stork; Image of John Lasseter in January 2017 by Dave Pinter via Flickr)