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Pixar’s Lasseter finishing 6-month leave of absence — but return isn’t likely


    Robert Iger, chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company, left, and “Monsters University” executive producer John Lasseter in 2013 at the film’s world premiere in Los Angeles.

Pixar and Disney animation head John Lasseter’s six-month leave of absence is coming to end as more allegations about inappropriate behavior — including his treatment of women and credit-hogging — have come to light.

Longtime colleagues claim in a piece published by the Hollywood Reporter Wednesday that Lasseter once made out with a Disney marketing employee at an Oscars party — and one former co-worker alleges Lasseter stole the idea for “Cars” outright from a former employee.

In 2010, after “Up” won an Oscar, the married chief creative officer was reportedly drinking heavily at a company event and was seen “indiscreetly making out” with a company employee, according to THR. Lasseter reportedly said he got in trouble with his wife for his actions and as a result began only drinking beer at company events.

Lasseter, who has worked under the Pixar umbrella since 1984 before it was even called Pixar — sent out a company-wide apology in November 2017 after having been accused of making colleagues feel disrespected or uncomfortable and dolling out unwanted hugs and other gestures that “crossed the line.”

He announced that the six-month leave of absence would allow him to “recharge and be inspired,” but it’s unclear whether Disney CEO Bob Iger will welcome Lasseter back at the end of his leave.

If Lasseter doesn’t return, Iger is reportedly considering Pixar vice president of creativity Pete Docter to take his place at Pixar, and Disney creative partner Rich Moore or Jennifer Lee to step in at Disney Animation. Lee, the writer and director of “Frozen,” was the first woman to ever helm a Disney animated movie.

Disney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lasseter was nicknamed “King John” due to his behavior, and could be “mean” and “vindictive” while drinking, according to the report — causing head investor Steve Jobs and close confident Joe Ranft to become concerned.

“The only person who could give John notes was Steve Jobs,” a source said of the Apple co-founder, then a majority shareholder in Pixar.

Jobs died of cancer in 2011, but reportedly warned Lasseter to cut the drinking and shed some weight for fear that he would drop dead of a heart attack.

“Steve tried. But then Steve got sicker. He wasn’t around anymore,” a high-ranking executive said.

Meanwhile, things unraveled further for Lasseter after the 2005 death of Joe Ranft, a longtime writer, animator and voice actor who had been friends with Lasseter since the late ’70s.

“No one wanted to look bad in front of Joe,” a Pixar insider told THR. “Joe could call bulls — t on John in a way no one else could. Joe wasn’t afraid of John — not even 1 percent.”

But after Ranft was killed after his Honda Element plunged off a California cliff, Lasseter’s moral compass faded, sources say.

“Joe was his Jiminy Cricket. I think John might have lost his moorings,” a source said.

With his system of checks and balances gone and with an increasing swell of success, sources say Lasseter’s entire persona shifted.

“He changed drastically as success and money came,” a former colleague told the Hollywood Reporter. Another added that his childlike whimsical persona was all a façade concealing a much darker reality.

“The public didn’t see that,” the person said. “The happy a— guy in the (aloha) shirt? That was a well-crafted persona.”

That affable public persona was shattered in November when the first allegations broke.

In the initial expose, it was reported that “Parks and Recreation” actress Rashida Jones had left her post as a writer on the upcoming “Toy Story 4” after being on the receiving end of an unwanted advance by Lasseter.

Jones issued a statement denying that she’d left because of Lasseter, and instead blamed her departure on “creative, and more importantly, philosophical differences” with Pixar.

Lasseter is perhaps best known as the director of Pixar’s animated hits like, “Toy Story,” “Toy Story 2,” “A Bug’s Life,” “Cars” and “Cars 2,” and has also served as executive producer on every Pixar project, including “Moana,” “Finding Nemo” and “Monster’s Inc.”

While his name was being slapped onto every major Pixar project, Lasseter at times was taking credit away from others, former colleagues allege.

Jorgen Klubien pitched the idea for a movie about talking cars to Lasseter. Ultimately, the film became “Cars,” but Klubien claims he was never properly credited — and that he was eventually removed from the project, which turned into a massive franchise.

“I didn’t even get invited to the premiere or to Cars Land when it opened,” he said. “I went with my family to see Cars Land and they had a whole museum of how the film and the Cars Land ride was made. And not a sketch, not a mention of my name in it.”

The situation echoed that of Brenda Chapman, an ex-Pixar employee who created the idea for the 2012 film “Brave,” and was set to direct it — before she was booted and replaced by Mark Andrews.

In a 2012 essay for the New York Times, Chapman called the experience “truly distressing,” noting that the story for “Brave” came from an extremely personal place.

“Sometimes women express an idea and are shot down, only to have a man express essentially the same idea and have it broadly embraced,” she wrote. “Until there is a sufficient number of women executives in high places, this will continue to happen.”

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