Disney animation legend Lasseter takes leave over misconduct

(Katy Winn | The Associated Press) John Lasseter arrives at the world premiere of Toy Story 3 on Sunday June 13, 2010 at The El Capitan Theater in Los Angeles.

John Lasseter, creative head of Walt Disney Co.’s Pixar and animation studios, is taking a leave of absence after confessing to unwanted gestures that crossed the line with coworkers, becoming the latest Hollywood executive to be accused of sexual misconduct.

Lasseter, 60, a co-founder of Disney’s Pixar animation, said he’s taking a six-month sabbatical. He directed early Pixar films like “Toy Story” and is an executive producer on films that have been a cornerstone of the company’s strategy, generating $11.2 billion in global box office sales.

The Hollywood Reporter broke the news of his plans earlier Tuesday, reporting that actress Rashida Jones and her cowriter on “Toy Story 4″ stepped down after an unwanted advance. Lasseter used a memo to employees to apologize for his behavior.

“I especially want to apologize 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,” Lasseter wrote. “No matter how benign my intent, everyone has the right to set their own boundaries and have them respected.”

Disney said in a statement it’s 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,” the company said.

“Toy Story,” released in 1995, was the world’s first feature length film to use computer generated animation. Lasseter, Steve Jobs and Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull are considered pioneers of the use of the technology in animation as a result.

After Disney acquired Pixar for $7.2 billion in 2006, Chief Executive Robert Iger put Lasseter and Catmull in charge of both Pixar and the company’s existing animation studio. Iger has often credited the pair with reviving Disney’s animation business, producing such hits as 2013’s “Frozen,” a major success in theaters and a huge boost to Disney’s consumer products business, as were follow-up Pixar hits such as “Cars” and “Finding Nemo.”

Disney was little changed in extended trading. The stock gained 0.2 percent to $103 at the close in New York.

“Disney Animation is the lifeblood of Disney and John Lasseter was personally focused on by management and investors,” said Rich Greenfield, analyst at BTIG LLC. “Leadership is important. This has to worry investors.”