Back at Walt Disney Productions in the far off 1980s, I was friends with many of John Lasseter's buddies and fellow Cal Artsians. (John I knew only slightly. Working on different floors in different departments will do that.) The word on John then was that he was smart, talented ... and liked to party hearty. It was his enthusiasm for good times that was part of the reason for his exit from the Disney animation division in 1984.
Judging from media reports, Mr. Lasseter STILL likes to party ... and do many of those unfortunate things that go with partying. But cultural norms have shifted in the last twenty months, and now John finds himself taking a six-month break from his executive positions at Pixar, Walt Disney Animation Studios, and DisneyToon Studios. Under duress.
The question arises, "Will this six-month time-out be permanent?" I tend to think not. Disney paid north of $7 billion for Pixar more than a decade ago, and the high-priced gamble has paid off in spades: "Finding Dory, Zootopia, Frozen, Moana, Inside Out, etc., etc. And the media picks up on the obvious:
... Lasseter’s absence could be a significant blow to the studio if his departure becomes permanent because he has been such a key figure in its success. Lasseter is the chief creative officer of Emeryville’s Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. ...
Hundreds of millions in movie and merchandising profits have resulted from the Lasseter-Catmull acquisition (and don't kid yourself. That was what the Mouse was paying for in 2006, because the conglomerate needed an adrenaline boost for its animation departments badly, and John and Ed were certified winners.) Eleven years later, Disney is no doubt real reluctant to fire Mr. Lasseter.
And if you doubt that, then here's a question: When Ed Catmull, aided and abetted by Mr. Lasseter, was revealed to be suppressing the wages of Disney animation employees, was Ed tossed overboard?
Was John Lasseter tarred with the wage-fixing brush?
Not too much.
The Walt Disney Company stuck with them both. Parts of the animation community was ticked off about it, and Ed didn't succeed in becoming a Motion Picture Academy governor, but for Ed and John, life sailed serenely on. The wider world didn't give three hoots, and neither did the Disney Company, even though it had to cough up a few million in settlement money for a large class-action lawsuit.
But this time, the pressure might be greater to make John Lasseter's exit from the top of the Disney heap a permanent thing. But if Diz Co. has anything to say about it (and it does), John will be back in his executive offices six months from now.
I guess we'll see.