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Mr. Ross spent much of his early tenure at the studio cutting costs and canceling projects that weren’t seen as important to the Disney brand.

He shut down the San Francisco-area motion-capture facility used to digitally animate Jim Carrey’s Scrooge character in “A Christmas Carol,” sold the award-winning Miramax label to outside investors and cut such movies as “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and “Wild Hogs 2” from the development slate. Last year, he suspended production on “The Lone Ranger,” starring Johnny Depp, until its budget was trimmed.

But those efforts were overshadowed by movies that were released but failed to excite big audiences, including “Prince of Persia,” “Prom,” “Secretariat” and even “Winnie the Pooh.”

Mr. Ross told staff in a memo Friday that “the best people need to be in the right jobs, in roles they are passionate about, doing work that leverages the full range of their abilities.”

“I no longer believe the chairman role is the right professional fit for me.”

Mr. Iger wished him well in a statement.

Rich Ross‘ creative instincts, business acumen and personal integrity have driven results in key businesses for Disney,” Mr. Iger said. “I appreciate his countless contributions throughout his entire career.”

Mr. Ross‘ resignation is effective immediately. Disney did not name a successor.

A couple possible candidates for elevation at the studio are John Lasseter and Ed Catmull, who together built Pixar from a computer imaging company into an animated-movie powerhouse. Since Disney’s acquisition in 2006, the men have held top jobs overseeing animated movies at Pixar and Disney.

The men have helped Disanimated films move “in the right direction,” said Don Peri, the author of several books on Disney animators, including “Working With Disney.” He declined to speculate on whether they would make good studio heads.