A Conversation with Jennifer Lee, Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios
Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Chief Creative Officer, Jennifer Lee, recently provided a thirty minute, exclusive preview of her upcoming film, “Wish,” during Disney’s Long Lead Day. With a distinguished career in animation that includes directing blockbuster hits like “Frozen” (2013) and its sequel “Frozen 2” (2019), Jennifer Lee stands as a trailblazer and creative visionary in the industry. Notably, “Frozen 2” remains the highest-grossing animated feature ever released.
Jennifer Lee’s career is marked by groundbreaking achievements. She made history as the first female director of a feature film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios and the first female director of a film that surpassed the $1 billion mark at the box office. Currently, she serves as the co-writer and executive producer of the highly anticipated Disney Animation musical comedy adventure, “Wish.”
“Wish” invites audiences into the enchanting kingdom of Rosas, where we meet Asha, a sharp-witted idealist, whose wish sets in motion a cosmic adventure. Her wish is answered by a boundless cosmic force known as Star. Together, Asha and Star embark on a daring quest to confront the formidable ruler of Rosas, King Magnifico, demonstrating that when the dreams of a courageous individual align with the magic of the stars, extraordinary things can unfold.
This epic animated musical features the voices of Academy Award®-winning actress Ariana DeBose as Asha, Chris Pine as King Magnifico, and Alan Tudyk as Asha’s charming pet goat, Valentino. As the storied studio celebrates a century of filmmaking, “Wish” pays homage to Walt Disney’s enduring legacy of magic and music. The film boasts an original story, an array of captivating characters, and seven all-new songs crafted by Grammy®-nominated singer/songwriter Julia Michaels and Grammy-winning producer/songwriter/musician Benjamin Rice.
Amid the final stages of production, Jennifer Lee shared her excitement for “Wish” and graciously discussed the film’s themes of diversity and inclusion. In a heartfelt conversation, she emphasized the significance of these themes in the world of animation and offered insights into the characters that make “Wish” an extraordinary cinematic experience.
One of the standout qualities of “Wish” is the significant presence of women both on and off-screen. Yvette Murano and Ariana DeBose, among others, contribute to a project that marks a turning point for women in Hollywood. Jennifer Lee, reflecting on her career and the opportunities she’s received, expressed her commitment to fostering diversity and inclusion in the animation industry.
“I’ve been a great beneficiary of great opportunities,” Lee noted. “Coming into this role, I felt the responsibility to keep encouraging that. Over the course of almost 13 years at Disney, I’ve watched new opportunities emerge, and it’s been amazing to see the talent flourish.”
Lee specifically mentioned working with talents like Fawn Veerasunthorn, who started as a story artist on “Frozen” and has since demonstrated incredible growth. Lee’s enthusiasm for nurturing emerging talent is evident. “She’s one of those incredible women who absorb everything and continually adds to her toolbox. She’s done incredible things in a short period, and there’s so much more to come,” Lee remarked.
The film “Wish” not only showcases diversity but also addresses disability through one of its characters. Jennifer Lee affirmed the importance of this representation, saying, “I thought it was important to show diversity as well as disability. The incredible actresses involved embody this diversity, and for Asha, it’s about belonging and togetherness.”
Lee believes in Disney’s legacy of bringing people together through storytelling. She emphasized that “Wish” builds a world where people from all backgrounds can coexist, celebrating the diversity that connects us all through Disney’s timeless legacy.
Jennifer Lee’s approach to character development is deeply rooted in authenticity. She believes in crafting characters that reflect real people and allowing their behavior to emerge organically from their personalities.
“When I create a character, I start from the inside out,” Lee explained. “I want to create an authentic character and then ask, ‘What would they do? How do they behave?'” This approach ensures that characters resonate with audiences on a profound level.
In “Wish,” Asha represents the young idealist in all of us. Lee draws parallels between her own experiences and the character, noting that Asha’s journey mirrors the moment in life when one begins to recognize the world’s flaws and yearns to make a difference.
“I’ve related a lot to Asha at that stage in life,” Lee admitted. “It’s that time when you see something and realize you have to change it. We all wrestle with that.”
Asha’s character also embodies the idea of growth and self-discovery. Lee shared her personal connection to Asha’s journey, recalling her own experiences as a young adult and her daughter’s pursuit of self-identity and impact on the world.
As for the film’s intriguing villain, King Magnifico, Lee expressed her fascination with his complexity. She believes that even the most flawed individuals have reasons behind their actions. The true test of a character, according to Lee, lies in how they respond when faced with challenges.
In wrapping up the conversation, Jennifer Lee acknowledged that storytelling has the power to humanize characters, even villains. As she continues her remarkable journey in the world of animation, her dedication to authentic characters and meaningful narratives shines through in “Wish.”
With “Wish” poised to captivate audiences and leave a lasting impact on the animation industry, Jennifer Lee’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, and authentic storytelling ensures that this magical tale will resonate with viewers of all backgrounds and ages.
Make sure you check out Wish when it hits theaters November 22nd!