Jennifer Lee became the first woman to direct a Disney animated feature film with Frozen in 2013, and she hopes she isn’t the last.
Lee, who now runs Walt Disney Animation Studio in the role of a Chief Creative Officer, says the studio is actively driving initiatives to add more perspective to the storytelling, and ensuring that the rooms are more balanced.
“As a studio, which is a place for incredible filmmakers to come from around the world, reflects that the stories of the world told by the people of the world is very important. We recently announced four new directors, some have been promoted from within and some we have brought in with more gender balance,” Lee said during a round-table discussion at the Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank.
“That’s an important initiative because I believe you tell better stories (like that). If the rooms are more balanced, you have great new perspectives to push storytelling together. As the first female director of Disney animation, I don’t want to be the last obviously,” she added.
Lee, whose tryst with the animated world started when she started working on the script for Wreck-It Ralph, said that she has learned a lot about having access at the right place and at the right time.
“Talent is everywhere. So, we are just working hard to create access and to have people be able to see themselves on the screen and have people be able to say oh, I can make movies too’. It’s a huge goal for us,” said the 48-year-old.A
Lee started her career in New York by designing audiobook and DVD covers. She discovered her passion for movies in her late 20s, and enrolled in Columbia University’s film school.A
Just like her snow queen Elsa from Frozen, Lee is literally breaking the ice. Her work as a co-director on Frozen earned an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. She became the first female director to helm a billion-dollar film, with Frozen becoming the highest-grossing animated film before the remake of The Lion King took that position in 2019.
She was also named as the Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios, after John Lasseter who stepped down amid allegations that he indulged in inappropriate workplace behavior.
At the moment, she is looking forward to Frozen 2 — a follow up to Frozen which was about two sisters — Anna who goes on a journey along with a man named Kristoff and his reindeer companion Sven to bring back her sister Elsa, who has icy powers, to save their kingdom of Arendelle from eternal winter. The movie defied the tradition of fairy tales, by putting sisterhood first in the line of love, and then redefining the “act of true love”.
The second part of the Disney franchise promises to be more intense as it traces the pasts of Princesses Anna and Elsa, voiced by Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel in Hollywood version, respectively, and piece together their present. Frozen 2, which Lee has co-directed with Chris Buck, will release in India in English, Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu on November 22.
Talking about blowing out sexist stereotypes with Frozen franchise, Lee said: “What I’d like is that people relate to Anna and Elsa, whether they are a boy, a girl, men or women. And creating really strong characters showing that they don’t have to be male or female. It is about strong characters and I love that the world embraced two sisters.”