Last week the L.A. Times reported on a speech Walt Disney gave to his employees in 1941 about the role of women in animation.
“If a woman can do the work as well, she is worth as much as a man,” Disney said, according to studio archives. “The girl artists have the right to expect the same chances for advancement as men, and I honestly believe they may eventually contribute something to this business that men never would or could.”
Over seventy years later, films with women as their central characters and with women in key production roles are proving Disney right. IndieWire interviewed Jennifer Lee, who shares directing credit on Frozen with Chris Buck. Lee is the first woman to direct a Disney animated movie after the prior 52 were all directed by men.
How does it feel to be an animation pioneer as Disney’s first female director?
The funniest thing is, I didn’t know about it for several months, because it was a while until it was announced. What I did know was that I was the first writer to direct an animated feature. Often, directors work their way up from being an animator or a storyboard artist. Chris Buck is an animation genius and having two perspectives like we have raises the bar. Obviously, I am honored. Half the story team on Ralph were women. The great thing is, more and more women are getting into animation. When you are the only female in the room, it is harder to talk. Having more of us in the room makes for richer stories.
The L.A. Times featured Lee for the same reason, along with Lauren MacCallum, who directed the short “Get a Horse!” that runs prior to Frozen in theaters.
“Especially because we have two female protagonists, it was great bringing Jen on,” Buck said last spring as the two were still tinkering with their story.
Lee quickly had an impact on the sister story line, which hadn’t been in previous iterations of the film, according to visual development artist Brittney Lee. “As soon as Jen came on, I suddenly saw my sister and I in the sisters,” Brittney Lee said. “I recognized these two are real girls. Once a female perspective was present in the writing, it was so much easier to get behind it.”
Jennifer Lee said she attempted to humanize Anna, who may be the first Disney princess to have gas, and to beef up, quite literally, the male characters. “I kept saying, ‘Can we give Hans thighs, ’cause that’s kind of appealing?’ They were so little.”
Both women came to Disney under the wings of a male director, Rich Moore, and writer, Phil Johnston, whom they credit with setting a friendly tone on “Wreck-It Ralph.” Four of the eight people in the story department on that film were female.
“Once you hit this certain percentage of women in the story room, then everyone feels comfortable talking,” MacMullan said. “You don’t want a story room to be a frat house.”
With Brave’s Best Animated Feature win at the Oscars and its commercial success added to the critical and box office success of this year’s Frozen, there is proof positive – of the type Hollywood powersthatbe will listen to – that bringing women into the creative process is a winning proposition.
Frozen has been nominated for Best Animated Feature Film and “Let It Go” has been nominated for Best Original Song at this year’s Golden Globes! Congratulations to the entire team!
If you still haven’t seen the movie, let’s see if Amy Ratcliffe’s review at Geek with Curves can convince you to go. And we’ll leave this post with Idina Menzel’s “Let It Go,” a feminist power anthem that just hits all the right notes.
Tricia Barr took her understanding of brand management and marketing, mixed it with a love of genre storytelling, and added a dash of social media flare to create FANgirl Blog, where she discusses Star Wars, fandom, and strong female characters. She also writes about Star Wars for Random House’s science fiction and fantasy blog Suvudu.com and Star Wars Insider magazine and is a contributor for Her Universe’s Year of the Fangirl. Her FANgirl opinions can be heard on the podcasts Assembly of Geeks and RebelForce Radio Presents Fangirls Going Rogue.
Tricia is putting the finishing touches on her first novel, Wynde – a military science fiction with a fantastical twist that features heroines Vespa and Gemini. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.
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