Cinderella SuperFan Lives Real-Life Cinderella Story Rising Through the Ranks at Disney Animation

Jennifer lee
Credit: Disney

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Jennifer Lee. She was bullied and lacked self-confidence and really really loved Cinderella. She struggled in school because of ADHD and no one ever thought she’d amount to much. 30 years later, she changed film and animation forever. 

This real-life Cinderella story is more than a rags-riches tale. It’s a tale of perseverance  and determination. That little girl grew up to become Disney Animation’s chief creative officer after the departure of John Lasseter.  Her story is one that many can relate to, myself included and she’s sharing it now to inspire people to “just keep swimming.” 

Jennifer Lee

Credit: Disney

Lee said she came from very modest beginnings and was often bullied because of her appearance and behavior.  She said she was “always a mess. Stains on my clothes … knots in my hair … chubby. I was born into a very modest life. I was a kid with ADHD; terrible in school. I don’t think people ever thought I could amount to anything.” 

She says that the one thing that saved her in that troubling time was a VHS tape of Cinderella. Throughout middle school Lee leaned on the movie to.get her through dark times. “Cinderella was bullied severely and I was bullied. But she stayed true to herself, even when it was really hard. Something about the concept of fighting through it helped me,” she said. “I think a lot of us get knocked down often, over and over again, in our lives.”

Lee struggled through high school and struggled even more in college. She told the Guardian that she made several missteps along the way to finding her place in the world. Eventually though, she not only completed undergrad but graduate school as well with a masters degree in film. Her degree still didn’t open doors immediately.  She ended up in New York in publishing which was not her field at all. She kept trying to break into the movie business, never forgetting the lessons she learned from Cinderella about perseverance. 

Wreck-It Ralph

Credit: Pixar

Finally, as a single mom trying to make ends meet, she got her big break! Disney hired her to do rewrites for Wreck-It-Ralph. The job was just a two-month-long temp job but she was willing to do anything to get her foot in the door, especially at Disney. She and her young daughter Agatha left New York behind and headed to Hollywood! 

Two months turned into twelve years. Lee has changed the world through her movies. You might remember a little film called Frozen? She co-wrote and directed it. Frozen earned her an Oscar and the distinction of the first female director to ever direct a $1 billion film. She went on to co-write and direct Frozen II (a film that personally changed my life)

Jennifer lee

Credit: Disney

Now she’s working on a new project, Wish. The film harkens back to her middle school days where she needed to see a bit of Cinderella for confidence before leaving the house. Asha (voiced by Ariana DeBose) is a young girl with big dreams but along the way she discovers wishing isn’t enough. Hard work is required. “It’s your responsibility to pursue a wish,” says Lee. “And there will be scary times and failure and things won’t work out. I like the idea that it’s OK that it’s hard.”  And they all lived happily ever after.

About Jill Bivins

Jill Bivins has been visiting Disney Parks since she was 2 years old and loves sharing her Disney adventures with the world. She likes to say Disney is in her blood and writing is in her bones — so any time she has the opportunity to combine these loves she is one happy camper! She has a deep abiding love for Epcot and as a die hard Star Wars fan has a serious love for Hollywood Studios as well. When she isn't exploring or writing about Disney Parks, Jill is homeschooling her 8 year old son, playing with her brand new baby son, or pretending to be a farmer on her family homestead (despite being unable to keep even a cactus alive). Find Jill on Instagram @minnieonmain.