The Walt Disney Company’s animation chief is concerned about the effects of the current actors’ strike and says it will shut down Disney’s animation division by the end of the year.
Jennifer Lee, Chief Creative Officer at Walt Disney Animation Studios, has a stern warning for anyone associated with the studio’s animated projects–team members working on the projects and fans of Disney’s animated offerings alike: the ongoing actors’ strike could bring everything at Walt Disney Animation to a grinding halt very soon.
In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s The Media Show, Lee said that she’s been able to “keep things going” at the studio up to this point, but that if there’s no resolution soon between the AMPTP and SAG-AFTRA, the company’s current animated projects will be affected, and those effects may include a complete halt on the studio’s animation production later this year.
Lee has close ties to the writers’ strike: her husband, actor Alfred Molina, is a member of the actors union, which has been on strike since July 14.
“I can understand where everyone is coming from in terms of wanting fair wages,” Lee told the BBC. But she added that her division of the Mouse House–Walt Disney Animation Studios–has “probably until the end of the year” before the strike will begin to force the studio to stop production.
The “Frozen” Phenomenon
Jennifer Lee won an Oscar for her role in directing Frozen (2013), which she also wrote. The tale of Anna and Elsa launched her into super-stardom, as its unbridled success made Lee the first woman ever to direct a film that grossed over $1 billion–something she says the studio never expected.
“We were just hoping people would like it,” she explained.
The 2013 blockbuster animated film is the story of sisterly love and is a testament to the lengths that sisters will go to for one another. Frozen is an example of an evolution of the Disney fairy tale, as it was very different from the usual princess fairy tale/dream come true/happily ever after sequence in Disney’s animated feature films. In 1937, for example, Disney’s first animated feature saw Snow White singing, “Some Day My Prince Will Come,” and by the end of the story, her troubles were over with a kiss from the prince.
A similar sequence can be found in Disney’s 1959 iteration of Sleeping Beauty, but the same is not true of Disney’s Frozen.
Lee’s “Foot in the Door” at Disney
In 2011, a friend who worked at Walt Disney Animation Studios reached out to Lee to ask her to co-write the screenplay for Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph, which was released in 2014. The opportunity, which was supposed to be only an eight-week gig, turned into the beginning of Jennifer Lee’s long-term tenure with the studio.
Once she completed work on the screenplay for Wreck-It Ralph, Lee was offered roles in other projects as well, including a role in creative leadership for Big Hero 6, the role of story writing and creative leadership for Zootopia, creative leadership for Moana, and the role of executive producer and studio leader for Ralph Breaks the Internet.
But she’s best known for her work in Disney’s multi-billion-dollar blockbuster Frozen film franchise. Lee directed Frozen (2013), and she also wrote the story and the screenplay for the wildly successful film. She also lent her voice to the Queen in the story. She later reprised her role as director in the sequel to the film and wrote both the story and the screenplay for Frozen II.
In a “frozen twist,” Jennifer Lee is not directing Disney’s third installment of its frosty franchise, but by her own admission, she’s “blown away” by what the creative team is already doing in their work on the new film. Frozen III is currently in the works at the studio and is among three films currently in the works on which Disney CEO Bob Iger is betting the proverbial farm.
As for the ongoing actors’ strike, Lee says she feels that “a fair deal” will be reached because “we’re all in it together.”