Walt Disney Animation Isn't Opposed To Hand-Drawn Features, Jennifer Lee Talks About Making Changes After John Lasseter's Exit [Interview]

Not long ago, we had the chance to speak with directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck along with producer Peter Del Vecho in the Walt Disney Animation building during an early press day for Frozen II.

We'll have an extensive article all about the new sequel very soon, but first, let's dive into some interesting tidbits from my three-on-one interview with these filmmakers about the future of Walt Disney Animation. We touch on the changes Lee has made since taking over for John Lasseter as Walt Disney Animation's president, and the circumstances that would need to present themselves in order for a new hand-drawn feature film to be released under the Walt Disney Animation banner. Read their comments below.

Could Disney Return to Hand-Drawn Animation?

The short answer to that question is yes. Our discussion about what Disney Animation looks like under Lee's leadership in the wake of John Lasseter's departure led into some talk from Del Vecho, who is now WDA's senior vice president of production, about the possibility of hand-drawn animation returning to the studio, and what they would need in order for that to happen.

Jennifer, what kind of changes have you made to Walt Disney Animation since taking over after John Lasseter's exit?

Lee: For us, we're very focused on the films that are in production right away. It was Ralph [Breaks the Internet] and Frozen [II] and Raya [and the Last Dragon], and the sense of sameness of keeping our story trust going and working. One of the the things that I'm excited about is we really want to develop new talent from in house and bring new talent in. Having our rooms really reflect the world we live in.

I'm excited to be announcing a few new directors in the fall – I will not be the only female director, which is exciting for me. Really, the biggest thing is creating new opportunities for young talent. Not every department has access to story. Creating that access, building new shorts programs for people to try pushing technology in ways that we haven't done and new styles that we haven't tried, and using the short form to do that. I think those are about all I've had time for so far. (laughs) And there's a lot more to do, but I think those are the biggest things that I can mention.

You mentioned new styles, and they said at the presentation earlier that this is the tenth anniversary of The Princess of the Frog [which Peter Del Vecho produced]. Is hand-drawn animation on the table for Walt Disney Animation moving forward?

Del Vecho: That's such a big part of our legacy, and I loved Princess and the Frog. I would say that there's still a lot of hand-drawn influence going into our CG films.

Lee: In our films.

Del Vecho: I think we're one of the only studios in the world that can do both, and how that evolves over time and how we experiment with different styles. But it ultimately comes down to the filmmakers and how they want to tell that particular story.

Lee: Yeah, and some of our new shorts you're going to see, as they come out, new styles. Watercolor styles, even things we've never done, but using technology to help us do it in ways that are exciting as well.

Buck: And there's another thing. People aren't even aware of it. The hand drawn animators have helped out a lot with our CG animators. I think there's an appeal that the hand drawn animators, it's innate in them, and they've been teaching the CG animators –

Lee: Silhouettes and the swirls, that language.

Buck: – putting that into their work. So when you look at some of our movies now, even though it's CG on the screen, underneath it is the hand drawn deal.

But it sounds like you guys might be open to it if a filmmaker came to you.

Lee: Of course. And it really is, the style is driven by the filmmakers and certainly there's a lot of, as we've developed new talent, excitement to try different styles.


You heard her, Disney filmmakers: all you have to do is pitch the leadership a movie in which hand-drawn animation is an integral part of the story you're trying to tell! Easy, right? But seriously, folks, while traditional hand-drawn animation hasn't appeared in a Walt Disney Animation feature for ten years, I'm genuinely excited to hear that the prospect isn't completely dead and buried yet. We just need the right filmmaker with the right story to come along and resurrect it.

Frozen II hits theaters on November 22, 2019.