BH Interview: 'Frozen' Animator on Disney's Family-Friendly Past, Present
Disney animators aren’t handed a manual regarding what material should and shouldn’t be included in the studio’s projects. It’s part of a culture that began when Steamboat Willie introduced a certain mouse to pop culture back in 1928.
Current Disney animator Mark Henn says the creative atmosphere behind Frozen, the studio’s latest offering, keeps that Disney tradition alive. Henn, responsible for key characters in a number of Disney films from The Little Mermaid to Aladdin, says the studio is keenly aware of the corporate brand as well as its illustrious track record.
“We always have a value, a core value, that we all believe in here at Disney,” Henn tells Breitbart News.
Animators arrive at the animation giant from different backgrounds bringing unique life experiences and skill sets, Henn says, “but the one common thing is they recognize and appreciate what Disney has done, its style of entertainment."
“There’s an innate sense when we’re pushing the envelope a little bit," he says. "It’s a very unique type of entertainment we put across.”
In Frozen, timeless themes of loyalty, family and sacrifice emerge in a story involving a curse that bedevils two sisters. When Elsa (Idina Menzel) accidentally hurts her sister Anna (Kristen Bell) with her ability to make anything freeze, their parents separate them for their own safety. Years later, the now-adult sisters reunite, but when a handsome prince arrives at their castle Elsa’s powers reawaken with disastrous consequences. Their sunny realm is turned into a winter nightmare, forcing Anna and a new friend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) to convince Elsa to reverse her chilly spell.
Young and old will enjoy the Broadway-quality songs and signature Disney flourishes. Yes, Frozen features not one but two sidekicks (a snow man and a reindeer), and the animation is what audiences have come to expect from the House that Micky Built.
That inimitable Disney look stems from what company animators of yore taught Henn when he first arrived --it's more important to create believable, sincere characters than realistic ones.
"Animators shoot live action as a reference ... but you can’t simply trace or motion capture a person acting it out," he says. That approach even applies to Olaf, the lovable snow man voiced by The Book of Mormon's josh Gad.
"You have to believe he's alive," Henn says.
Frozen features not one but two strong-willed women, the kind that didn't have a place in animated movies decades ago. Henn describes a cultural shift that occurred in movies, both the animated and live action variety, that culminates in three-dimensional characters like the twin leads in Frozen.
Characters like Snow White were more "reactors" in our films ... things happen to them, he says, adding The Little Mermaid was part of a trend away from that.
The key to being part of the Disney animation team, Henn says, is creating new tales that don't abandon the old methods that built the studio in the first place.
"That's part of our challenge ... finding those unique stories that maintain that core value ... and that we're not just repeating ourselves," he says.