Damsel in the Director’s Chair: The Real Leading Lady Behind Frozen’s Success

Note: This is the third in GIPC’s series of “Women In IP” features in recognition of March as Women’s History Month. Read the first feature here and the second here.

Ask anyone with young children to name Disney’s biggest hit from recent years and they will respond without hesitation: Frozen. But ask parents who they have to thank for the engaging, witty, sophisticated film that has their daughters singing to ‘Let it Go’ on repeat and few will be able to tell you.

The woman behind Frozen’s success is Jennifer Lee: first female director at Disney Animation Studios. Thanks to her leadership, Frozen became the highest-grossing Disney animated film of all time, earning more than $1 billion at the global box office, as well as 2014 Oscars for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song. But Lee didn’t start out in the director’s chair.

The Frozen team knew from the start that it wanted to break with Disney’s traditional big-screen fairytales to offer viewers a different take on the classic fabled act of true love. Whereas most princesses find their happily-ever-afters in the form of shining knights on horseback, Elsa and Anna’s story centers on an ultimate act of sisterly sacrifice. But creators struggled with exactly how to pull it off.

A member of the songwriting team, it was Lee who first offered the concept of a love versus fear dynamic; Anna would represent love and Elsa would represent fear. And love would overcome fear. Lee’s vision for Frozen seemed to encapsulate what everyone was thinking, but couldn’t quite put into words.

So Lee was promoted to role of director, a first for any writer at a major animation studio. She explained the subtext of scenes to voice actors. She articulated the exact colors and angles to animation artists. In this emotional and thought-provoking-yet-effortless tale, Lee brought Frozen‘s world – and the dynamic female characters at its core – to life.

So, how does an aspiring creative woman find success? According to Lee, “You always have to draw on what moves you, what affects you, what excites you.”

This women’s history month, we’re celebrating Jennifer Lee’s amazing work ethic, inspiring dedication, and hard-fought success.

And we’re looking forward to many new Disney heroines like her.

Laura Crist is the director of strategy and communications for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center.

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