‘Soul,’ ‘Onward,’ ‘Over the Moon’ Creators and More Talk Storytelling Through Animation

Janet W. Lee
·2-min read

Production on set was halted earlier this year, but animated films have continued to entertain audiences from the comfort of their homes.

The creators behind hit animated films — Glen Keane, Kori Rae, Dan Scanlon, Pete Docter, Joel Crawford, Mark Swift, Gennie Rim, Dana Murray, Tomm Moore and Norah Twomey — discussed their recent works during Variety’s FYC Fest.

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When creating Netflix’s “Over the Moon,” Keane, who reimagined the story of Chinese moon goddess Chang’e, said he tried to focus on “thinking like a child, loving characters that believe the impossible is possible.”

“When I was reading the script, Fei Fei just captured my imagination,” he said. “And I had no idea [that] I was actually auditioning for directing the movie, which is pretty wonderful way to do it — that you just give a talk and say everything you love about animation, what moves you.”

The film’s executive producer Rim, on the other hand, immediately resonated with the story of Fei Fei and the other characters. “I totally understood Fei Fei’s father and her just being like ‘No, the business is just going to keep going. You just keep moving, and you keep living your life,” she said. “But then I also have a stepfather, and I totally know how Fei Fei felt in welcoming a new person into her life, a new parent into her life — I understood being the rebellious teenager.”

Rae and Scanlon, animators behind Pixar’s “Onward,” said they had originally planned research trips to the Renaissance Faire, when creating a story about two elf brothers who set out on a mission to find an artifact. Their plans, unfortunately, “got rained out three times,” Rae said. “And [we] said, ‘oh well, it wasn’t meant to happen.'”

But Scanlon added that the team still “rented costumes, because I wanted everyone to have the full experience.”

“Wolfwalkes” creators Moore and Twomey shared that its protagonist Robyn was originally written as a boy but later edited as a female lead. “It was after a fairly early not very successful first draft, and we realized we were inventing a lot of obstacles for Robyn to come up against in 1650s Ireland,” said Moore. “When we realized the character was meant to be a girl… a lot of what we wanted to talk about in society was already going to be holding her back.”

Twomey elaborated on their decision and how it created a pleasant chemistry between Eva and Robyn. “They’re both kind of flawed characters; there’s a reality to them,” he said. “Seeing that kind of expressed through animation… it’s something. I don’t think you have to be a child to identify with this kind of good buddy film.”

The conversation was moderated by Variety’s Jazz Tangcay. Watch the panel below.

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