'Pencils vs Pixels' covers the transition from the Disney Renaissance of the '90s to the CGI revolution that followed
Ming-Na Wen’s love affair with animation is lifelong.
“It was something that made me feel happy,” the actress, 59, tells PEOPLE. "It was great escapism, and I loved the art form. I loved everything about it.”
After a childhood brimming with comic strips and cartoons (“Bugs Bunny was my hero”), the self-proclaimed “nerd” landed her “dream-come-true” voice-acting gig: Mulan's titular role.
The 1998 film spring-boarded Wen’s acting career while also marking the beginning of the end of the 2D, hand-drawn animation style once synonymous with Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Now, 25 years after Mulan was released, Wen returns to her roots to narrate Pencils vs Pixels, a documentary that details the transition from the Disney Renaissance (1989-1999) to the CGI revolution that followed.
For Wen, joining the project, a love letter to 2D animation, was a no-brainer.
“I'm a lover of documentaries," she says, adding that she is also friends with animators Tony and Tom Bancroft, who both participated in the doc. (Tony co-directed Mulan and Tom designed the heroine’s iconic, Eddie Murphy–voiced sidekick, Mushu.)
“When [Tom] asked me to do this to celebrate 2D animation and the evolution of how it seemed like it was going to be death for 2D animation when CGI came ... it was all very exciting,” she says. “I was more than happy to help.”
While Wen acknowledges the undeniable magic of hand-drawn animation, she also prides herself on being a “pioneering part of CGI” through Mulan and 2001's Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.
One of Mulan’s most iconic scenes — when the Hun Army attacks on horseback — was actually Wen’s “introduction to CGI,” she tells PEOPLE.
"Every horse, every Hun was different. Their expressions were different. And that just blew my mind,” Wen recalls. “I was very much immersed in it, and I'm a total nerd. I love all that technology and stuff.”
But, hand-drawn or computer-generated, Wen says it is not the tech used to create a film that makes it stand out; it’s the story.
“There is a new evolution, revolution of 2D and CGI melding together,” Wen says. “And that's going to create a lot of wonderful visuals, but ultimately, the story has to be there." She adds that a good plot can make even “stick drawings” meaningful.
Though it took a lot more than stick figures to bring it to life, the powerful story of Mulan, inspired by ancient Chinese folklore, is one Wen still carries with her 25 years later.
When asked what aspects of the honorary Disney princess still resonate with her, the actress says, “Everything.”
“Everything about what she stands for, which is just following your heart,” she adds. “And because the love she had for her family and for her dad drove her to face her fears and do something that she normally wouldn't have done.”
Wen — who has since portrayed myriad iconic characters and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame — is thankful the career-launching role has had such a “wonderful positive impact.”
“She's just a special character,” she says. “I really, really think that it's a very special little, what should I say? Little hallmark in my life, in my career.”
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.
Along with Wen, Pencils vs Pixels also features Kevin Smith and Seth MacFarlane, as well as animators who worked on Disney films like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. It was directed by Bay Dariz and Phil Earnest, and written by Dariz.
Pencils vs Pixels is now available to purchase on digital.
For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!
Read the original article on People.