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The Ultimate Guide to Christmas Specials

Christmas TV specials, limited series and movies are bigger than ever these days from now until the New Year, you’ll be able to find some festive yule-tide programming every night of the week. From the traditional viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life, the different versions of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, to baking shows and live music specials, we’ve got them all listed on the new Christmas TV Specials page. (Since not all of the networks list their specials early, this list will be updated throughout the coming weeks, so check back often for new additions!)

'Ralph Breaks the Internet' Animator Shares All

Interview with Disney animator Kira Lehtomaki
Vanellope, Wreck-It Ralph and Kira Lehtomaki (Disney)
INTERVIEW
In March 2016, I had the chance to meet Walt Disney Animation Studios animator Kira Lehtomaki who grew up in Edmonds, Washington, not far from my hometown. She was in town for a press tour promoting Zootopia for which she served as an animation supervisor for the character Judy Hopps. She’s one of those people who truly wished upon a star and saw her dream come true. At a very early age, Kira knew that she wanted to become an animator for Disney and today, she’s living that dream.

Recently, I caught up with Lehtomaki again to discuss her time working on Ralph Breaks the Internet (which comes to theaters on November 21) where she served as one of the heads of animation. Although she has previously worked on Bolt, Frozen, Tangled and the first Wreck-It Ralph movies, this was her first time serving as a co-head of animation alongside Renato Dos Anjos. Instead of supervising just one character, she and Renato oversaw the film’s entire animation team making sure that directors Phil Johnston’s and Rich Moore’s vision came to life. Creating a sequel to a favorite movie can be tough, but the bubbly Kira saw the whole experience as a positive one.

“It’s a real gift when anytime people want to see a sequel to one of our movies. For this movie, this is actually the first sequel that we’ve done since The Rescuers Down Under (1990). It’s special when you get to revisit characters.”

She explains that after she gets done with one movie she feel likes she really knows the characters.

“I personally feel like now I know them, but now that I know how to animate them, I have to say goodbye. And so this was a real gift to be able to go back and say, ‘Oh, I know these characters’ and we’re not starting from ground zero. They’ve still evolved over six years and they are still changing, but you know, it’s like familiar territory.”

Interview with Disney animator Kira Lehtomaki
Inside the world of the internet (Disney)

Fortunately for Kira, she got a chance to still do some “hands on” animation herself for what she calls a “pinch me moment” scene.

“I got to animate some scenes with Ariel [the Little Mermaid] and it’s so crazy and weird to think that one of the characters that inspired me to become an animator, I now get to work on a movie and animate her and it was lovely,” says Kira describing the time the animators got a chance to work on a scene where protagonists, Vanellope and Ralph, break into a Disney website meeting the princesses of Disney films. “It was like over a couple of weeks and it was like. ‘And now we’re bringing in all of the Disney princesses’ and it was like all of my dreams came true.”

I asked Kira if she got to meet all of the actresses who have played Disney princesses over the years and she gushed about meeting Jodi Benson, who voices Ariel. “She’s one of my favorites.”

Although a fairly short scene in the Ralph Breaks the Internet, a lot of time and research was given to the princesses scene including visiting Disneyland and seeing firsthand how the characters there interact with guests and by interviewing each of the actresses.

Interview with Disney animator Kira Lehtomaki
Jodi Benson and Paige O'Hara at
2017's D23 Convention (Disney)
“That was one of the most fortunate things. They all have such insight into each of their characters, so after they would record, they would come and speak to our animation team and we really just had the opportunity to pick their brains,” says Kira. “They’ve lived with these characters the majority of their careers and they bring so much of themselves to the roles so we could ask them, ‘What makes Ariel, Ariel? What makes Belle, Belle?’ Jodi Benson and Paige O’Hara (who does the voice of Belle) have been doing this since the early 90’s, so they’ve met multiple times. They’re friends. So, not only do they have insights into their characters, but they also have insights on how their characters would relate to each other.”

Although Vanellope passes herself off as a princess, her real desire is to leave her own game to become part of an online racing game that takes place in a dystopian world called Slaughter Race. I tell Kira that I could understand why Vanellope would be drawn to such a place but I was surprised about why she would want to live there and asked her about her thoughts on that.

“Well, that’s the thing, because ultimately this film is about the internet and it’s about this fun and fantastic world, but as with all Disney movies, it’s about that heart and what is that real small personal story in that,” says Kira. For the Wreck-It Ralph world it’s really about two best friends who have to go through a change in their friendship. “You have these two people go out to sort of this big city. One wants to go home immediately and the other one is like, ‘Wait, I think I feel like this is my home.’ So, does the friendship get stronger through that change or will it survive? That’s the big question. I think Vanellope loves home but she’s longing for more and I think the excitement of Slaughter Race is not something that would draw everybody, but for her, I think what she sees in Shank [Gal Gadot’s racing character] is sort of clone of herself.”

Kira also says that the film’s friendship message is something that both kids and adults can relate to.

“I think it’s something that we all deal with. Just because we’re not in the same place anymore doesn’t mean that you can’t still have that friendship and can’t pick up where you left off even though it will be different, it will be okay.” She also adds that the film features a sacrificial quality to friendship. “True friends want that best for you. It’s not a selfish relationship, it’s a selfless relationship. True friendships really does weather any change. You can’t put your hope and your trust singularly in another person. Because ultimately you’re going to be disappointed.”

So what’s next for Kira? Another sequel in the form of Frozen 2 where Kira will be spending most of her time animating Anna.

“That’s actually the really great thing about this studio is you go and you can be s supervisor for one film but then you go back to the floor and you go back to your craft again. In leadership, you still animate but you animate less because you are involved in so many other things, so it’s really fun to get back and remember why I wanted to do this in the first place.” She adds, “I literally pinch myself every day when I go to work. I walking along the halls and I’m seeing people who shaped my childhood.”

Keep dreaming Kira. You’re doing great.


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