New Details Emerge From John Lasseter and Skydance Animation About ‘Spellbound’ During Annecy Film Festival

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Skydance Animation, the Madrid-based animation studio headed by former Disney & Pixar animator John Lasseter, is working on their second feature-length film, to be released in 2024. Spellbound is an ambitious musical fantasy featuring a host of Broadway stars and talented fresh faces. With lush computer animation, a soundtrack penned by award-winning composers and lyricists, and an expansive setting inspired by Spanish architecture, Spellbound showcases some of the most endearing aspects of respected animated films while also setting itself apart from its competition.

However, details about the production have been few and far between despite how long it has been in the works. The majority of what is known about the project came from the recent Annecy International Animation Film Festival panel. The panel, run by Vicky Jenson, Brian Pimental, and several other key members of the production crew, gave us the first look at characters, setting, and a first listen to several songs from the soundtrack. 

Skydance Comes To The Annecy International Animation Film Festival

Skydance sent Director Vicky Jenson and Skydance Head of Story Brian Pimental, along with a handful of studio animators, to Annecy, France to showcase their work on June 13th, 2023. There they hosted a Work In Progress (WIP) Panel. Skydance Animation Offered a tantalizing glimpse into their upcoming project, Spellbound, during the June festival in the scenic French town.

The Annecy International Animation Film Festival is an annual festival showcasing the best in new films and films in progress. The event serves as a global platform for animation enthusiasts, professionals, and creators to come together and celebrate the art of animation. The festival has been the foremost animated film festival since 1960. Attendees are typically the first to witness emerging films, which not only gives the film’s crew an insight into areas to work on and general reception of the film but also gives those who attend access to exclusive animation clips.

During the panel, festival attendees got a sneak peek into never-before-seen images from the movie and never-before-heard music from the film. Jenson and Pimental started the panel by thanking the animators before showing off characters, setting stills, and side characters. One character, in particular, made the audience go wild. Flake, a pink monster and sidekick to the main character (Princess Ellian), made his screen debut along with other animated characters. 

Brian Pimental, head of the story, also worked in the background on the song’s score and soundtrack. The audience heard about the musical storyboarding process and then heard an exclusive clip of one of the potentially award-winning songs. It brought several of the audience members, and Pimental, to tears. The song navigates the idea of a child losing their parents, and it hit a chord with the adults in the audience. Vicky Jenson spoke about this notion, stating,

“There is something extraordinary about it because we often portray that feeling of loss from the side of parents as kids grow up. It’s rare to experience loss from the side of the child, but we lose our parents too, at all stages in life. Even after six years on the movie, it still makes me want to cry.” 

It’s no wonder the message of the music was so resounding with former-Disney animation expert, John Lasseter, at the helm of Skydance Animation. A goal of modern mainstream animation has been to connect with families (rather than just kids), and it’s clear a seasoned Lasseter brought that goal with him to the company. The Annecy panel showed Spellbound aimed to tug at the heartstrings of adults and children, just like modern Disney and Pixar films. 

About The Skydance Animation Production Crew

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Skydance Animation, a division of Skydance Media, has been making waves in the animation industry since its inception in 2017. After acquiring head of animation John Lasseter in 2019, and building on the legacy of its parent company’s success, Skydance Animation strives to create innovative and visually stunning animated films that captivate audiences of all ages. After its success with its first animated feature film, Luck, the Spellbound crew is feeling hopeful about the upcoming project. A big part of that goes to the culture and climate at Skydance. Vicky Jenson also spoke about this,

“Skydance is a pretty cool place to work at and one of the reasons [for it] is that they want to make stories that resonate and mean something,” Jenson said during the Annecy panel. 

But the crew of Spellbound is not limited to animation newcomers, which shows promise for the future of this and other films. Vicky Jenson is a seasoned animated film director, having worked on both Shark Tale and the 2001 beloved classic, Shrek. The music is to be penned by Alan Menken, who worked on Beauty and the Beast and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, among others. The lyrics for Spellbound are from Glen Slater. Slater & Menken worked together on the music for 2010’s Tangled, the last time they worked together (and with head of animation John Lasseter). Ellian’s songs are performed by Broadway’s Rachel Zegler (West Side Story). The movie’s script is done by Linda Woolverton, Elizabeth Martin, and Lauren Hynek — all of whom worked on classic Disney films.

What We Know About Spellbound

Before the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, many of the details about Spellbound were kept mum. But the panel revealed a lot about the setting, characters, and voices behind the characters. 

First, attendees of the festival were able to see that Skydance Animation studio’s settings played a big part in the formation of Lumbria, the fictional setting of Spellbound. Madrid is the location of Skydance Animation’s headquarters, and the influence was clear in the animation of the town. The architecture was noticeably inspired by traditional Spanish architecture and scenery. We also saw the influence of John Lasseter on the direction of the music, which included Glen Slater and Alan Menken of Disney fame. Their song from Disney’s Tangled, “I See The Light ”, was nominated for several awards, hinting that this soundtrack could see equal fame. One of the most exciting parts of the night was hearing demos of the songs voiced by Alan Menken himself, as many of the songs are still in production.

The cast of Spellbound is equally impressive to the soundtrack, featuring award-winning film actors Nicole Kidman, John Lithgow, and Javier Bardem. Musical greats like Nathan Lane, Jenifer Lewis, and Andre De Shields as well as Tituss Burgess of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt are also part of the cast. The lead character, Princess Ellian, is voiced by the Broadway star of West Side Story, Rachel Zegler. Although she will be a relative newcomer to the scene, she has already made waves in her Broadway role. 

Spellbound is the story of Princess Ellian, a young royal tasked with keeping her kingdom together as her world falls apart. A curse has turned her mother and father — the king and queen of Lumbria, into thoughtless monsters determined to destroy the castle. Princess Ellian must all at once find a way to bring her mother and father back and keep the kingdom running without the guidance of her parents. 

Spellbound will be available for viewers via AppleTV+ in 2024 as part of Skydance Animation’s multi-year deal with Apple. There’s no word yet about whether the movie will receive a theatrical release, however, the reception on the streaming platform could shape the future of Skydance Animation projects. Apple TV+ is available by monthly subscription for all, including non-customers. 

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