UNH graduate wins Oscar for her work on Disney’s Encanto

Max Scheinblum, Staff Writer

University of New Hampshire (UNH) alumna Jennifer Lee continued her ascent to the top of the animated film world as Disney’s “Encanto,” which she executively produced, won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film at the Oscars. The UNH graduate serves as chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios.

“It’s such a joyous film. It has incredible emotion and incredible heart, but it’s also joyous and fun,” Lee said at the film’s premiere back in December of 2021.

“Encanto” details the life of a multigenerational Colombian family who receives magical gifts. It has been dubbed one of the most popular films of the streaming era and was the first Disney production to have both a No.1 album and No. 1 song at the same time. The film’s music was nominated for two separate awards by the Academy as well: Best Original Song and Best Score. Lee herself is not a stranger to the Best Animated Feature Film award, having won it in 2014 for directing and writing “Frozen.” That movie was the first animated Disney feature film directed by a woman and the first female-directed feature to gross over $1 billion in box office revenue. Lee is also known for her work on several other Disney projects, including “Wreck-It-Ralph,” “Frozen II,” “Zootopia” and “Raya and the Last Dragon.”

Lee is a native of Rhode Island and graduated from UNH with a bachelor’s degree in English. She later earned an MFA from Columbia University School of the Arts’ Film Program, where she gained notoriety for her screenwriting. She landed at Disney in 2011 and succeeded John Lasseter as the head of Disney’s Animation Studios in 2018. In 2014, she delivered the commencement address at UNH, speaking on the self-doubt she endured throughout her career. UNH also awarded Lee the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. “I first came to this campus when I was just 13 or 14, and I sat on the bench in front of Thompson Hall and said to myself, ‘this is what college is supposed to feel like,’” Lee recalled during her speech. “My older sister went here, then I came here, and my younger cousin met his wife here. So, my family has very deep roots at UNH, and even deeper debt.”