‘Spellbound’s’ Emerging Details Spell Out A Heartfelt Hit For John Lasseter & Skydance Animation

2024 could be the year for animated films – and movies like Spellbound could just be the reason why. Coming out next year as of July 2023, Spellbound is a 3D animated musical and the next in line from the contextually young Skydance Animation. John Lasseter, former head of Pixar and seasoned animator, is currently at the helm of the animation studio, which leaves animation fans plenty of reason to believe in the potential of the film. But as well as Lasseter, Spellbound is to be directed by Vicky Jensen of Shrek and Shark Tale fame. 

Spellbound is like any animated feature in the sense that the film’s plot offers several delightful twists and turns. But as well as those, the making of the film itself has thrown followers curveballs. This will be the second feature-length animated film under Skydance Animation’s belt since John Lasseter joined the team back in 2019, and it will also be Vicky Jensen’s first major animated feature since 2004’s Shark Tale.  Available on AppleTV+ in 2024, Skydance recently shared a few secrets, songs, and stills from June 13th’s Annecy Film Festival panel. Here’s what animated feature fans can expect from Spellbound. 

Pre-Production & The Origin Of Spellbound

Spellbound has been a labor of love for Vicky Jensen since 2017. The film was announced before the current head of animation John Lasseter even joined the Skydance animation team.  Shortly after the creation of Skydance Animation the same year, it announced plans for Spellbound and Luck, the studio’s first full-length animated feature. Spellbound was originally slated to be released as Split in 2019. However, the film’s changes (including several title changes) delayed the release date by several years. AppleTV+ eventually acquired rights to it in December 2020, after initially being planned under a Paramount deal, and the movie’s current title changed to the current name. It wasn’t until June of 2022 that the film received its cast, despite most of the production being done out of studios due to the pandemic in 2020. 

Prior to Spellbound, Skydance Animation released three animated films through Apple TV+. The first, Blush, was an animated short by Joe Mateo, follows the life of an Astro-botanist who crash-landed on an alien planet and fell in love with a pink alien. The story is inspired by Mateo’s own life and nods to the story of his wife, who lost her battle with cancer. Luck is a coming-of-age movie that centers around the unluckiest girl in the world. When she accidentally stumbles into the magical Land of Luck, which controls the good and bad luck around Earth, she finds herself in the predicament of trying to not raise suspicion of her presence while also trying to find an answer to why she is so unlucky. Released in March of 2023, a short film called Bad Luck Spot was a spinoff of Luck that centered on the Land of Luck’s famous hazmat bunnies trying desperately to get rid of a bad luck crystal. 

Following suit with Blush and Luck, Spellbound reveals its influences throughout. One of the most striking nods to Skydance comes from the film’s in-story architecture. Viewers and architecture buffs alike will notice the Spanish-inspired architecture throughout the movie, featuring ancient Spanish facades and other notable features. This is because so much of the animation happened at Skydance Animation in Madrid. The cast even features one of Spain’s most beloved actors – Javier Bardem, as the King of Lumbria, Princess Ellian’s father. Vicky Jensen teased the Spanish influence of the movie and other little bits about the film at the Annecy Festival panel. During the panel, attendees got greater insight into the plot, casting, music, and script. 

Casting, Script & Music, & The 2023 Annecy International Film Festival

The Annecy International Film Festival is held every year in Annecy, France in early June. It honors the best names in animation from around the world. Annually, established greats like Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks, as well as the best in emerging animation attend the festival. Awards in Feature Films, Short Films, Films Produced For Television & Advertising, Student Films, Films Made For The Internet, and Feature Films Contrechamp In Competition are passed out to animators at the conclusion of the festival, but there’s more to the festival than just the awards. Festival attendees watch animated classics on the big screen in outdoor theaters set before the area’s mountains. Attendees also get exclusive panels and sneak peeks at upcoming films. Leaders from animation studios send representatives like Vicky Jensen to discuss their work. Jensen, Guillermo Ramírez, and even Princess Ellian’s fuzzy friend Flake were among the Skydance attendees at the Annecy film festival. 

It is no surprise that Spellbound made its way to the Annecy International Film Festival. This animated feature breaks the mold and could be the film that fast-tracks Head of Skydance Animation, John Lasseter, and director Vicky Jensen into animated movie fame. The story starts as many animated films have, in a fantasy land, and centers around a young girl (Princess Ellian) who is faced with a dilemma. A magic spell has torn her kingdom in two – and turned her parents into monsters who do nothing but ransack the castle. What’s worse is that the spell has seemed to have wiped her parent’s memory completely, and not only do they no longer act like the king and queen, but they don’t remember their own daughter. 

“It may seem like a lot of fun to have a couple of monsters as pets,” said Jensen, “but it’s also hard because they don’t know who you are.” If that isn’t enough for Princess Ellian, she must also keep her parents’ transformation a secret. 

The monster’s lack of self-knowledge alludes to one of the deeper plot points of the movie. Like many children’s movies, the plot of Spellbound isn’t just for kids, which makes it applicable to adults who watch it with their children. The transformation of Ellian’s parents into monsters symbolizes a deeper loss which all adults understand with time. “It’s rare to experience [parental] loss from the side of the child,” said Vicky Jensen “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.”  

During the film’s festival panel, Jensen also addressed the choice to make Spellbound into an animated musical feature. The emotional toll of the plot was a driving factor behind the inclusion of music. Spellbound being a musical breaks tradition from Skydance Animation & John Lasseter’s most recent films, though not from the animated movie realm. At Spellbound’s Annecy panel, Vicky Jensen mentioned how music sometimes better translates those big emotions. Skydance Animation picked the greats among animated musicals to complete the soundtrack  — Alan Menken and Glenn Slater. 

Spellbound includes an all-star cast led by Rachel Zegler, John Lithgow, Jennifer Lewis, Nathan Lane, Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, and most recently Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s Tituss Burgess. Several of these actors are classically trained vocalists, including Lewis, Lane, and Burgess. Elizabeth Martin and Lauren Hynek of Mulan fame wrote the script, and the movie is produced by Bruce Anderson, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, and John Lasseter through Skydance Animation. Although nothing else has been said about a theatrical release date, Skydance Animation followers can expect a definitive release on AppleTV+ in 2024. 

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