Renowned Disney animator Mark Henn says his Christian faith has guided his decades-long career in Hollywood, telling Faithwire he believes he’s where he is today due to “God’s grace.”
Henn has worked on iconic projects like “Winnie the Pooh,” “The Princess and the Frog,” “Enchanted,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin” and “The Lion King,” among others, with fans frequently and affectionately telling him, “You animated my childhood” — a compliment he said has been “one of the nicest” to hear.
Despite his monumental success, Henn — who is also an animator for Disney’s new film “Moana” — hasn’t lost sight of his deeply held belief that God has profoundly blessed and guided his path.
“I am here, and I am still here by God’s grace,” he said. “(As) I’m walking around the studio, I’m thinking, ‘Thank you, Lord, for letting me live out my dream as a small boy.”
Henn said his faith is “everything” — a sentiment he said he wasn’t uttering frivolously. “It means I’m working for the Lord,” he told Faithwire. “This is where he has me. I’m going to do the very best I can here and now.”
The revered animator said people are typically pleasantly surprised to learn he’s a devout Christian, but added it’s not all that rare to find believers like him working in animation at Disney. Considering the size, scope and influence of the company’s films, Henn said there’s a core mission centered on creating “broad, acceptable … films.”
“We entertain the world. We’re not just entertaining America anymore,” he said. “The world is our stage. We look to pick stories … appealing to audiences all around the world.”
As a result, Henn said, “There’s a safeness, I think, with Disney you’re not going to find on other movies.”
The artist, who first realized at age 7 after seeing Disney’s “Cinderella” that he wanted to be an animator, said he’s enjoyed having the ability to use his artistic talents to create art that “evokes a very positive response out of people,” and said it’s been rewarding to see the public profoundly enjoy his work on the big screen.
“I’m here because I was inspired by the earlier films in the generation before me. … I felt like I wanted to be a part of that,” he said. “My generation, we took over … now I’m trying to pass that enthusiasm on to the next generation.”
See the trailer for Disney’s “Moana” below:
While conspiracy theories surrounding edgy content will often fly when it comes to children’s entertainment, Henn reiterated that Disney’s goal in animation is to continue the “same tradition of excellence of storytelling” that has existed for eons.
“We’re still making films … that are going to be entertaining and fun to make in our own minds,” he said.
And the latest film Henn has worked on is “Moana,” an animated featured about an adventurous young girl; it’s a movie he said is all about “following your heart, following your dreams.”
“This is a little more of a spiritual journey for her in terms of following something she feels,” he said of Moana, the protagonist. “She doesn’t understand why, but there’s something calling her to … go beyond the reef where her island is, where she lives, and it requires risk, and there’s consequences that she has to deal with as a result, but it’s important to her.”
Henn believes the positive messages in “Moana” will resonate with children, encouraging them to push through challenges and go outside their comfort zones.
He also took Faithwire through the complex process involved in making an animated film. Unlike live action films and regular actor formats, animation generally really means that the team making a movie is starting from scratch with practically nothing. He said making an animated feature is “a great collaborative effort” and that it takes hundreds of people to do it.
The process all starts with an idea, which is then filtered through to see if it’s worth carrying from concept to realization.
“The basic process hasn’t changed since the days of ‘Snow White,'” Henn said. “It starts with a story and developing that story and asking a lot of questions … and then you have story artists that focus on that.”
Animators and filmmakers have to then decide what the characters look like, how their environments function and other related elements. It all starts with nothing — a “blank piece of paper or an empty monitor,” with animators like Henn and his creative team conjuring up imaginative worlds, universes and lives for some of our most beloved characters.
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