Animation films are not what they used to be. From Finding Nemo to The Incredibles, the Toy Story series and others, these productions are big box office numbers and Oscar Winners. As some of the biggest films for any studio, they’ve also become a favorite of the talented actors who voice the characters of these stories. Tom Hanks to Brad Pitt, Kristen Bell to Renee Zellweger; these roles are more sought out than ever before. While there’s some truth to the fact that this cultivates a future fanbase of loyal admirers, many actors relate that the expressive nature is paramount for them; at least Canadian actress Jenna Wheeler-Hughes does. She stars as Fran, the tomboy in a group of otherwise male friends in the 2016 release Snowtime. With costars Golden Globe winner/Primetime Emmy nominated Sandra Oh, Angela Galuppo (of X-Men: Days of Future Past), and others, Jenna manifest the kind of small town challenges and triumphs that translate to any place on Earth. Nominations and wins at the Jutra Awards confirm that this talented voice actors and full production team have realized an animated film that will last for some time.
Snowtime proves to children and adults that boredom can be the catalyst for great adventure. Watching the movie, one might be convinced that modern technology is not the default to attention. In this story, the children of a small village decide to engage in an epic snowball fight during the Winter break. Eleven-year olds Luke and Sophie assume the mantle of leadership for opposing groups to overcome the other’s snow-fort. The only stakes involved are bragging rights and the occasional welt from a hard-pack snowball. Wheeler-Hughes portrays Fran, an awkward eleven-year old who simply want to be “one of the boys” and hang out with her friends. What is not simple at all is the large hearted performance that the actress brings to this role. Fran is truly a stand-out character as she treads the line between everyone’s buddy and yet obviously of a different gender than most of her circle of friends. She’s the kind of girl that causes boys to forget that she is any different from them…until of course, they do notice. Jenna states, “I was so excited to be a part of this project. She was so fun to create and voice. Developing the character was an amazing process, because not only did I voice her, but I was being filmed throughout the entire process so that they could capture my physicality and facial expressions and add them to the animated character. I felt like I really got to exercise my craft during this creative process. Fran is the comedic friend who doesn’t know she’s funny. Her humor and passion for life comes out in several scenes.
Fran is something of a dichotomy in the story. She’s obviously maturing and growing to the point that she will soon visibly be a young lady. In spite of the awkward transition period for her, she seems to be the wise counsel for many of those around her; it’s Jenna’s personification of this that makes it so believable in the story. When Fran helps Luke realize that he actually has a crush on Sophie, both audience and characters buy into her advice because of Jenna’s tone. Fran welcomes new girls, Sophie and Lucie to town, establishing a welcoming environment. Even when her team loses the snow-battle, Fran proves a gracious loser. Though she is going through puberty and questions who she is (or maybe who she is becoming) she is well rooted in her values and empathy, courtesy of Jenna’s delivery. Though Wheeler-Hughes can be found in TV and film roles more commonly, she revels in what this foray into animated films has given her. She notes, “It’s not just as simple as speaking for these films. In addition to mannerisms and truly embodying the funny/dorky girl, I had to protect my voice. I really relied on my vocal training to make sure I didn’t overdue it and cause harm. I’d find myself screaming as loud as possible for the sessions and I’d be asked to do it again louder. It was slightly painful but worth it. We laughed for a solid 10 minutes after those scenes.”