For children with critical illnesses, a wish can be transformative, bringing hope, strength and joy, so they can forget about treatment and just be a kid. Together, Disney and Make-A-Wish® have made more than 140,000 wishes come true over the course of our 40-year relationship, with every part of The Walt Disney Company—from its theme parks and Disney stores, to the television and movie studios—helping grant these life-changing wishes. Disney recently launched a new video series called #TheWishEffect, which takes a closer look at the power of a wish and the impact it can have on a child’s life long after it comes true. The Disney Parks Blog has shared Tali’s wish for a Disney-themed RV camper and Henry’s selfless toy drive. The latest episode introduces TJ, whose wish to tour Walt Disney Animation Studios and meet with animators was granted in 2019.
For 15-year-old TJ of Suffolk County, New York, the films of Walt Disney Animation Studios have long been an inspiration. He was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 11, and throughout his treatments he constantly watched films such as Lilo & Stitch, The Lion King and Brother Bear and also drew his own sketches of favorite Disney and Pixar characters. “I want to be a Disney animator and I wanted to see what goes into making my favorite movies,” TJ said of his chosen wish.
In February 2019, TJ traveled to California with his mother, father and three brothers for a spectacular day that began with a guided tour of the Walt Disney Animation Research Library (ARL). TJ had the opportunity to get a close look at original drawings from some of his favorite films, as well as original sketches of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck from the 1930s, and to talk with members of the ARL staff, who were happy to offer insights into the work they do.
“When I saw TJ walk in, his jaw just dropped, looking at our table of artwork. He said, ‘Wow, this really means something,’ and it shows a greater perspective when you see the connection that it makes with a child, and a child for whom this is so important. It makes our job even that much more worthwhile. It makes our coming into work just that much more meaningful,” Fox Carney, Manager of Research for the ARL, said.
Over lunch at Walt Disney Animation Studios, TJ met with a group of animators and producers who gave him an inside look at how a film goes from inception to the big screen, and he witnessed firsthand the camaraderie and teamwork that are part of the Disney Animation DNA. The group—which included the studio President Clark Spencer, master animator/director Eric Goldberg, Zootopia director Byron Howard and co-director/writer Jared Bush—shared stories of their own career journeys and offered encouragement for TJ on how to move forward in pursuing his own dream of working in animation.
Bush believes that being part of TJ’s wish was as inspiring for the animators as it was for the 15-year-old. “To celebrate [wish kids] for a day is so important, to allow them to look in the future and see what life is going to be like after they’re through this really hard part. It’s just really exciting to be part of that,” he said. Bush noted that the animators who spent time with TJ left the interaction “feeling fantastic for days,” and TJ’s enthusiasm excites them for the next generation of artists and technologists at Disney Animation.
As part of his special day, TJ also took a private tour of Walt Disney’s office, which has been restored to its original state on The Walt Disney Studios lot, before returning to Disney Animation for several hands-on experiences. Renato Dos Anjos, head of animation for Zootopia and Ralph Breaks the Internet, gave TJ an expert tutorial on computer animation, teaching him how to use a character rig and make it come to life through animation. Alex Kupershmidt, a supervising animator from Lilo & Stitch—TJ’s favorite film—guided him through the process of character sketching, recognizing the young man’s ability and telling him that he looks forward to working with him in the future. TJ also visited Disney Animation’s “animation pit,” where dozens of additional animators greeted him and shared stories about their work and careers.
TJ described his wish as the best day of his life, and as he prepared to return home, he looked forward to a bright future, sharing, “In a couple years, I’ll show up again and work here!” When he was recently reunited with Bush virtually for the latest installment of “The Wish Effect,” TJ assured the animator he’s taken all of their advice to heart and continues to work on his animation skills. “I’m so happy I get to know you,” he said.
To learn more about the many ways Disney is working with Make-A-Wish to provide magic to wish kids and their families when they need it most, and to see more episodes of “The Wish Effect,” visit wish.org/Disney.