Racetime’s Jenna Wheeler-Hughes on the Strength of the Awkward Animated Girl

Being a character in a trilogy is the stuff that keeps actors working and beloved by the film-going audience. Jenna Wheeler-Hughes finds herself two-thirds of the way there with her appearance as Fran in Racetime, the animated sequel to 2015’s hit Snowtime. Jenna will tell you she’s a “glass half full” kind of person who is more focused on the huge response to her role in these two films rather than anticipating a third. Still, if the reaction to this second installment is factored into the equation: it’s quite likely that the Canadian born actress will once again bring the tomboy Fran back for another adventure with her childhood friends. Jenna’s outstanding performance alongside Sonja Ball (as Jack), Lucinda Davis (of The Words starring Oscar winners Bradley Cooper, J.K. Simmons, Jeremy Irons, Dennis Quaid, and Zoe Saldana) as Frankie, and others has earned the film nominations for a Canadian Screen Award and Best Film at the Giffoni Film Festival.

Directed by the trio of award winning director Jean-Francois Pouliot (of La Grande Seduction which boasted awards as the Sundance Film Festival, Atlantic Film Festival, Boston Independent Film Festival, and Genie Awards), Benoit Godbout, and Francois Brisson; Racetime is cutting edge animation paired with a timeless tale of young friendship. Frankie-Four-Eyes and his team compete in a momentous sled race through town against Zac and Charly, an off-putting and self-important duo. After suffering an initial defeat, Frankie demands a rematch. On the path to this second race, Frankie learns a lot about himself and his friends.

The lone girl in the group of friends, Fran is more than comfortable and able to “hang.” Basing her sense of Fran on the script, Wheeler-Hughes refers to her development of the character with the film’s directing trio as a fountain of creativity. She relates, “There was a discussion and definitely direction given but I was really encouraged to find who I felt Fran was. Animated films can be very different than the traditional format I’ve done throughout my career. With Fran, wedecided to go with a care free/high pitched/nasally tone that was slightly exaggerated for the sake of the animation. She needed to be believable for the more mature audience as well as the youthful audience the film is marketed for.”

One of the remarkable and contemporary things we see in Jenna’s portrayal of Fran and in the character itself is the rejection of a typical female stereotype. Fran is no Wallflower. From playing with preschoolers to serving as the official announcer of the race, she draws the lines which define who she is. Fran has grown up with these boys and never questioned her role amongst them. However, as she nears puberty, she notices some changes in the way she is treated. She wants to continue to be able to run as fast and scream as loud and fight as hard as her friends and most certainly does not want to be seen as a “weak” girl. The certain changes that come with the transition from adolescence to being a teenager loom as she has grown taller than expected and still doesn’t feel comfortable in her body.

Jenna proficiently uses this season of Fran’s life to communicate the awkwardness and lanky physicality to the character, something seemingly new for Fran. As certain as the fact that she’s a tomboy is the inevitable evolution to become a young woman that awaits Fran. Racetime displays this in-between phase for girls in a positive and endearing manner. The same confidence that lurks deep inside Fran is found in Jenna Wheeler-Hughes and her presentation of her; a certain trait that led the makers of this film to cast her.

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