Naperville high schooler becomes a Pixar star in 'Turning Red' on Disney+
Ava Morse began building her resume as a 5-year-old.
It started with theater performances and roles as an extra and continued through her love of singing and dancing. Before long, her reputation as a young talent helped her land bigger roles on television and in movies.
Now, at 16, her resume continues to grow.
The Naperville high-schooler has added voice-over work to her credits. She earned a coveted spot as the voice of Miriam in Pixar's latest movie, "Turning Red," chosen from among thousands of auditions.
"It wasn't all for nothing, you know?" Morse said with a laugh. "It's crazy to be able to say I'm not only a part of Pixar, but a part of this movie in general because it is so great."
The coming-of-age animated film is set in Canada in 2002 and features the main role of 13-year-old Mei Lee, who transforms into a giant red bear when she becomes overly emotional. Miriam is one of Mei's best friends.
With an estimated $175 million budget, a recent streaming release on Disney+ and stellar reviews, "Turning Red" is primed to be one of the most popular releases of the year. There's already talk of a sequel.
But for all the buzz surrounding the movie, Morse is taking everything in stride. Even a recent trip to California for a red carpet premiere and press interviews didn't faze her.
Morse credits her parents and high-school friends for keeping her grounded.
"It's been crazy, but it's so much fun," she said. "I'm lucky to have such amazing parents who are so supportive and willing to take the time to make my dreams happen. I don't know where I'd be without them."
When Morse declared her desire to pursue a career as a performer at the age of 5, her parents took it with a grain of salt, but also took it seriously. She was an extra in several television projects, and her first theater production was as Molly in "Annie."
From there, Morse appeared in productions at the Goodman, the Paramount, Drury Lane, the Marriott and other theaters. She developed her craft by working with singing, dancing and acting coaches -- and even released an EP of original songs.
Morse has been featured in national commercial campaigns for Kelloggs Cinnamon Frosted Flakes and Hebrew National Hot Dogs. She made her network television debut as a 9-year-old on "Chicago PD" and in 2017 made her film debut in "Surprise Me!"
She also appears in the current HBO series "Somebody Somewhere" as the younger version of the main character, Sam.
Morse forged an interest in voice-over work a few years ago through a small role in the animated film "Ron's Gone Wrong." That motivated her to take a voice-over class and audition for "Turning Red."
"Turning Red" has been in the works for years, and Morse booked the role near the start of the pandemic. She had to record much of her work inside a closet in her home through thousands of dollars of equipment sent to her by the studio.
She eventually finished her work in a Chicago recording studio, but the experience has proved to be unique.
"It's definitely a new world," said Debra Morse, Ava's mother. "We've been fortunate to meet some amazing people along the way. She's always been busy, but she's been well taken care of."
Ava and her parents are expecting a burst of attention from her role in "Turning Red," and they're ready to make the most of the opportunity.
While she's got a bunch of irons in the fire, Morse isn't certain which direction she wants to take. She's thinking about a return to music, and down the road, she'd like to be part of a dystopian movie franchise like "Maze Runner" and "Hunger Games."
Choosing, however, doesn't have to be an option. As she's shown throughout her brief but busy career, Morse can handle the balancing act as an actress, singer, dancer and -- of course -- voice-over artist.
"I'm just constantly doing so many things at once, and I can pick up things very easily," she said. "I love trying new things. If it clicks, it clicks."