Frozen 2 Behind-the-Scenes Stories From the Cast and Filmmakers
By Melanie Gable
*Jessica McDonald was invited by Disney to cover the “Frozen 2” press junket, and she asked me to attend in her place for the purposes of this article about Frozen 2 behind-the-scenes stories. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
As a devoted Disney fan with a four-year-old daughter who loves “Frozen,” I was thrilled when the cast and filmmakers of “Frozen 2” stepped onstage at the Hollywood press junket for the film on a recent Saturday morning. I’d attended a press screening of the film the night before (review dropping tomorrow), and even though it was a late night and early morning for me, I couldn’t help but be moved to see so many of my favorite artists on one stage to hear some “Frozen 2” behind-the-scenes stories!
For the few who may be unfamiliar with the story of “Frozen,” royal sisters Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell), lose their parents to a shipwreck and have to contend with Elsa’s magical powers, which disastrously reveal themselves on her coronation day. Though Elsa tries to escape to the mountains and creates an ice palace for herself with her magical skills, she sets off an eternal winter in her kingdom of Arendelle, and Anna is tasked with finding her and setting things right. With lovable characters, catchy and moving songs, a compelling story, beautiful animation, contemporary humor, and a message of the power of familial love, “Frozen” captured the imaginations of people all over the world and became a sensation.
“Frozen” and Sisterhood
So what was it like for the cast and filmmakers to return to the characters and story of “Frozen” for the much-anticipated sequel? For Menzel and Bell, their connection to “Frozen” never really waned, even though the movie was released six years ago. For one thing, Walt Disney Animation Studios released two follow-up short films—“Frozen Fever” and “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure”—in 2015 and 2017, which featured the vocal talents of the same lead cast. Secondly, a performer like Menzel, who headlines concerts in the U.S. and abroad, still frequently sings “Let It Go,” the hit song from “Frozen,” for live audiences. “I’m singing the music from it all the time, all over the world, and looking out into an audience and seeing people of all ages, really, singing this music and reminding me how they’ve been touched by it and how they’ve learned to celebrate that thing inside them that makes them feel extraordinary in the world.”
Bell, also, still feels a strong connection to the story, and especially her character, Anna. “I’m very similar to Anna…I tried to infuse, like, a ton of me into this character, maybe more so than I’ve ever done.” Her admiration for Menzel was another driving force for signing on to “Frozen.” Bell reminisced about seeing Menzel in the Broadway production of “RENT” when she was a student living in New York City, and the surreal feeling of being asked to work on a song with her during the early days of the first film.
“It was a very cool beginning—cool and terrifying—to be told by Disney, ‘So, you know, maybe go to Idina’s house before this table read, prepare a song, just so we can hear what you guys sound like together,’” Bell shared. “To go up to her house, stood by a piano, was terrified, my palms were sweating, and it was almost immediate, this, like, genuine sisterly bond. Cause I remember she just put her hands on my shoulders, she’s like, ‘You sound so beautiful. This is gonna be great,’ and I…just melted.”
The song? “Wind Beneath My Wings.”
“Frozen 2” co-director (along with Chris Buck) and Walt Disney Animation Studios chief creative officer Jennifer Lee witnessed the performance. “There was no script—no, there was a script, there was, like, a loose script—the whole thing was greenlit, it was moved up a year, based on the two of them singing together.” Bell described what she experienced that day with Menzel: “A tight little boardroom, sitting at a desk, just looking at each other going,” and then Bell started singing to the tune of “Wind Beneath My Wings,“ “This is the weirdest thing we’ve ever done…”
The sisterly bond between Anna and Elsa was present from the beginning and connected with audiences. Songwriter Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who wrote the music of “Frozen” and “Frozen 2” along with her husband and writing partner Bobby Lopez, described the early story writing process. “We were talking so deeply in a way I’d never really talked about songs and characters before, and it was the story of the emotion between these two sisters. Jennifer [Lee] specifically had been talking about her own sisters, everyone was talking about their own sisters, and that’s what really made us think, ‘You know what? I think Elsa’s not a villain, I think we need to go deeper than that.’” The song “Let It Go” was inspired by this reframing of Elsa as a multidimensional character, and the story team “making us think about a complicated, more layered sisterhood story.”
Josh Gad, who voices snowman Olaf, also had great praise for the storylines of the “Frozen” films. “The coolest part about watching ‘Frozen,’ and then ‘Frozen 2,’ with my daughters, is they have [Menzel and Bell] as their role models. That is just the most incredible part of this journey. I get to share this with two girls who get to look up to two fiercely independent Disney princesses who, I think, are changing the way we view what a princess is, and I love that.”
Olaf Grows Up
The main comic relief in the “Frozen” films is Olaf, the lovable snowman Elsa creates during “Let It Go,” who becomes a part of the family and joins them on their adventures. Gad lends his humor and offbeat charm to Olaf, and he’s enjoyed seeing the character’s development from “Frozen” to “Frozen 2.” In the sequel, Olaf has a permafrost that allows him to enjoy all the seasons without melting, and he’s also learned to read, which leads to some laugh-out-loud dialogue. Regarding Olaf’s newfound maturity, Gad joked, “He got a license, he took out an insurance policy, he’s had a lot of growth.”
Gad also spoke seriously about his character, sharing a story about one of his daughters as comparison. “When she was about five years old, my oldest child one day was sitting at the table and she was laughing, and all of a sudden tears started streaming down her face. She looked at me and my wife and she goes, ‘What if I don’t wanna grow up?,’ and she started crying.” Gad was able to channel this feeling into his performance as Olaf. “In the first movie he was this innocent ball of naiveté who was willing to basically go out into the summer sun because he didn’t know any better, and embrace it, and in this movie he’s almost gone from, like, toddler to fully grown child, where now he’s started to ask those questions that don’t always have easy answers.”
The opportunity to portray both the comedic aspects and the emotional arc of a kid growing up was compelling for Gad. “It was just such a journey of that moment in life when you start to realize the world isn’t just raindrops and lollipops and roses…that is such a beautiful thing to play.”
Kristoff Gets a Solo
One of the criticisms of “Frozen,” even from Bell, was that Jonathan Groff’s character, Kristoff, had only one very short song in the movie. In addition to his screen work, Groff is a Tony-nominated Broadway performer with an impressive singing voice, so his fans were naturally miffed that his talents weren’t properly showcased in the first film.
Anderson-Lopez joked, “Who knew he was talented?”
Groff fans can rest assured that the issue is rectified in “Frozen 2” with “Lost in the Woods,” a soaring solo for Kristoff that allows Groff to shine. Gushed Bell, “Jonathan has, dare I say—I mean, it’s very difficult to describe and I don’t want to blow it—but…it’s one of the top three moments of the film.” Added Gad, “I think it’s the funniest song in Disney Animation history.” Groff pretended to be crestfallen, quipping, “Well, we were trying to go for tragic.”
Despite the appeal of “Lost in the Woods,” writing the song was a challenging assignment. The songwriters wanted to give Kristoff his own take on the traditional “I want” song usually sung by princesses, where the character sings about what they’re longing for and the obstacles in their way, but it had to stay true to Kristoff’s rough-around-the-edges character. “It needed to be a fun moment…but we also didn’t want to lose the tether to real emotion, and real problems of transformation that are happening in the woods,” said Anderson-Lopez.
Groff praised the songwriting, adding, “Oftentimes, it’s girls that are singing about pining after a man and the frustration of not being able to express it, or the man has left and now they’re alone singing about it, and like the first ‘Frozen’ and this ‘Frozen’ in many ways, it inverts that. And so here’s a man pining after a woman, trying to come to terms with his emotions and sing about it, and I think that, making the true love in the first film about familial love and making the center of the story these two sisters is part of what ‘Frozen’ does. It just continues to kind of challenge your expectations of what the stories are.”
One of the key lines from Kristoff’s song “Lost in the Woods” is, “You feel what you feel and your feelings are real.” Anderson-Lopez hopes the song will help encourage kids, especially boys, who are often pushed to hide their vulnerability, to be open about their emotions. Added Groff, “I hope that kids come and see this movie and…have the opportunity to really feel like they can express themselves.”
The cast and filmmakers also raved about Groff’s portrayal of Kristoff as a strong, but sensitive “mountain man,” as Groff describes the character. Said Bell, “We talk about female empowerment, and it’s led by two women, but I personally think that the representation that Jonathan gives for the guys is out of this world.” Bell praised the script and the way the writers allowed Kristoff to support Anna as an equal partner without taking over or trying to interfere with her accomplishing her goals.
Into the Unknown
The songwriters had another formidable challenge in writing a follow-up to “Let It Go,” the mega-hit song from “Frozen” that went on to reach the top five on the “Billboard” Hot 100 chart and won both an Academy Award and a Grammy. But Lopez and Anderson-Lopez didn’t approach “Frozen 2” with the goal of topping the musical success of the first film.
“We never think about hits or anything like that,” said Lopez, who also emphasized that Lee, Buck, and producer Peter Del Vecho focused on narrative. “They just thought about the characters, they just thought about the story. They pitched us this bit of an idea that they had and it just gave us the chills. We all fell in love with this continuation of the story and characters that we all love.”
Anderson-Lopez echoed her partner’s sentiments and added that their passion for a story moment is often the driving force behind writing a song. “There’s never a song without beautiful pages and fascinating story that makes us go, ‘Oh my gosh, can we hang up the phone right now and please go write it, and we’ll get it back to you in a day or two?’ That’s the best feeling, and you’re never thinking about pressure and following up when you’re so excited because their story has inspired you to go rush to the piano and figure out how to nail that story point.”
The songwriters are also inspired by their performers, especially Menzel and her powerful vocal range. Anderson-Lopez compared Menzel’s voice to a Stradivarius, an extremely rare and valuable violin believed to produce a higher quality of sound. “If you’re given a Stradivarius, you write to a Stradivarius.” When writing “Into the Unknown,” the songwriters pushed Menzel even more than they did on the first film. “I knew Idina’s voice, and one of the things that’s so amazing is…she has this warmth and this vulnerability down low, and then as you bring her higher and higher, she gets stronger and stronger and more powerful, so she just reaches into your soul when she’s singing these big, giant songs,” Anderson-Lopez gushed. “I really, truly think that we are the lucky ones to get to write for her. I don’t know that ‘Let It Go’ or ‘Into the Unknown’ would be a hit without Idina, honestly. She’s our muse, and she’s the one that inspires us to write these songs.”
Menzel, for her part, was grateful to work with the songwriters and filmmakers. “I’m so trusting of the situation and this creative process, whether it be singing or doing dialogue, they so have our backs. They’ve gotten to know us as people and as singers, and so they made our lives easier.” Not only was the personal connection helpful for Menzel, but also the songwriters’ focus on the narrative. “Something about how Kristen and Bobby can write such memorable, impactful melodies, but also tell story and involve your character through all of that is just, it’s quite a gift. So I can just go in there and have fun.” Lopez and Anderson-Lopez also challenged Menzel with their difficult songs, which she prepares for as much as she can before she goes into the recording booth. “I warm up a lot ‘cause I know that they’re gonna push me to hit tops of my range. And on a good day, I do, and I’m like, ‘Let’s take it, let’s go for some of these high notes.’ And then when I’m out in the middle of, like, Amsterdam on a tour and I have a cold, I just want to go home,” she joked. “I have to take it down in a key sometimes. They’re really challenging songs.”
(As a Menzel fan, I’m a bit biased, but she’s clearly more than up to the challenge.)
Two notable actors have joined the cast in significant roles for “Frozen 2.” Sterling K. Brown, familiar to audiences for his work in “Black Panther” and the T.V. drama “This Is Us,” plays Mattias, an Arendelle guard trapped in the enchanted forest. Brown was unable to attend the junket, but fortunately Evan Rachel Wood, who portrays Anna and Elsa’s mother in the film, graced the stage and was enthusiastic about sharing her thoughts on her role. (Jennifer Lee originally voiced the character, which was a minor role in the first film and needed to be re-cast in the second.)
Wood, who has a huge body of film work despite being only 32 years old, was thrilled to be cast as Queen Iduna. “Disney raised me,” Wood confessed. “I grew up doing musical theatre, and Disney and musical theatre go hand-in-hand, and all of my favorite Disney movies usually have the musical element in them, and those are the ones that I feel like really stick around forever…that we remember, that we sing, and that become part of our lives.” Her personal connection to Disney added to the thrill of playing the character, as well as being given her own song in the film, “All Is Found.” “I’ve been singing Disney lullabies to my son since he was born,” she shared. “So to be welcomed into the Disney family is already huge, and then to be a part of this…phenomenon, and then to be given a Disney lullaby of my own was just, really…I’m still processing it. It’s been such a special, beautiful experience and I’m still giddy about it. I just can’t believe I’m sitting here right now. I’m just happy to be here.”
Lee praised Wood, who impressed the casting team with her take on Queen Iduna and stood out among the wealth of performers who auditioned. “Her singing voice is extraordinary and had this sweetness right between Kristen and Idina, so you could feel their mom was in the room,” Lee enthused. Wood also brought an intangible quality to her reading that Lee thought hinted at hidden depth. “In her voice you could feel this nurturing, loving mother, but one who knew so much more, and how do you get that in a voice? It was just the sound of her voice, I knew she carried so much more than she was revealing.” Anderson-Lopez agreed. “There’s ‘mist’ in your voice,” she said to Wood. “And the song that we wrote for her also was sort of this misty, up-at-the-top-of-the-world, laying out the mystery, and it actually is the road map for the whole movie, and so she had to be this all-knowing, mystical goddess carrying that beginning.”
“I’ll take that,” Wood laughed. “And I actually listened to Kristen and Idina before I went in to audition, hoping that I had elements of both of them, so the fact that you guys actually heard that made me feel so good about myself.” Wood flipped the compliments back to the “Frozen 2” cast, crew, and artists. “These are, like, the most talented people that I have ever worked with in my life,” she raved. “But just the artistry behind these films, they are just living, breathing works of art, and there’s so much love and care poured into all of them.”
High Hopes for “Frozen 2”
“Frozen” encouraged audiences to “Let It Go,” embrace our powers, and to use love and acceptance to heal the broken parts of ourselves and each other. But there are new takeaways in “Frozen 2” that the cast and filmmakers hope audiences will pick up on and take to heart.
Bell wants audiences leaving the film to “feel like stepping into their unknown might be exciting.” Bell also responded to the movie’s exploration of how the mistakes of past generations can reverberate into the present. “One of the things I love about this film so much is that it puts this sort of, like, very complex idea in front of kids in a totally simple way, which is, ‘Hey, have you ever thought about the fact that maybe past generations didn’t behave that great? That they could have done it better?’” In “Frozen 2,” Elsa and Anna set out to uncover the mysteries of their shared past and right the wrongs they encounter along the way, and Bell hopes kids in the audience will subtly be encouraged to want “a betterment for humanity by learning from the past.”
When the group was asked if “Frozen 2” might be too “dark” for the youngest fans, Lee responded thoughtfully. “You go back to old traditional fairy tales, they always have a moment that gets a little scary…and that’s part of what fairy tales are for. They’re so that you, as a child, and as a person in your life, can experience things and go, ‘Oh!,’ and you’re safely in the [theater] seat. And then it helps you cope with life.” Bell, who is a mom to two little girls who have seen the movie, added, “I actually think that it’s great for kids to be a little bit on the edge of their seat because it’s a safe environment to try on those emotions.”
Del Vecho spoke up about sharing “Frozen 2” with the world, and how the studio set out to frame the film. “I think it was important to us to remind people of the scope and scale of the first movie that they perhaps had forgotten. This was a movie that had a lot of action and had a lot of emotion and drama, and we all thought it was important to very quickly establish that, that this was a movie for everyone.”
Adventure, magic, great music, beautiful animation, comedy, drama, and love of all kinds…what more could “Frozen” fans ask for?
FROZEN 2 arrives in theatres everywhere this Friday! You can find tickets here.
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