Frozen 2, now the highest-grossing animated movie in history, will soon be available for home viewing as it comes available in Digital, 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD formats next month. To commemorate the film’s increased availability, Disney In-Home Media held a press day of animator presentations, talent interviews, and a surprise concert!
Lost in the Woods
The first presentation was on the standout Kristoff song “Lost in the Woods” with Justin Sklar, Animation Supervisor for Kristoff, Michael Woodside, Animation Supervisor for Sven, and Dan Abraham, Story Artist for the “Lost in the Woods” sequence.
Early on in the process it was established that they wanted Kristoff to have a song as they felt not giving Jonathan Groff a musical scene in the first film was a missed opportunity. There was originally a duet written for Anna and Kristoff called “I Wanna Get This Right,” that was subsequently cut but now presented on the Blu-ray bonus features.
The replacement, “Lost in the Woods” was heavily inspired by 80s rock ballads, fitting with Kristoff’s deep emotional feelings about trying to be with Anna who is entirely preoccupied with her sister. The decision was made to have the reindeer sing back-up, which was an animation challenge given that they had never actually spoken before. Once they had established it was possible to have the reindeer mouths articulate and emote appropriately, their attention turned to making sure there was a balance between the sincerity of Kristoff’s feelings and the fun that this song was having. First passes played Kristoff’s reactions so straight that audiences didn’t get the humor until half way through the sequence, and were consequently lightened up. While Kristoff’s reactions were modeled to be funny, it was important to the animators that he never look like he was intentionally “winking” at the audience, as none of his impassioned turmoil is a joke to him.
The last shot of the sequence has all the reindeer (initially seen as skeptical but eventually won over by Kristoff’s angst) joining in with Kristoff, all of whom are also voiced by Groff and mixed so that any particular audio track matches the location of the reindeer singing it on the screen. At the beginning of the sequence, Kristoff is confused by Sven’s advice that “(he) feel(s) what (he) feel(s,) and (his) feelings are real.” By the end, he has accepted his feelings and has a sense of ownership over his emotions, illustrating how songs in Disney films function to push both the characters and the story forward.
The next presentation was with Marc Smith, Director of Story; Brittany Lee, Visual Development Artist; Cory Florimonte, Layout Lead; Alex Moaveni, Effects Lead; and Amol Sathe, Lighting Supervisor on Finding Ahtohallan.
The origin of Ahtohallan–the place where all the answers to all the world’s questions lie–began in a research trip the team took to Iceland where they were able to walk on an enormous glacier. Observing that the stratification of the ice layers made it a time capsule of sorts, the animators used the concept to extend their existing story ideas of water having memory and Elsa’s search for the truth of her past. The sequence “Show Yourself” was both one of the first scenes started in the film’s development and one of the last finished due to its challenging nature as the culmination of Elsa’s journey throughout both Frozen and Frozen 2.
As part of the scene’s visual development, an important cue taken from the song was the concept of “call and response.” The colored lights representing the spirits that have appeared earlier to Elsa return in Ahtohallan’s walls of ice, guiding her forward and encouraging the manifestation of her full potential. As they break free of the ice, the lights are revealed to be diamonds that show up on her dress and become physically part of her.
Another influence on the creation of the space was the need to illustrate Elsa’s growing confidence in her powers. Areas that would be impassable for normal humans are simple for Elsa to traverse with ice magic. Tight, constricting tunnels she passes through initially open up to a large, grandiose area where dramatic camera movements mirror her transformation into the Fifth Spirit.
To make Ahtohallan appear to be a frozen river of memory, over 80 shots from Frozen and Frozen 2 were selected to appear as memories on the dome of the large room and digitally treated to appear to have a murky smeared appearance as if they were coming from inside the ice. Patterns overlap and refract the view of the images to better represent the concept of memory and how some are clearer and easier to access than others. Ultimately, Elsa’s prominent memory is that of her mother, Queen Iduna. Not only is she the largest and clearest of all the images reflected on the dome, the animators put little images of her in Elsa’s eyes, so that even when the camera switches away to close in on Elsa’s face, her connection to her mother can still be felt.
Interviews with the Cast and Crew
Afterward, some of the talented Frozen 2 cast and creatives took the time to speak with us:
Jason Ritter (voice of Ryder) with Rachel Matthews (voice of Honeymaren)
Laughing Place: How did you get involved with Frozen 2?
Ritter: “I got an email saying ‘we have an audition for you in a week or so for the new Frozen movie’ and to come in with a monologue and a song and I was overwhelmed with fear and anxiety because…I love singing, I love karaoke, but I’ve never had to sing in an audition before, and I was so nervous. So I went to the first one…and I was so nervous during the singing part, they were like ‘you don’t have to look at us if you don’t want’ and I started about 90 degrees from them, and by the end of the song, [rotating slowly away] I was out the window, looking at a little Mickey on the top of a post over there. And they were like ‘ok, that’s great…maybe…you can carry a tune, but why don’t you go to a vocal coach for a little bit before the call back.’ And I was like OH CALL BACK, OH VOCAL COACH, OK. So I spent a month going to this incredible woman named Peisha McPhee and she helped me get my confidence up so I didn’t have to look far far away from everybody.
So I went in for the second one and I sang a song and did my monologue…”
Matthews: “Did you look at them?”
Ritter: “I looked right…I think I was looking in their general direction, but I was definitely spaced out and still anxiety-filled, but I think I was able to cover it.”
LP: What was the song?
Ritter: “The first song I did was ‘Suddenly Seymour’ from Little Shop of Horrors…I didn’t go up as Audrey, which I usually like to do because it’s a duet (weird choice,) and for the audition “She’s Got A Way” from Billy Joel.”
Matthews: “I had kind of a crazy situation: I had never done voice over before. I had never even had a voice over audition before…So I was thrilled, I’m like the biggest Frozen fan of all time, I saw the first one four times in the theater, so just seeing that in my inbox, I freaked out.
…And opposite, I was not nervous, surprisingly, because in my mind I was like there’s no way I will ever book this. There’s ZERO possibilities so I’m just going to try and have fun and take this all in, and I get to be at Disney Animation in front of my idols and stepped in the room and just had the best time…so it was a very special experience for me.”
LP: Talk about your connection with Frozen.
Ritter: “…I’m super close to my siblings, so anything that’s like that specific relationship of ‘we grew up in the same house, there are things that I feel like I know about you super well and also there are elements of you that are still sort of a mystery…’ I love that, that desire to get to know your siblings and become like a cool team. And also Josh Gad is just so funny.”
Matthews: “I actually have the same situation. I’m such a family-oriented person and I had really just moved to New York–I was in my second year in school and when I saw this I was definitely missing home. I’m the oldest of four and I do have a younger sister and I do think, growing up with Disney and being the biggest Disney fanatic and seeing everything, it was so beautiful to see a story that mainly focuses on this sisterhood and two girls that clearly love each other. They have their disagreements, but they are consistently choosing one another and I just related to that so much between my relationship with my sister and my family and I think the creatives just did such a beautiful job as they did with the sequel, just combining the heart and the humor and the emotion all into one package.
It was one of those things where you’d leave the theater and you could just feel from everyone, they were each going through their own beautiful experience. Everyone was taking something away that they could relate with in their own life. And I think movies like that obviously leave a very impactful impression and that’s why I kept going back to the theater, I kept wanting to feel those things again, and that’s when I think you know you’ve done a really good job, making a good movie.”
Next we had a chance to speak with directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee as well as producer Peter Del Vecho:
On Queen Iduna’s connection with magic:
Buck: “We always talked about her having this beautiful connection with Nature. There are people we all know that do, they just have this sort of sense about Nature–Nature speaks to them, they speak to Nature–so she’s not magical, she has this connection with these spirits of Nature which was cool for us to think about that, eventually she’s going to give birth to this little girl that has an extremely strong connection to Nature. But Elsa is somewhat magical.”
Lee: “I like to think that she was connected to the spirits, they loved her, she lived in harmony, and then during such a difficult day, she saved a young boy who was technically her enemy. That beautiful gesture is why, I think, Elsa was born, and Anna–they were born to heal this world because it comes from her.”
On why Queen Iduna waited so long to reveal her background to King Agnarr:
Lee: “We explored this a lot. You know, if this could be the mini-series version, I think you’d get a real sense of…it would help you understand his fear of magic as well, when he’s worried for his daughter. He witnessed a terrible day, a very confusing day, and a day I’m sure the Northuldra were misunderstood and villainized.
“So again, we had all those things, but every time the story pulled away from the two sisters, it was hard to keep framed to these different things. But for us, that’s really what it was. We used to have scenes where we played up how horrible the Northuldra were in their minds, and it just sort of fell away to focus on the girls more. So when I would write it, that’s where it would come from, this belief that sharing that about herself, that she’d be judged in a way that could harm her girls or jeopardize her. I think deep down, she always wanted there to be a way to heal it all. She must have, because she had the two girls who did.”
On what it means to make the highest-grossing animated film of all time:
Lee: “It’s nice for us because I think it tells us we can tell these kinds of stories. I mean, this focuses on two sisters and Frozen 1 and 2…they don’t have classic villains, they’re about taking what’s going on inside and externalizing it, and it’s a different approach. That’s one approach that’s ok to take. So be more fearless as you tell stories—there’s not one rule as to how you tell these stories. The fact that some people come back again, that they see different things in it at different times…that means everything to us.
“We’ll never quite understand everything about this journey on Frozen, but I think we can feel proud of these women and proud that we tried to tell a story from these very simple emotions out and not traditional rules.”
Finally, we heard from songwriters Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez:
On getting started with Disney:
Lopez: “[Disney] had reached out to me and Jeff Marx after Avenue Q and we love Disney and we just wanted to do something for them, and so we were developing stuff for them and nothing ever happened. But then they reached out to us again, and we said ‘um, we’re actually busy right now, but Kristen would love to do stuff.”
Anderson-Lopez: “So he gave them my demo, that had a ten-minute version of Oedipus, told acapella…it was called Oedipus A Cappella.”
Lopez: “It was hilarious. It was great.”
Anderson-Lopez: “It was a very post-modern retelling. It had like… ♪ ‘some people can’t balance…being mother and wife!’ ♫ Anyway, from that, they saw that I could take long-form pieces and condense them to their bare bones. And so I think that’s when…first they reached out and said will you write something for Lucky, the animatronic dinosaur?’ And then two days later, I got a call saying ‘forget about Lucky, Lucky’s not happening, but we were thinking we might want to do a piece of Finding Nemo in the parks. Do you think you could maybe look at that?’ And I was like YES and I looked at the architecture of Finding Nemo and was like, I can see how to make this a musical using motifs and my treatment went through and then they were like ‘do you have a composer you want to work with on this, we want to greenlight development,’ and I said ‘well, I’d like to work with my husband!’”
Lopez: “Finding Nemo was my favorite movie at that time, and Kristen was my favorite person–and still is–and so I was like ‘lets do it!’ We had written two other things for Bear in the Big Blue House at that time, that was our only work together.”
Anderson-Lopez: “And that’s how we met John Lasseter, and out of that, we had such a wonderful kindred spirit moment with him…later on, a few years later…we got called up. They were working on Winnie the Pooh and we had just had our second child…and they said ‘do you want to try and write some spec songs for this?’…We auditioned–we were up anyway, all night long with this baby, so we started writing Winnie the Pooh songs and we got that job, and through that experience, they realized that we…ground everything in story, and that we have story minds too, that we like to think about everything architecturally…”
Lopez: “Kristen has this story gift that not everybody has. It’s the kind of thing you really need to make any successful project, and she’s one of the blessed, so I’m very lucky to have her.”
Anderson-Lopez: “That’s sweet. And he has these melodies that are like nobody, you know? The melodies just come out like gold from him.”
On the differences in writing musicals for stage and screen:
Lopez: “Film is different. It can hold less music because of the needs of the adventure story. The plot, the action moments, the close-ups can do more for storytelling than songs. You don’t need songs every little beat of the movie, but whereas in a musical, you kind of do your main storytelling in songs.
“But aside from that, the actual writing of the songs? I don’t think there’s a whole lot of difference. We just think about the story. We try to tell the best story we can.”
Anderson-Lopez: “I would say that in stage, the songs do a lot more of the plot. The metaphor I’ve been using lately is like, the songs are more like concentrated orange juice. They’re like very concentrated moments of emotion or decision and tone, where the dialogue and the action and the eyes can do a lot more of the heavy lifting. In musicals, sometimes you do need to be like, ♪ ‘I am thinking that I’m going to do this!’ ♫
On being part of the legacy of Disney songwriters:
Anderson-Lopez: “We never think about it like that. We’re in the trenches like everybody here today. When we’re working for Disney we’re just trying to do the best we can for that day, that story, that song…”
Lopez: “However, we do think about their legacy. We think about Sherman, and we think about Alan Menken and all of his wonderful collaborators. That’s some of the stuff that makes us get out of bed. We love that stuff. We grew up on it. And it’s been glorious.”
Anderson-Lopez: “And by the way, we’re one of these days really hoping to get to work with Alan Menken. He’s a genius. He’s a living national treasure and again, another one where I interviewed him, and I said ‘look, if you had to write a song of your life’s story, your ‘I Want’ song for your life’s story, what would you do?’ He went to the piano right then and there, composed the most gorgeous melody, came up with lyrics to go with it…I mean, he’s like magic. Like a magic man. A wizard.”
Lopez: “He’s a magic!”
Anderson-Lopez: “He’s a magic.”
A Musical Performance
After the interviews, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Bobby Lopez treated attendees to a brief medley of their songs from Frozen 2.
Frozen 2 will be made available digitally on February 11th while physical copies of the film will be available on February 25th.