Disney’s newest animated feature, “Frozen II” hit theaters this weekend, but it was a big celebration two weeks ago when the cast and creators got together to share laughs, memories, and deep thoughts about the impact of the first film and their hopes for the second.
Co-director and Walt Disney Animation chief Jennifer Lee brought along her co-director, Chris Buck, Executive Producer Peter Del Veccho, and stars Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, Evan Rachel Wood. Oscar-winning songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez also joined in a morning that included laughter, tears, and plenty of sweet moments.
The conversation first addressed why it was time to make Disney Animation’s first theatrical sequel. “It really started about a year after the original film came out,” said Lee. We did a small short (“Olaf’s Frozen Adventure”), and when we saw the characters animated again, we got emotional and we missed them.”
“Frozen II” gave the writers, directors, and animators the opportunity to revisit the beloved characters from the 2013 film. As they traveled around the world with the award-winning film, they soon realized some of the questions they were being asked where questions they still had themselves. Lee listed a few: “Why does Elsa have powers? And then more questions. What did the girls want to do with their lives? They’re at the precipice. They finally got together, what happened? Where were their parents really going?”
And so, a sequel was born. Chris Buck teased some of the new songs by adding, “We got lost along the way. And everything is about to make sense now that I am older. And if I just do the next right thing, somehow all will be found.”
Idina Menzel, who stars as Arendelle’s Queen Elsa, talked about her journey since the first film, and “Let It Go,” the song that made her a global superstar. “It never really ended from ‘Frozen I’ to ‘Frozen 2’ because 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 singing this music and reminding me how they have learned to celebrate that thing inside them that makes them feel extraordinary.”
Kristen Bell, who plays Elsa’s sister Anna, reminisced about the first time she and Menzel sang together. Disney execs sent Bell to Menzel’s house under direction to prepare a song to sing together. It was Kristen Anderson-Lopez’s idea for them to sing, “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” Bell described the moment, saying, “My palms were sweating and it was almost immediately this genuine, sisterly bond. [Idina] put her hands on my shoulder and said, ‘You sound so great. This is gonna be great.’ And I just melted.
Lee confirmed that “Frozen” was greenlit based on that duet they prepared together. Anderson-Lopez laughed and said, “The irony is that it was greenlit based on these two women singing together and they only actually sing together in the films for about two minutes when they’re yelling at each other!”
Olaf was the beloved snowman created by Elsa in the first film. Voiced by Josh Gad, Olaf has become a favorite for his childlike curiosity and innocence. In “Frozen II,” Olaf has grown a bit. Gad, who is a father to two young girls, described how he understood Olaf’s journey when his oldest daughter started crying quite suddenly one day. He said, “One day she’s sitting at the table and she started crying and said, ‘What if I don’t want to grow up?'” He went on. “That is the way I feel about Olaf in this movie… He’s gone from toddler to fully grown child and he’s starting to ask those questions that don’t have easy answers.”
Gad also talked about how exciting it is for him as a dad to get to share Elsa and Anna with his daughters. “The coolest part about watching ‘Frozen’ and now ‘Frozen II’ with my daughters is they have these guys (Kristen and Idina) as their role models. I get to share this with two girls who get to look up to two fiercely independent Disney princesses who are changing the way we view what a princess is. That to me is the greatest part of this journey.”
But Kristen Bell was excited to discuss another great part of the journey of “Frozen II,” which comes in the form of her co-star, Jonathan Groff. Groff voices Kristoff, Anna’s rugged, mountain man boyfriend whose best friend is his reindeer, Sven.
Apparently Bell’s one criticism of the first film was the fact that Groff didn’t really get his own song. He had a quick little moment, but not a real, powerful song. But that changes with “Frozen II,” in which Groff gets the ultimate power ballad, which Bell describes as “One of the top three moments of the film.” Gad added, “It’s the funniest song in Disney Animation history.”
It’s hard to disagree with Gad’s assessment, though Robert Lopez joked, “We were trying to go for tragic.” And then Groff insisted, “We were being completely genuine when we were making that song. There was nothing funny about it at all.” Anderson-Lopez set the scene, “We had candles in the studio, we told Jonathan, Just find it. Breathe in, breathe out, think back to all the heartache you’ve been through.” Groff added, “I was wearing a wig.”
It made for a very funny scene, but there was much more to Kristoff in “Frozen II.” When we first met him, he was a loner who spent all his time with his trusty reindeer friend, Sven. But then he met Anna and Elsa and now he’s part of the family. Still rough around the edges, but no longer isolated and alone.
Bell commented on Kristoff’s healthy attitude. “We talk about female empowerment and it’s led by two women, but I personally think the representation Jonathan gives for the guys is out of this world. It’s so subliminal, I don’t even know if people will pick up on this. There was one moment where Anna is in distress and he swoops in and picks her up and it’s in the middle of battle. He doesn’t say, ‘I got you’ and take over. He swoops her up and very quickly looks at her and says, ‘I’m here. What do you need?'” Bell added another of Kristoff’s perfect responses, “When Anna apologizes for something and he says, ‘It’s okay. My love is not fragile.’ The example of an egoless love like that is really profound.”
Evan Rachel Wood, who plays Anna and Elsa’s mother, Queen Iduna, called Kristoff, “Prince Sincere, not Prince Charming.”
Anderson-Lopez added, “Sven says, ‘You feel what you feel and your feelings are real.’ I think if that one message comes across to boys, boys get to feel empowered to feel their feelings in a big or a small but hopefully big 80s power ballad, then we’ve done a little bit in the war against toxic masculinity.”
And it’s true. “Frozen II” seeks to give voice and empowerment to kids who wonder about their place in the world. It also provides a shining example of mature adulthood and how men can truly and healthily support women and each other.