The animating geniuses at Disney have taken winter to heart this year with their all-singing, all-shivering new animation Frozen. Co-directed by Chris Buck (Tarzan, Surf’s Up) and Jennifer Lee (screenwriter on Wreck-It Ralph), the film is a Nordic-set tale of friendship, family and fear. Featuring pet reindeer, deconstructable snowmen and a real ice queen, Frozen has plenty to offer. Empire sat down with the film’s creators to get a first hand account of the thinking behind the film’s protagonists…
Our heroine is Anna, the younger of the two sisters at the start of the story, and a normal girl who is not cursed with her older sister’s powers over snow and ice. She’s voiced by Kristen Bell, and is a world away from the poised princesses of old Disney.
Jennifer Lee: “Anna’s this fearless, optimistic girl. She’s kind of quirky and weird, but she doesn’t give up and is dead set on not only saving her kingdom but her relationship with her sister, who accidentally caused an eternal winter. We both love characters that have flaws, that the audience can really see themselves in. We don’t like characters just up on pedestals, that are too perfect.”
“We really feel like we built Anna together with Kristen Bell. She is so funny and so smart and fearless in herself, and there’s a lot of Kristen in Anna. She really wanted to do the kind of Disney heroine that was more like the ordinary girl, and like her, and us.”
Anna’s sister Elsa is very different from her younger sibling, much more conscious of her responsibilities and weighed down by guilt and fear. It took a while for her to evolve into the woman she is in Frozen, voiced by Broadway star Idina Menzel.
Chris Buck: “She originally was much more of a villain, and then the idea came in about two or three years into the process, of, what if the two were sisters? That connection between the two also really helped make her less villainous. Elsa is more consumed by fear and so we played with the idea.”
Jennifer Lee: “A lot of this was to really make the villain fear, and let her (Elsa) be part of that. I think she’s more relatable to people who have anything that makes them different or special, and that often they fear that, and they hide it. Idina had a vulnerability in her voice that was so perfect for Elsa.”
Frozen’s love interest comes in the form of the smart, strapping and seriously swoony Hans, who’s a royal visiting the Kingdom for Elsa’s coronation when he immediately captivates Anna. He is voiced by Santino Fontana, another Broadway staple.
Jennifer Lee: “I think Anna saw a lot of herself in Hans. They meet in a way that is fumble-y – he hits her with a horse! – and he’s awkward and nervous, like her, and yet he seems to understand her”.
Chris Buck: “She loves that. Her sister was very controlled and not spontaneous, and suddenly there’s this other person that’s like ‘Let’s go do this, and let’s do that, let’s do that’.”
Anna’s first meeting with Frozen’s other male protagonist, Kristoff, is less romantic but just as impactful. A ‘mountain nerd’ who sells ice for a living and prefers the company of his reindeer Sven to that of people, Kristoff’s the one she doesn’t see coming. He’s voiced by Jonathan Groff, again a Broadway recruit.
Chris Buck: “Kristoff is a little bit of that real love, where Hans is romantic love. He’s kind of the messy part of it. He’s not the hearts and roses kind of guy; he’s like the real deal.”
Jennifer Lee: “I think the trolls say it best when they say, ‘He’s a fixer-upper,’ but deep down, he’s the honest goods. What I love is that you meet his family – they’re trolls, but they’re very endearing – and you begin to understand that he was raised with solid values, he knows right from wrong. Even if he resists it, and she’s a pain in the neck sometimes, he knows what’s right, and he’ll be there for her. He also calls her out on her own mistakes, or potential mistakes, and I think you have to be able to do that in a relationship. So he was a way of exploring that side of it, I think”.
Basically, Sven is a reindeer, but he’s one with a degree of understanding and loyalty that makes him more dog-ish than reindeer-like (although we admittedly don’t know that many reindeer). As Kristoff’s best buddy, his master often provides dialogue on his behalf.
Chris Buck: “We didn’t necessarily want the animals to talk in the world, but it was fun in that we were discussing what we would do with him. Sven could’ve just been a pantomime character; we really didn’t need anyone to talk for him. But then Jen came up with this great idea. She said, ‘I was thinking about it, and you know, I talk for my cats at home…’ and of course I jumped on it right away, because I talk for my dogs at home. I have voices for all three of them. What I love is when Sven finally speaks up, how much Kristoff pretends he can’t understand him. But they’re best friends, and Sven is very much his conscience.”
One of the most lovable – and hilarious – characters in the film comes appropriately in the form of a talking snowman who’s obsessed with summer. The voice is courtesy of Josh Gad, who originated the lead role of Elder Cunningham in The Book Of Mormon on Broadway before launching a film career. If you’re wondering about all these Broadway connections, that’s because the film’s songwriter, Robert Lopez, also wrote The Book Of Mormon before writing this film’s songs with his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez.
Chris Buck: “Olaf was an animator’s dream. A character that can fall apart and put himself back together – the animation possibilities are great, the humour is great. The animators deliberately made him waddle like a toddler, and kept his twif-arms stiff to add to the air of childish innocence, and comedy value, they were going for.”
Jennifer Lee: “I remember when I came in, as a screenwriter, the first thing I always say is ‘What does this character want?’ And with Olaf I just loved the naivety of a snowman wanting to see summer. At first people were like, ‘You’re sick!’ But the songwriters, Bobby and Kristen Lopez – Bobby, who did the Book Of Mormon, which shows he’s already got some twisted ideas, he went, ‘Oh, I can run with that.’ So they wrote in summer, and it was that song, when we played it everyone understood what we were going for”.