In “Frozen,” fearless optimist Anna (voice of Kristen Bell) teams up with rugged mountain man Kristoff (voice of Jonathan Groff) and his loyal reindeer Sven in an epic journey, encountering Everest-like conditions, mystical trolls and a hilarious snowman named Olaf (voice of Josh Gad) in a race to find Anna’s sister Elsa (voice of Idina Menzel), whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter. Today, on Nov. 30, warptown.com is excited to share some highlights from our exclusive roundtable interview with “Frozen” co-directors and writers Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee.
Speak about Elsa’s evolution. She is not your typical villain
Jennifer: Elsa was much more like the original story, in the beginning, a true villain. In the original story she is not very well drawn. She is very symbolic, which is easier to do in a story than in a film really because things are so concrete in a film. But we also just wanted to know her. That was really the key and a couple of things that really pushed us was I loved the journey of Anna…and then Kai’s story was very interesting as well we really wanted to focus on Snow Queens. We sort of imbued Kai’s point of view into her and that his was negativity caused by a mirror that went in his eyes from the trolls, but in what is today’s world, what does that equal? That’s equals fear…And we make choices by fear and what if we gave that to Elsa and then she was elevated, but the biggest elevation was them becoming sisters and the discovery of “Let It Go” and then we said, “Wow we can do so much more with her – be much more complex”. And we loved the idea that she would be just as inspirational and flawed as anyone and not just a typical villain.
Chris: When you get to know people, you understand them and get their true colors and so when you don’t, you don’t and that was the message that kind of resonated with all of us and ties into the families as well as the umbrella which we tell this: fear vs. love stories through families and so I think it just kind of felt cool to have all the characters hang off of that theme in some way and it lent itself to some who exploit love, some who exploit fear and bare the antagonist forces vs. there being one.
Can you talk about the casting process?
Chris: They are all fantastic because we fell in love with all of them. The casting was simple for a lot of this because they were the first ones that came in and our casting director was great bringing these people in…Jonathan was the only one that we were not casting that kind of guy. It was a mountain man who was more gruff and a man of few words. So we were looking for this voice and then he comes in. And have you meet with Jonathan. So Jonathan comes in, very charming! Very chatty and just a gave a great audition and I was in the room with him reading lines and then he leaves and he comes back and talks to the rest of people in the booth and everyone and I said…”He is so great!”
Jennifer: Yes, they were swooning. He just has such a wonderful quality. It was more playful and it was just enticing and he felt like a leading man kind of a voice and so we changed Kristoff, to enjoy Jonathan and he became so much fun and then Anna and Kristoff had a lot of fun as characters. And then Idina I will say the thing about Idina that’s so special – particularly as Elsa got more complex, is that she has that voice, that powerful voice, but she’s reserved and shy, there’s a vulnerability to her that is Elsa and I don’t think anyone could be Elsa…she is super hero basically and yet vulnerable and so she was a dream.
Can you speak about Olaf and Josh Gad voicing him?
Chris: Josh was again one of the first one’s that came in and Josh did a first table read as Olaf and…it was before “Book of Mormon.” Everybody thinks that he was involved because of Lopez, but he was first. But he just had that great innocent charm that was always there with Olaf that we revised him quite a bit and especially when Jen came on, but he still remained with that childlike innocence. Josh has kind of that impish quality that Olaf has. He always wanted that character for same thing to happen to him. [Olaf] was always going to fall apart, he was always going to have the arms…and be that very kind of innocent guy that didn’t really know even at times that he says things are very profound. He really didn’t know what he was saying, he just says this things.
“Frozen” appeals to both kids and adults. Can you speak about that balancing process?
Jennifer: We have kids. We are very in tune with kids and also adults and we write stories that we want to tell, that we feel, but we definitely always want every character and everything to resonate on different levels. So there is Olaf… it makes sense that kids would respond most to him, we knew always because he is imbued with the energy of the children that Anna and Elsa were and states the obvious humor with kids we know. But there is a sensitivity and a charm to him and we hope adults understand in terms of what he means. And then we have some very adult humor… so I think you are always working on the scenes to speak to everyone at some level.
The Disney princesses in “Frozen” are more realistic and less perfect.
Jennifer: We definitely set out with Anna and Elsa event to have more relatable flawed characters – the people we respond to, definitely. I mean they actually weren’t royal until about two years ago. Disney never asked us to make them royal. There is no connection to it. It was that we felt for Anna that the pressure on her, the stakes go up if she has a Kingdom that she is responsible for. And then obviously Elsa is a Snow Queen. We used to have it more like a self-proclaimed title way back. But that was the old Elsa. But the pressure on both of them and the responsibility and then we were just left free, but certainly…we wanted to show the characters that we would relate to. And Kristen Bell really wanted to do that as well. We supported her.
Chris: I never look at this movie as a princess movie because I just think of them as just female characters that have flaws and are funny and serious and all. So from my perspective, I have never treated them as princesses.
Can you speak about working with Kristen Anderson-Lopez (“In Transit,” “Winnie the Pooh”) and Robert Lopez on the film’s music?
Jennifer: Bobby and Kristen are probably the greatest partners we could have because everything we wanted out of songs for this, which was we wanted it to be fresh and different and surprising and yet sincere and also be awesome and they are! Bobby and Christian are awesome. And then we wanted the story in the songs to drive a story forward as well and they are great storytellers. So it was a great match. It’s very hard because for me as a writer because I tried to do the opposite, I tried to evoke ideas and never speak directly and everything is subtext and a song is as concrete as you get and they want that hook that says it. So we are doing opposite things. But in a way that’s where you get the good balance is if I can evoke a feeling that all of a sudden when you go into the song you are just in it and it’s organic and you can feel the song, then I did my job, I think. And they feel like if they can do a song where it just cuts right through and takes you to the next step and you feel what you need to feel, it carries the story forward.
Chris: I went to see “Book Of Morman” and “Avenue Q” in one weekend and I just went that’s perfect. It pushes the boundaries a bit, but it’s fresh, it’s clever.
Jennifer: Bobby was very good at sort of doing that PG version of himself. But boy he was so happy when we gave him a song about a snowman one summer.
Jennifer, you are the first female to direct a Disney animated film. Can you speak about that?
Jennifer: For me coming in, I was surrounded by women when I got here…half of our story team was women on “Ralph” and… I didn’t know. When I became a director it was months before somebody not at Disney pointed that out and I was very flattered and honored, but for me it was like, that’s just how it is here and I think more and more women are going into animation, which is great and so I think it is just the sign of what’s to come. I’m psyched about it.
Chris: It’s fantastic, just the prospective that Jen brings to all the characters that she’s a powerhouse. She really is. Really, she’d be writing in the morning and coming in early, early, early six o’lock A.M.…and then be writing and then say, “Ok, let’s direct now.” I’d come in at Eleven o’clock ands it was a great team and we both obviously being male and female had different perspectives on life and characters and I think hopefully this film will.
Jennifer: It makes for a lot of fun. We have had a lot of fun to do the animation and just really have more playful conversations about what we can do with the characters and so I think it’s just a very, a really great environment right now.
Can you speak about your collaborative process as co-directors?
Chris: Jen worked with the story artists most of the day. I have been working with the animators and layout and other effects and other things, production end of it and then we would meet several times a day, sometimes we would be in the same meetings.
Jennifer: We were always with Bobby and Kristen together and that was a great way for us to sort of begin the day, connect and then decide on the rest of the day.
Chris: Because sometimes there would be re-writing going on and she would work with the story artists on the boards and I would need to know that as I am going to direct the animators in a certain way with the actors. So it was good. Then the last six months we were together all the time. But we were always on the same page from the beginning of the movie. Even before she came on as the writer, she came in and was giving notes and I could tell that she really understands the vision of this movie and really understands what I was trying to say.
Jennifer: And I think we did prefer staying together just also because you got a crew of six hundred and you were going from meeting to meeting and you were working with a bunch of people in writing them and then you were going to effects and you were going to story and…if there are new ideas that come up, we could sit and really work it out together. When you got a crew that big with you all the time, you have to keep the vision clear and keep true North as we say and also they will be open to all the wonderful ideas that come, they are all artists. So I think it just helped us to make sure that we were making these choices and feeling like this was right for our film.
“Frozen” is now playing.