Five years ago, Disney's soon-to-be-released animated film inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen was already on paper, although the filmmakers only spent two and a half of those years in production.
Last week during a press day at Walt Disney Animation Studios, we sat down with directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee and producer Peter Del Vecho for an inside look at the making of Disney's Frozen
. I have to admit that while I had seen trailers for the film, I was quite surprised at its stunning visual beauty and poignant fear-versus-love story.
As the film opens, audiences are transported to the magical kingdom of Arendelle where the story of sisters Anna and Elsa begins. We soon learn that Princess Elsa has icy powers, which she stifles by keeping herself secluded from the rest of the kingdom, including her sister. On the day of her coronation as queen, her powers are unleashed, locking the kingdom in an eternal winter. Fear compels her to run away, prompting her sister Anna to go on a daring journey to find her and save the kingdom of Arendelle.
Having spent quite a bit of time with Disney's filmmakers over the years, I expected that an extensive amount of research went into the film's story and cinematography. During our time with the filmmakers, we gleaned quite a bit of information about Disney's Frozen, from inception to completion.
1. While Disney's Frozen was inspired by Andersen's The Snow Queen, the present story underwent numerous script revisions. At one point, Anna and Elsa were mother and daughter, but the filmmakers quickly realized that a sisterly bond was the framework they wanted to convey the themes in this story. Interestingly enough, the Snow Queen is quite evil and little is known about her character. The filmmakers liked Andersen's love-versus-fear theme presented in the original story but keeping Elsa a villain was not resonating with the team. Eventually, the team foraged Anna and Elsa's sisterly bond, incorporating Buck's idea to incorporate an act of true love into the storyline.
2. The filmmakers studied the properties of ice and snow to create an authentic, believable world. Research included a visit to the Ice Hotel in Quebec, Canada where they studied how light reflects and refracts on ice and snow, and Cheyenne, Wyoming where they donned big skirts with corsets to understand what it is like to walk through deep snow. The breathtaking fjords of Norway were the inspiration for the kingdom of Arendelle.
3. A live reindeer named Sage was brought into the studio so that the animation team could study its movements for the character of Sven.
4. The names of Frozen's characters were inspired by conducting an Internet search for Norwegian baby names. While completely unintentional, a fan put together the fact that Hans, Kristoff, Anna, Sven sounds like Hans Christian Andersen.
5. Disney auditioned 50-75 people per role, each of whom was required to sing a song. Of note, Kristen Bell (who voices Princess Anna), originally auditioned for Tangled and after hearing her voice, the casting director puller her aside and told her that if they went another way, he would like her to meet director Chris Buck for a project that was a few years away titled The Snow Queen. The filmmakers found Bell's singing voice beautiful and a "big surprise." When stage actor Santino Fontana came into audition, he sang his own version of "I Feel Pretty," changing the lyrics to "I Am Pretty."
6. Frozen was originally titled The Snow Queen, which was changed during production. Ice and snow are central themes both literally and figuratively. In some foreign countries, the film will retain its original title because of the history of the story.
7. The filmmakers originally wanted a heroine (Princess Anna) that was flawed and had imperfections that audiences could relate to. Kristen Bell was given the freedom to influence her character's personality and shaped her in such a way that she was "who I wanted to see on-screen when I was little... who I felt like I was when I was a kid.”
Disney's Frozen is in theaters as we speak.