The 21-minute featurette Olaf’s Frozen Adventure (playing in theaters with Coco, starting on November 22nd) follows everyone’s favorite lovable snowman Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad), who is on a mission to discover the best possible holiday traditions for Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) and Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel). Directed by Kevin Deters and Stevie Wermers-Skelton, and with four original songs by Kate Anderson and Elyssa Samsel, the charming and heartfelt holiday story will make audiences fall in love with Arendelle and its inhabitants, all over again, and hold them over until the planned sequel is released in theaters.
Back in late October, Collider got the opportunity to join various other press outlets at Disney Animation Studios to view the new short film and chat with some of the folks responsible. During this 1-on-1 interview, directors Kevin Deters and Stevie Wermers-Skelton talked about playing in the world of Arendelle, figuring out the right story and songs, what they learned from directing the Prep & Landing holiday specials, the story idea they loved but had to cut out, how they personally feel about fruitcake, and why Olaf has become a fan favorite character.
Collider: When Disney does animation, it’s pretty safe to assume that it will be a success, but there’s just no way to predict the magnitude of success that Frozen experienced. When you approach a Frozen short, do you have to take that into consideration, knowing that there’s that expectation, or do you have to ignore it, so that you don’t end up in the fetal position?
STEVIE WERMERS-SKELTON: I would say both. Initially, you’re like, “This is Frozen. This is a big deal!” But then, after five minutes, you go, “Okay, let’s just roll up our sleeves and have fun!” We get to utilize all of the resources here, in this building, and the very people that made the first movie. They could help us, if we had any questions or anything, so we knew that we were in good hands. One of the first things I said was, “Let’s just make sure we have fun doing this. Let’s just roll up our sleeves and have fun!” I think that’s reflected in the end product.
KEVIN DETERS: It was the opportunity to say something that could resonate and have some meaning to it. We felt very strongly about that. Hopefully, that came through.
It’s amazing how you can pack so much story into a short, and make people laugh and cry.
DETERS: There’s a lot of story packed into 22 minutes, for sure.
WERMERS-SKELTON: As long as you laugh in the right places and cry in the right places. If you cry in the funny places, that would be bad.
You have a great world that people love, populated by characters that people love, and actors who do incredible work, but you also have to come up with a story and songs that people love as much as they did with the feature film. Was there a moment when you really felt that all of those pieces were falling into place?
DETERS: You feel your way around in the dark, a little bit. At every step, you’re remaking the story. Throughout the process, you have beat boards, storyboards, script and songs. This was a really special project, for all of us involved. It was super collaborative. Animation and filmmaking is obviously a collaborative medium, but it was like lightning in a bottle, with all of the personalities in the story room. We were all coming at it from different angles, but there was great alchemy there that you can’t really reproduce. You just know that it’s a magical group of people. (Songwriters) Kate [Anderson] and Elyssa [Samsel] were in New York, but we were texting them all the time. If they’d fly out [to L.A.] for something else, we’d have drinks or dinner. It was just a special moment in time.
WERMERS-SKELTON: There wasn’t one moment. It was incremental. The more things that went right, the more it felt like you were getting closer. The culmination, for me, was our orchestral recording session, back in May, with an 80-piece orchestra. That was just like, “Oh, my god, this is awesome! We’ve made a Disney musical! This is amazing!” This is our first musical, so it was a very magical and amazing experience.
DETERS: Yeah, for sure.
Did you guys learn anything from directing the holiday-themed Prep & Landing shorts that helped you with this project?
DETERS: Particularly with how much story you can tell in 21-ish minutes, that was really something that we had experience with, from the Prep & Landing pieces, in particular. We were aware that we needed to keep the plot pretty simple, so we had a pretty straightforward mission for Olaf that was really clear without a lot of extraneous things. Anything that didn’t hang on that story clothesline had to go. That was really helpful. I think that helped contribute to the development of this going pretty smoothly.
What’s the craziest story idea that you loved but knew that you could never actually use?
WERMERS-SKELTON: You’ll notice that there’s a goat motif in this short. Anna has got images of goats on the base of her skirt. It’s in the Arendelle iconography. It’s on the sleigh. There’s an old Scandinavian tradition about goats.
DETERS: You just glossed over thousands of years of history with, “Yada yada yada . . . goats.”
WERMERS-SKELTON: We actually had a goat character in there, who was going to go on the journey with Sven and Olaf, and his name was Mr. Jingles. That’s the name that Olaf gave him because he would eat everything. He was trying to eat all of the traditions in the sleigh. It was before they went off a cliff. Mr. Jingles was eating all of the stuff that Olaf was collecting, so in the end, Olaf had nothing left. But for whatever reason, he just wasn’t quite fitting in there. He was getting in the way, between Sven and Olaf, so we had to sacrifice him.
DETERS: He was named Mr. Jingles because he swallowed a jingle bell, so every time he bleeted, he was ringing like a jingle bell.
So, you have kittens in sweaters now, but no goat?
DETERS: Kate and Elyssa are big kitten fans. We’re both dog people. They just like all things adorable and cute. One of our amazing story artists had done a little drawing of a cat in a Christmas sweater, and Kate and Elyssa got very excited by that. Somehow kittens found their way into a song, and before we knew it, they’re everywhere now.
What is your own personal relationship with fruitcake?
DETERS: That’s a personal question.