‘Frozen 2’ Filmmakers on Making the First Disney Musical Sequel

     November 29, 2019

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With Frozen 2 now playing in theaters, I recently sat down with co-directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck and producer Peter Del Vecho to talk about making the highly anticipated sequel. During the wide-ranging conversation, they talked about how the sequel happened, why the film doesn’t have a villain trying to steal Elsa’s powers or take over the kingdom, how the film changed during production, if they have any plans to release the cut songs, easter eggs and where to find them, what changed as a result of early screenings, the after-the-credits-scene, what was the last thing they removed before finishing the film, and so much more.

As most of you know, Frozen 2 takes Anna (Kristen Bell), Elsa (Idina Menzel), Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), and Olaf (Josh Gad) on an all-new adventure that finds Anna and Elsa investigating the truth behind their parents—and possibly Elsa’s powers. The sequel also features the voices of Evan Rachel Wood, Alfred Molina, Martha Plimpton, Jason Ritter, Ciarán Hinds, Jeremy Sisto, Alan Tudyk, and Rachel Matthews.

Check out what they had to say below.

Collider: I think I spoke to you guys for the first one…

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Image via Disney Animation

JENNIFER LEE: That’s right.

I remember it was before it was Frozen. It was when everyone was nervous. “Did we make a good movie?” “Will people respond?” You know? How times have changed.

LEE: We still have the same questions though…

People are going to love this. Movie’s great. I’m sure you’re hearing that from everyone.

LEE: Thank you.

You’re two for two on this one.

LEE: Oh that’s kind of you. I’ll take it.

I want to jump backwards. How did it actually happen, in terms of making a sequel to this one? Because Disney, as far as I know, has never made a musical sequel.

LEE: You’re right. Yes.

So I’m curious, is it one of the heads of the studio that comes to someone and says, “Hey,” right after opening weekend of the first one, “When are you thinking?” Or can you talk about what’s that first moment where someone said, “Let’s do this?”

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Image via Walt Disney Pictures

PETER DEL VECHO: Well, the nice thing is we didn’t get that pressure. It really came… I think a couple of things happened simultaneously. One, Chris and Jen were working on a short and they… About a year after the movie came out, and just seeing the characters moving again up on the screen. You miss them.

LEE: Yeah.

DEL VECHO: I was also going around talking to students, around the world, talking to students and talking to artists and kept hearing that they had more questions, particularly, “Where did Elsa get her powers?” “Why does she have them?” And coming back, realizing that Chris and Jen were struggling with those same questions. And I think that was the genesis…

LEE: It was, and we had a moment, we sat together and we looked at you and said, “Are you ready to leave this world?”

CHRIS BUCK: We were actually on another project.

LEE: That’s right, we were doing a different project.

BUCK: We were going down another road.

Gigantic?

frozen-2-anna-olaf-socialLEE: No, no, no. It was something we were interested in. A topic we were interested in and we were researching it.

BUCK: This is all coming up. And then doing the short.

LEE: We naively said, “I’m not ready to leave the Frozen world,” and we haven’t.

BUCK: We love these characters. I think there’s more story to tell. So it was really us. We started the whole thing.

LEE: The priority of creative integrity is-that’s it. That’s the thing. Creatively, that comes first. And Disney wouldn’t want us to do anything if it didn’t come from the filmmakers wanting to having the passion to do it. But when we did say we wanted to do it, it was just “What do you need?” and that was amazing for us, to really help us build this. And we’re like, “Of course we need the same team.” And we had the same team. Everyone said “Yes.”

Who did you call at the studio and how happy we were they to take that phone call?

DEL VECHO: There was no question. I think that they were excited that Chris and Jen had more passion and had an idea. Obviously, the first film was a big movie for the studio and the idea that there could be another one — I think they welcomed it. Like we said, it was all about “What do you need?” “How can we support you to make the best film possible?”

frozen-2-final-posterLEE: You know, Alan Bergen, Alan Horn and Bob Iger, you go right to them. They were happy and they were supportive. They’re our bosses.

They must’ve been in a really great mood that day. My favorite thing in this movie is the fact that you guys don’t throw a villain into it.

LEE: Oh thank you.

That is the best. I love it. Every other movie I see, there’s always a villain trying to get her powers, trying to break them up, trying to take the kingdom. It’s the normal thing that would be in a sequel. But you guys completely go in the opposite direction. Talk a little bit about pulling this off and where did this idea come from?

LEE: The villain, the antagonist in Frozen I is fear. Fear divides people. It makes people turn against each other. It makes people shut each other out. So we did thematically do it and that was something we wanted to continue. And the greatest conflict is the struggle of this sisterhood and trying to hold on to each other. First, through the separation of fear and being different. Then as fear affects you, and change comes for you, and that they’re having to grow up and they’re having to act on their own, and make those choices alone. And that is scary. And so for us, we have antagonism throughout the film, but that’s what life is. Life — rarely — occasionally, but rarely is there one single villain. There’s a lot of obstacles and conflict and antagonism in your life and just going for it. With that, that is the thematic villain versus a single entity. It’s not for every film. For us, it’s the Frozen villain, you know? It felt weird to stray from that I think.

But you understand what I’m saying. It’s not the normal thing. One of the things about the animated movies is how much can change from conception to what people are going to finally see on screen. I’m curious, did you have a lot of alt roads that you almost walked down and what was maybe the one that you really came close to doing?

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Image via Walt Disney Pictures

BUCK: Hmm. There are probably little alt roads that we went down. I think we always had planted the flag in the ground.

DEL VECHO: Like the first movie though, you had an idea for the ending…

BUCK: Oh yeah, the ending.

DEL VECHO: That was sort of the true North. So the story evolved, changed quite a bit, but it was always in search of “How do we earn the ending that we envisioned?”

BUCK: Which meant, as you saw, Anna being queen and then Elsa being basically free. So that was… We always had that. That was like, we believe in that. That felt so good to us. So how we were going to earn it? We weren’t quite sure yet.

LEE: We’ll pore through the material for the DVD and go, “Yeah, I missed that!” Right now, it’s hard to think about. I watch this movie now and I go, “Oh my gosh, it’s all here,” but to get to this, it’s all just evoked at this point. But it’s like you see the things it’s become and not what it didn’t… Just because you’re so tired.

DEL VECHO: You probably wrote what, a good 40 versions of the script, and Bobby and Kristen wrote many songs, all great, but many that didn’t make the movie. It is that back and forth, that tug of war to try to get the film at the level it needs to be.

I spoke to Bobby and Kristen and they said that their ratio on this one was much better. There were only seven songs, that they wrote, that didn’t make the finished film. I guess the first one was…

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Image via Walt Disney Pictures

LEE: There were some versions.

Well they said it was seven on this and twenty on the first.

LEE: They probably have a better number because some they just didn’t share with us because they were like, “Nah, that’s not going to work.”

Sure. What I’m curious about though, is there’s an awful lot of people that love the music in these movies. Are there any plans of releasing any of the cut songs on the Blu-ray or…?

BUCK: It’s in the works.

LEE: Oh, absolutely. We did on the first one. We had quite a few that didn’t make and we’ll do that again. We don’t mind letting people into our process. Of course Bob and Kristen write incredible music. There’s a song, “Home,” that we loved, but it wasn’t right for the film. We love that people can hopefully want to take that journey where they get to know more about what went into it. And there’s always some element of our characters in everything, whether it makes it in the film or not. But I think when you look at, “As You See” — it’s like with “Into the unknown” with “Do the Next Right Thing” — you see how much those shape the whole journey. That’s what it takes to stay in the song. It has to be so critical to the story or it doesn’t earn its way.

I always love Easter eggs in movies. Are there Easter eggs in Frozen 2? Are they real small or are there a few that you really got to go frame by frame?

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Image via Walt Disney Pictures

BUCK: There are a couple that you don’t have to go frame by frame. Can I mention them?

LEE: Don’t say what they are. No…

BUCK: I won’t say what they are.

LEE: You saw a couple… Did you?

The first time I see a movie, I’m usually very engrossed in everything and I’m not paying attention to little things. And then the second time I see something, I can pick out a lot.

LEE: There are, there are…

BUCK: I’m not going to say. I’ll just say it’s when Elsa and Anna are young girls and they’re playing with these snow creatures.

LEE: There’s some good stuff in there. And as you said, there’s still one that no one’s ever figured out for Frozen I. No one has.

That’s sort of like James Gunn — the first Guardians one apparently that no one has still found.

LEE: Oh, interesting… There’s one in Frozen that no one’s still found…

DEL VECHO: And there may be others that we don’t even know about. That the animators put in them.

Well, that’s the other thing.

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Image via Disney Animation

LEE: They’re sneaky. The fans will find them for us. That’s what’s missing.

How long was your first cut of this movie versus the finished film?

LEE: Chris and I just happen to be cutters. We like to cut, right?

BUCK: We do.

LEE: If we hate it, we’re like, “Get it out, I hate it. Cut it. Cut it.”

DEL VECHO: Boring.

LEE: So we’ve always run somewhere between 88 and 92 — very different iterations of the film. But it’s more about us. I know a lot of filmmakers like to go long and then short. We have…

DEL VECHO: Often times, we get to editorial and we’re looking at editorial and we realize it’s long, but we never get to a screening that length. It’s always about pacing and storytelling, more than anything.

LEE: But I think if you added up all the different versions of the film, we probably have a mini series.

Obviously, you must have done either friends and family screenings or test screenings along the way. When you’re making a sequel to such a beloved film and it’s such a huge movie, how difficult is it to show the rough cut, knowing that it could possibly get out there a little bit what you guys are planning on doing?  And what did you learn from any early screenings that impacted the finished film?

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Image via Disney

DEL VECHO: I’ll answer the first part of that question, which is obviously it’s very difficult to find audiences that haven’t seen the first film. So pretty much everybody recruited had seen the first film. I think they were so excited to be involved in the process that we didn’t have any new leaks coming out, that the audience respected the fact that this was a movie in progress and part of the trust we had in them, they need to reciprocate that by not revealing it.

LEE: It was very interesting about Frozen, doing this with it, with having audiences at all, sharing with any audience. We did do something very different than just… We just wanted to ask questions. We had questions and they weren’t just about the film — about Frozen as a whole. What was really beautiful to me, is everyone had a relationship and had opinions because they had spent a lot of time with these characters. And the big moments for me were that the dads especially were vocal. They very much connected to the film because they knew these characters very well in a way that we didn’t get to have that kind of conversation with Frozen I — it hadn’t come out yet. And they had wants for these characters, they cared about them. It was something that was much more organic. It was part of what showed us what young audiences — how sophisticated they themselves are, how they reach up to it, how they cope with tough moments in the film, how great they are with that. But it was more that we got to ask why Olaf resonates. “What is that thing for you?” You don’t get those questions very much. So it really was an extraordinary experience.

BUCK: I know, they’re very good. Very, very good notes. We did make quite a few changes after the preview just because of those notes. One of the big surprises though was the little salamander. So the little salamander, the fire salamander, he was only in one sort of scene with Elsa, and that’s when she first meets him. He does this little thing and then he runs off, runs North. That was it.

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Image via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

LEE: He was in act three.

BUCK: The audience went “No- We love, love, love.” In fact, I don’t even think he was written on the list of favorite characters. People wrote him in.

LEE: They wrote him in.

BUCK: They wrote him in. So we went, “Okay”, so we added–

LEE: It was fun because we were realizing why they liked it. It brought out a new side of Elsa. We loved playing with seeing that new side of Elsa, that she had a nurturing side. But it was two magical creatures.

Let’s talk about the after-the-credits scene.

LEE: I love that you brought that up.

BUCK: You stayed.

LEE: You stayed.

So, talk a little bit about… Did you always know you wanted to do an after-the-credits scene and how did it become that?

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Image via Disney

LEE: 99% of time we’ve realized we don’t have time and then the animators get all excited and want to do something and they keep going and this was… What’s hilarious is the one question our crew had, more than anything, was what happened to the snow beast from the short, and to Marshmallow. They just were worried about them.

BUCK: Cause once Elsa sort of faded away, Olaf must have faded away, so what happened to Marshmallow and his friends?

LEE: They thought they must have faded away. They were very concerned and they had, you know, they had animated them and then had done a short with them and they meant a lot. So it was really the crew that — we didn’t know if the world would care — but we were like, “We care too.” We’re like, “Okay, I think we found our end.” But there are people who will see it going, “What the heck are the…” A lot of people haven’t seen the shorts. They’re going to be like, “Did Marshmallow have babies? I don’t understand.” But we just did it because we said, “Well if you stick around to the end, we’ll give you something to talk about.”

BUCK: The response from people that have stayed to the end was phenomenal. When we show Marshmallow and the Snowgies, they were like, “Yes!” Last night, right? They were thrilled that they were back.

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Image via Disney

LEE: I mean it’s our crew. They’re just so playful and they love the characters and they go on this journey with us and they always come up with things like, “We can do it, we can do it if they want to.”

But I also think that Marvel has really changed everything in terms of their after-the-credit scenes where people love seeing something at the end of the credits. You give a scene like this and everyone just walks out happy. Do you know what I mean?

LEE: What was our scene at the end of Frozen?

BUCK: It was Marshmallow putting on a crown.

LEE: Yeah, we love it too. We love it too.

BUCK: So yeah, we have it at the end of the first time, I don’t know if you remember.

I don’t remember. I don’t know if I stayed to the end of the credits.

LEE: We had a little button…

BUCK: It was Marshmallow again up at the ice palace.

LEE: And in the short it’s Marshmallow. So we seem to have this pattern connecting with Marshmallow after the…

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Image via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

BUCK: Marsha, Marsha, Marsha….

Right before you locked picture, what was the scene or two that was the last thing or two you cut out? If you can remember.

LEE: There was one shot of Elsa with a water nokk that went too deep down under water that we cut out. That we didn’t like. It just looked like he was really trying to kill her and he wasn’t. He was challenging her. That one we cut. It just went one step too far for all of us.

DEL VECHO: It’s funny, I’ll answer the question in the opposite way. There was one major, major sequence that we’re just so glad we could finish in time to release the movie…

LEE: “Show Yourself.”

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Image via Disney

DEL VECHO: “Show Yourself.” That was the last sequence to go through and that required all of the resources at the studio to kind of get it done.

LEE: We were more adding things. Adding little things-

BUCK: Clarifying things, along the way…

On that note, congratulations.

LEE: Thank you.

It’ll be a huge hit. You guys did a great job.

For more on Frozen 2, read my interviews with Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff or Idina Menzel.

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