One of the main reasons the entire planet loves Frozen is Bobby and Kristen Lopez. The husband-and-wife songwriting team are responsible for composing the songs featured in both films and their fantastic contributions are being sung all around the world every day. In addition, they wrote “Remember Me” for Pixar’s Coco, and Bobby Lopez is the youngest EGOT winner in history (Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony Award) thanks to his work on The Book of Mormon, Avenue Q and The Wonder Pets.
With Frozen 2 now playing in theaters, I recently sat down with Bobby and Kristen Lopez to talk about making the highly anticipated sequel. During the wide-ranging conversation they talked about how they write the music, all the songs they wrote for Frozen and Frozen 2 that were not included and why, what song came the closest to making the sequel but was ultimately removed and why, if they felt a lot of pressure making the sequel, how the villain of the film “is what goes on in our own selves and our own emotions that stop us from being as powerful as we possibly could”, how far along did they get on writing the music for Gigantic (a Disney animated movie that was cancelled), and so much more. In addition, I asked what show they wish they could write a guest musical episode and they revealed why it would have been The Good Place.
Directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck and produced by Peter Del Vecho, 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 Bobby and Kristen Lopez had to say below.
Collider: So the film got announced, I believe, four years ago, if I’m not mistaken.
BOBBY LOPEZ: Something like that.
I wrote it down, actually.
BOBBY: The last one came out six years ago.
In 2015. March 12th, 2015.
KRISTEN: Oh, whoa.
So my question is, how long ago did you actually know the sequel was going to happen, and were you holding it back?
KRISTEN: I’m actually going to say we knew maybe a week before it got announced. We were already working on the Broadway show with Jen, and I think she called us that week and was…
BOBBY: “You didn’t hear it from me.”
KRISTEN: … “Hey, guys. You didn’t hear from me but Frozen 2 is happening. And Bob is going to announce it on the shareholder meeting,” or whatever. So we had a week to adjust before it went public.
That’s actually not bad. You didn’t have to hold the secret in for that long.
So it gets announced. And I’m curious, what happens from that moment to where we’re at now? I mean, they announce it and then do they even have the idea yet? Or is it sort of, at that moment, it’s all then coming together?
BOBBY: They had a very broad idea that involves the ending of the movie of what we now have, and they had the theme and the emotional territory that they really wanted to go on, and they had done a lot of work with the characters, exploring them and finding out who they really were deep down. And that, just that whole idea of “we want to go deeper, we want to go more mature, and we want to explore what happens next and how they change when they realize they’re not really where they’re meant to be.” That just led us up, because it was like deepening the franchise and they… we could feel the potential of it. The potential for story, for songs, potential for adventure and all this stuff that it needed to.
How does it work for the two of you in terms of the writing of the songs? Are you waiting for a script, or the minute you hear about the themes you start writing from the themes?
KRISTEN: Well, we’re really collaborators early on, and just talking about what are those themes and where do the characters need to go. And for this movie, Chris and Jen went really, really deep and actually took Myers Briggs tests as the characters. And then, it was a year of talking about that, but just a year of really broadening our intelligence around these two characters. We also went on research trips up to the top of the world. So we went up to, walked in Norwegian forests and glaciers and Iceland, and Jen went and did the same. And then we talked about those experiences. So that really created this playground that we knew we could then start building our story.
BOBBY: But there’s no songs happening yet, because I think you need… you need more specific information about story, like who’s where, what’s happening? That’s what not only inspires us to write, but in our work is innate with the story. It should feel seamless with the dialogue and with the movie, and it needs to… it needs to do heavy lifting in the story, so you can’t just… you don’t want to write a song that could be easily taken out of the story, because that song would feel extraneous.
One of the things might be my favorite thing in the sequel is how the movie doesn’t have a villain. I think that’s amazing. It’s so cool and unusual and brilliant. Talk a little bit about that aspect of the film and what that means to you.
KRISTEN: Well, I think Frozen 1 *and* Frozen 2 there… there’s not so much of a villain, because it really is about what’s going on inside these two amazing characters, one of who is a fairy tale. The other is a myth. And what happens when you get myth and fairy tale working hand in hand. The myth is this person who’s stronger than any of us who usually has to face something none of us can face, but you’ve got a fairy tale character right there with her, who’s all of us, and who you know is going to lead to a happy ending. And it’s really about this fun interplay of these two things and what’s going on in the emotions for each one and how they have to grow. And that’s really the villain – the villain is what goes on in our own selves and our own emotions that stop us from being as powerful as we possibly could be
Completely. But you know what I mean? There’s no person trying to get her power. It’s not one of those kinds of situations, which is something I appreciated.
BOBBY: That was one way you could imagine going, making a bigger villain, making a huge villain or something like that. But it was not the way that we wanted to go with it. We wanted to tell a story that was really about a family, a family going through, you know, real life, emotional changes. And it was reflected in the mythic and fairy tale environments that we had them go through, the forest and the elements and all of these things. You have to translate it into the language of Frozen, but it really is a real life kind of thing.
BOBBY: Yeah, exactly right. We could write The Imperial March. I know.
KRISTEN: I’m not into telling that story. So I think that’s, that’s really to Jennifer Lee’s credit. I also think there might be something inherent in a musical, that’s inherent in the Frozen one DNA, that didn’t lend it to… would you want to really hear like a big rock ballad being like “And now I’m going to shoot you with my powers!!” It would really turn into like the worst rock musical you’ve ever heard. So I think there’s something in the DNA of Frozen 1 that has to be about what’s going on inside of us and the way that we grow and take action because of our hearts.
I’m switching gears completely for just a quick second. You guys are very, very talented. I’m sure you watch a lot of television like all of us. Is there a show currently on TV that you would love to do a guest musical episode?
KRISTEN: Oh yeah. The Good Place was the one that we were… we were even talking about that. I think Jane the Virgin [has ended], but I was, “Ooh, Jane the Virgin would be a really fun, fun one too.” Those are my two. Do you have one?
No. I think you have to have an inherent love of something. You can’t just throw somebody on something and be, “Let’s do a musical.” You have to love the characters and the world.
BOBBY: The problem with those episodes is that they always find some crazy topsy turvy reason for everything to be sad again, and it’s always a little bit silly.
KRISTEN: Bobby did one for Scrubs, about 1,000 years ago.
BOBBY: But I think in The Good Place… I mean they’re already… that show is full of weird philosophical gimmicks that deepen it. So I think you can find a way to put music to it.
So jumping back into the writing process of the songs, are there a lot of songs that actually you get pretty close to finishing and then you basically say, “Oh, this isn’t actually working”?
KRISTEN: (laughing) Oh, oh yeah.
So let me ask, do you remember how many songs you actually wrote for Frozen 2, or for Frozen 1 and for Frozen 2, and that have never really been released or seen the light of day?
KRISTEN: We have calculated this. There’s seven songs that will never see the light of day that we wrote for Frozen 2 and seven songs [that made it] in the movie, which is a better batting average than we had for Frozen 1. That’s what allows us to sleep at night. Because for Frozen 1 there were like 20 songs
BOBBY: We were trying to find the characters. We wrote a whole Elsa villain song for that one. I mean, when she was a villain… it was a lot of exploratory finding. It’d be story beating through writing songs, which is not the easiest way to do it.
Was it easier with Frozen 2, because now everyone knows these characters? Was the writing process any easier? I would argue that Frozen 2 has more pressure than a Star Wars movie because these characters are so beloved by the whole world and like, “Oh there’s a lot of people that love these characters.” Does that pressure come in?
KRISTEN: The word pressure? If I, if I had a nickel for every time I heard the word pressure this week… it’s been a constant, a unified theme. But the truth is, we can’t think like that, because you can’t create from a place of pressure. I know you probably feel this as a writer, that if someone is like “You have to write the greatest article that’s ever happened,” that is the best way to send you to binge watching or out the door.
BOBBY: I just jump out the window.
KRISTEN: Right? So we knew we couldn’t create there, and we needed to do it the same way we did before, which is all about story and trusting our collaborators. And as long as you stay in that mindset of, “We have great collaborators, we’re going to do the same thing we did. We’re going to talk a lot about what matters to us and what matters to us that we can put into these characters.” And then somehow out of that bubbles up these pages that make you have that moment where you go, “Oh, Jen, Jen, please let me write that song please right now. We’re going to hang up the phone and we’re going to go to the piano and we were going to write you a song that really captures this moment.” And then we’re writing from a place of excitement and love that we have to get out. And that’s the only way to do it.
What was the song that came closest to making the movie that actually didn’t make the movie?
BOBBY: I guess that would be “Home”, right? There’s a song called “Home” that we had written at the beginning. It always happens whenever you’re writing a show, you write an opening number that it sets up the movie you think you’re going to make or the Broadway show you think you’re going to write. And then once you’ve written the Broadway show, you have to go back and rewrite that number, because it doesn’t… because as you’ve evolved the story, it’s changed and transformed and surprised you along the way. And now you know exactly what it needs to do in order to set up the story that you want to tell. So we had this number called “Home” that was all about Anna. We realized Anna was the one that had the happy ever after. She had the most to lose from the first film, and that we wanted to set up all these things that she had and was grateful for and was afraid to lose.
And so we wrote a song called “Home”… and it was, the subtext of it was, “I am super scared to lose all this stuff. All my… all my family.” And what we realized then was, even though there was some of that that was right, we had completely ignored setting up the other characters. Elsa and Kristoff and Olaf, and we needed to lose that. It was in a lot of the screenings of the movie. And then we had to lose it. And then we wrote this other song, “Some Things Never Change.” And it had the same subtext – “everything’s going to change. But we like it now. We like the stability that we have right now, and we hope that some of that stays.” It went from Anna to Kristoff to Olaf to Elsa, and everyone got a little verse and we didn’t have to do any extra exposition that slowed down the beginning.
Because so many people love these characters and this world, is there ever any talk about some of these songs that never saw the light of day as an extra on the Blu-ray or on Disney Plus?
KRISTEN: Why yes there is. And we also, Kristen Bell just came up to us and said, “When are we doing our Hollywood Bowl show and can I sing all my cut songs?” Because she had a great song called “Spare” in the first one too, back when the premise of Frozen 1 was “the heir and the spare.” And it changed, but it was a great little song. But it led us to the Anna we all know now.
BOBBY: We love the cut songs more than the songs that get released because they’re the children that, you know, sort of stay home and don’t go to college. That remain ours.
I can’t imagine the demand. If you guys went on tour with some of the cast to do Frozen songs, I would imagine it would be one of the biggest tours of that year.
KRISTEN: I would agree. That’s a great idea. I mean when our kids are out of high school, we can do that. Until then we hang out in Brooklyn and we write new songs
How far along did you guys get on Gigantic in terms of writing?
KRISTEN: I think we wrote five or six songs for it.
BOBBY: And in that, the premise of that film changed a lot over the course of its development. But we have a lot of songs that we love from that one.
KRISTEN: And we *can* recycle some of it. We may have recycled one of them already.
Well, that’s what I was going to ask is once you write something, I guess Disney owns it, but if you want to use it in another Disney thing, does that work? Or when you’re writing it, is it not even part of Disney yet?
BOBBY: It’s possible that they revert to us. It’s always… it’s different in every contract, so we don’t really know.
I’m going to stop there and just say, thank you so much for your time. Congrats on the movie.