The 21-minute featurette Olaf’s Frozen Adventure (playing in theaters with Coco) 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 Olaf’s Frozen Adventure and chat with some of the folks responsible. During this interview, songwriters Kate Anderson and Elyssa Samsel talked about how they came to be writing songs for the Olaf featurette, their reaction to finding out they got the job, how the songs evolved, what their writing process is like, how important holiday traditions are to them, and what it was like to see the finished product with their songs in it.
Collider: How did this come about for you guys?
KATE ANDERSON: It’s like getting to go to the Olympics after your high school track meet. This is our first animation job, and it’s been an absolute dream come true. To get to work with Disney Animation, right off the bat, much less Frozen, of all things, which is this mega hit, has just been incredible. We were recommended for the job, by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Bobby Lopez, and we got through the audition process. The day we landed this job was the happiest day of our lives.
ELYSSA SAMSEL: We sent crazy with the audition process. They asked for one spec song, and I think we sent them four because we were so inspired by the Frozen world, which was already so iconic. Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Bobby Lopez had already created such an incredible soundscape, along with Christophe Beck, who wrote the score for the original movie. So, it was really fun for us to dive in and know we’d be writing for Josh Gad, who can make anything funny. It’s been a blast! We were so excited.
What did you guys do when you found out that you’d gotten this job?
ANDERSON: We screamed! They tricked us! We were told that they needed to call us because they had a few more questions, and neither of us slept, knowing that call was coming. We were prepared to answer anything they asked. And then, we got on the phone and they were like, “We met with John [Lasseter] and the first question is, ‘Do you guys want to be the songwriters for this project’?” And we were like, “Yes!” As soon as we hung up, we called each other and wept and jumped up and down.
SAMSEL: I think I got into fetal position and cried. Just imagining getting to write something that Josh Gad will sing, Idina Menzel will sing, and Kristen Bell will sing. They’re just the most incredible! It was beyond our wildest dreams!
What is the first song that you wrote for this, and did it make it into the film?
SAMSEL: The first sone we wrote had “together” in the title, but it was something totally different from “When We’re Together.”
ANDERSON: It was a jaunty pop song. The first song that we wrote that stuck was “That Time of Year,” the Olaf song. That was crazy because we wrote a draft of that thinking that it was going to go through a lot of rewrites, and it did go through some, especially once we met with John and he had these great funny additions.
SAMSEL: With that song, we were actually lucky enough to have Bobby Lopez sing the Olaf scratch vocal for the original demo. They sound similar because Bobby wrote Book of Mormon for Josh and they’re so close, so we were lucky to have Bobby do the scratch vocal for that song.
ANDERSON: We knew that when Bobby and Kristen liked that song, we had a good shot with it getting into the featurette, and it didn’t change much. Everybody was like, “That’s it!,” right off the bat.
Was there one song that was most challenging?
ANDERSON: We went through a couple versions of the opening number, and eventually we landed on “Ring in the Season,” but it was never a rip out your hair moment. We hadn’t quite landed on the whole idea of the party. Once the team arrived at that, and they were going to throw a party for the kingdom, it was easy. All in all, it was an easy, fun writing process. There was never frustration, for the most part.
SAMSEL: It was an incredible team. Kevin [Deters] and Stevie [Wermers-Skelton] are such visionaries. We were lucky enough to have Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, and Kristen and Bobby weighing in. It was a gigantic team effort to stay true to the original material, but also to just create something fun for Olaf to go through.
What is your writing process like?
SAMSEL: We try to write together, as much as possible. We met in a program called the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop. I’ll never forget, on the first day, they encouraged people to write together, as much as possible, which also means that you have to find a collaborator who you want to spend that much time with. We were really fortunate because we just loved spending all our time together. So, our process is very collaborative. We had already had such a collaborative process of sitting in the room and bouncing ideas back and forth, at a piano and coming up with melody and lyrics together, so when we hopped onto this project, it was incredible because everybody was used to that. We would all just sit and make sure that everyone was on the same page about where point A was and where point B was, and how the song would get us in between. It was so collaborative that I can’t think of anything more fun than sitting in a room like that. It was amazing!
How important are holiday traditions to you guys, and what is your take on fruitcake?
ANDERSON: I’ve never been forced to eat fruitcake, personally, so I’ve never had it.
SAMSEL: Me neither!
ANDERSON: Traditions are really important to my family, but what’s cool is that they change, year to year. The more people that become a part of our family, the more they evolve. When we landed on the idea for the last song and what it would really be about, it was the idea that the most important part of the holiday is always when the whole family is finally all together. My older sister was off at college or off living in New York for most of my younger years, and it never felt like we could start the holiday until she got home. We would start decorating the tree and I’d be like, “No! Stop! We can’t keep going until Kristen gets here!” She’s at the forefront of a lot of my nostalgia and memories from the holidays. I think that that’s what the song is really about, for me.
SAMSEL: That’s why I think that we’re so excited about this story. It resonates with so many people. Everybody has some sort of tradition, but it doesn’t have to be something that you celebrate on a specific day, at a specific time, or with the same people, every year. What was so cool about this story and what Anna and Elsa are going through is that their circumstances have changed. This is their first holiday together, and they get to figure out what’s at the core of it, what their tradition really is, and what their family boils down to, and it’s being with Olaf and being together. I related to that instantly, and it just warmed my heart. That’s why I think this piece is so special.
What was it like to see the featurette, with your songs and with this cast singing them?
ANDERSON: You can’t put it into words. It’s incredible!
SAMSEL: It’s amazing! And we’re so excited that it’s playing before Coco. When we heard that, we just freaked out. It’s so exciting!
Olaf’s Frozen Adventure is currently in theaters with Coco.