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 the new short film and chat with some of the folks responsible. During this 1-on-1 interview, producer Roy Conli talked about how he ended up working on this Olaf short, why he wasn’t fazed by the huge success of Frozen, how they had always configured this for the big screen, even though it was original set to be a TV special, what the new original songs added, his own feelings on fruitcake, and why Olaf is such a beloved character.
Collider: After working with Disneynature for a bit, how did you end up producing Olaf’s Frozen Adventure?
ROY CONLI: I was doing Born in China and Olaf’s Frozen Adventure simultaneously, in a certain sense. When I got off of Big Hero 6, they asked me if I would be interested in helping out with a Disneynature project. Initially, I just went in to help with the story. How can you say no? But then, simultaneously, this came up, and I’d worked with Kevin [Deters] and Stevie [Wermers-Skelton], 15 years ago. I’d always respected them, and the idea of doing this was just too good to pass up. I was a little hesitant, at first, because you’re walking into someone else’s land. Fortunately, that land is not all that unfamiliar. Once we got into it, I fell in love with these characters and it was great because Kevin and Stevie’s vision was always to take it further. They didn’t want to just tell a story in Arendelle. They wanted to further the myth of Arendelle. It’s cool because they were able to take Olaf into some emotionally new places, which was great.
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 think about living up to that or surpassing that, or do you have to not think about that, at all?
CONLI: It’s funny, it doesn’t affect me, in the slightest. I come from theater, originally, and I’ve worked in many theaters where you make no money, whatsoever. If you got 3,000 people to see your production, it was great. So, I’m always about the work and I always want to strive for making the best story possible. I don’t get hung up on trying to compare myself. Same thing with Big Hero 6. We came out after Frozen. Let’s face it, Frozen is an anomaly. Something like that is so rare, but it’s so cool. For me, I started learning how cool these characters are and what we could do with them, and we had a lot of fun.
Before getting paired in theaters with Coco, his started as a TV special. How cool is it to know that people can now see this on a big screen, even though you didn’t know that, going into it?
CONLI: The cool thing is that we always configured this for the big screen. In our minds, there was no difference. We wanted to make this to be able to live within the structure of the feature. From a layout standpoint, from an art direction standpoint and from a character animation standpoint, we had to jump on all that stuff. It was great because we actually locked story on this very early, so we were able to show it early and people were like, “Woah, this is really fun!” The emotional arc of this thing grabs people. You can make people laugh, but once you hit them [in their heart], that’s when you know you’ve got a Disney animated film. So, when I saw where Stevie and Kevin were able to take this, I knew that it was something special. It’s great. I cry with it.
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?
CONLI: It was (songwriters) Kate [Anderson] and Elyssa [Samsel] coming on. It was their voice that was so important. I think they really captured the spirit of the music from the original, but it has its own distinct voice. We had such a tight team. Jac Schaeffer, who was our writer, was phenomenal. I’ve been in story rooms where people are trying to get their ideas out there. It’s always idea after idea after idea until you find the best one, and everybody recognizes them, all the time. It’s a testament to the process, but also to Kevin and Stevie.
What are your own personal feelings on fruitcake?
CONLI: I love fruitcake! There is a fruitcake that my mother-in-law used to make, and I think it was called friendship cake, and it was so good. And then, there was another one that my uncle used to give us, and it came in a can. I loved it! I think it is a much-maligned commodity. A really good fruitcake is really good. I stand by that.
Why do you Olaf has become such a fan favorite character?
CONLI: It’s interesting, I think the great thing about Olaf is the fact that he’s newly minted and he’s learning. If you can cast him in the right light, as being someone who is putting it together, as opposed to someone who is just clueless, then he becomes really endearing. That’s the wonderful thing about Olaf. His heart is so pure, and his drive is to make Anna and Elsa so happy and their lives something special.
Do you see this short as a bridge between the first film and the eventual sequel, or is each its own piece of the larger picture?