Frozen 2 interview

2013’s Frozen was about two estranged sisters finally coming together again after years of separation, with their small family restored and everything seemingly set up for a “happily ever after” ending. But directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck didn’t think the story of Elsa and Anna was finished, and even though the dynamic has changed between the characters, the sequel presents them with new challenges as Elsa experiences a far-off voice calling to her in the night.

Several weeks ago, /Film sat down with Lee, Buck, and producer Peter Del Vecho for an early Frozen 2 interview, and now we can finally share it with you. The filmmakers told us about how Anna has “everything to lose” this time around, the element of this sequel they’re most proud of, crafting this new story in the shadow of the first film’s mega-hit status, and letting the characters guide the story instead of the other way around.

In the shots of Elsa running on the waves, the water looks so impressive, so photorealistic compared to Elsa, who’s clearly an animated character. Is ever a point where the disparity between those two aspects becomes too stark and you have to dial back the realism a little?

Buck: Yeah, sometimes the computer can make things so realistic that you’re exactly right: the marriage doesn’t quite work. So we do have to pull back and there’s a stylization that happens with any of our elements like that, just to make sure our character still fits in that world.

So much of what we saw today was about Elsa’s journey and evolution as a character. Can you tell me more about Anna’s desires and role in Frozen II?

Lee: What’s interesting is that there’s so much more in Anna’s journey that we haven’t been able to talk about because it really gives away too much of the film. But I think her determination to protect Elsa and be there for her sister and makes sure that Elsa stays safe and doesn’t go too far is a very different drive from the first film, which is, ‘I just want [to be] together.’ Her need to hold on, not in a dysfunctional way, but in a very protective, looking-out-for-her-sister way, and that burden when you are non-magical in a magical world and your sister is caught up in that magic, I think that’s her greatest struggle. I will say I’m really proud of Anna’s journey of this, and the end of the film, I think the two will stand equally in terms of the power of their journeys.

Buck: One of the things we talked about very simply in Frozen 1, Anna had nothing to lose because her sister was gone and she was trying to get her sister back. In the end, everything was good. In this movie, she’s got everybody in the beginning, and now she has everything to lose.

Jennifer, what kind of changes have you made to Walt Disney Animation since taking over after John Lasseter’s exit?

Lee: For us, we’re very focused on the films that are in production right away. It was Ralph [Breaks the Internet] and Frozen [II] and Raya [and the Last Dragon], and the sense of sameness of keeping our story trust going and working. One of the the things that I’m excited about is we really want to develop new talent from in house and bring new talent in. Having our rooms really reflect the world we live in.

I’m excited to be announcing a few new directors in the fall – I will not be the only female director, which is exciting for me. Really, the biggest thing is creating new opportunities for young talent. Not every department has access to story. Creating that access, building new shorts programs for people to try pushing technology in ways that we haven’t done and new styles that we haven’t tried, and using the short form to do that. I think those are about all I’ve had time for so far. (laughs) And there’s a lot more to do, but I think those are the biggest things that I can mention.

You mentioned new styles, and they mentioned at the presentation earlier, this is the tenth anniversary of The Princess of the Frog [which Peter produced]. Is hand-drawn animation on the table for Walt Disney Animation moving forward?

Del Vecho: That’s such a big part of our legacy, and I loved Princess and the Frog. I would say that there’s still a lot of hand-drawn influence going into our CG films.

Lee: In our films.

Del Vecho: I think we’re one of the only studios in the world that can do both, and how that evolves over time and how we experiment with different styles. But it ultimately comes down to the filmmakers and how they want to tell that particular story.

Lee: Yeah, and some of our new shorts you’re going to see, as they come out, new styles. Watercolor styles, even things we’ve never done, but using technology to help us do it in ways that are exciting as well.

Buck: And there’s another thing. People aren’t even aware of it. The hand drawn animators have helped out a lot with our CG animators. I think there’s an appeal that the hand drawn animators, it’s innate in them, and they’ve been teaching the CG animators –

Lee: Silhouettes and the swirls, that language.

Buck: – putting that into their work. So when you look at some of our movies now, even though it’s CG on the screen, underneath it is the hand drawn deal.

But it sounds like you guys might be open to it if a filmmaker came to you.

Lee: Of course. And it really is, the style is driven by the filmmakers and certainly there’s a lot of – as we’ve developed new talent – excitement to try different styles.

For each of you, what are you most proud of about Frozen II?

Lee: I think for me, I’m most proud of Anna and Elsa’s journeys and what they’re willing to do and all they take on. I’m just proud of them.

Buck: Sort of piggybacking on that, I think the two of them are such – they were in the first one, but I think even moreso in this one – such inspirational characters, and sort of aspirational characters for men and women, I think. I’m really, really proud of that.

Del Vecho: I think I’m proud of the fact that you guys approached the second movie the same way we did the first one. Building it from within, from the characters, letting the story tell us where it needed to go and what it needed to be, even with all the outside pressure of the world. The process, I think, was very similar to the first movie.

Knowing the intense phenomenon that the first movie became, did that impact the story direction at all? Were you completely closed off to that when you were in the development phase?

Lee: We kind of had to be. It’s funny because people talk about the requests that come through, and if I told you all the different types of requests that came through, some of it, you would be like, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t know anyone could put those two things together.’ So we had to shut that out, because if we don’t do it true to where the characters are right now, who they are, you’ll feel the lack of authenticity. And it’s really hard when you watch a film and it’s the filmmaker coming in with a point of view versus a character, wrestling with a point of view. We didn’t build the first one that way, so we made a pact that we were just not going to worry about it. We protected each other on that.

Buck: Really, there wasn’t pressure from the outside, from my perspective. Our pressure, in our own story room and amongst ourselves, is so great because, just like the first one, we’re trying to make the best movie we can. And we keep pushing and pulling at it and making sure that it’s true to the characters and a great journey where we get to see our characters grow.

Now that you’re in the home stretch, is there anything that popped up thematically, because of the decision to let the characters lead the way, that surprised you in the final version?

Buck: One thing that’s not really surprising, but Frozen 1 and Frozen II, sort of overall – when you talk about thematically, we talked about this – love versus fear was always in the first one. And it’s in the second one, too, that love is stronger than fear, basically.

Lee: That wrestle.

Buck: That wrestle. And with that, again, I’m pretty proud that Frozen 1 and Frozen II feels so much like one complete thought, one complete movie.

Lee: We kept saying Frozen 1 is love versus fear through the look of being different, and Frozen II is love versus fear through the look of change. We didn’t quite ever build the story with the sentence of that in mind, but when you look at it, we go back and we’re like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s interesting.’

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Frozen II arrives in theaters on November 22, 2019.

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