Dis­ney on Ice

Frozen, Frozen the stu­dio’s 53rd an­i­mated fea­ture, puts a mod­ern spin on the clas­sic Hans Chris­tian An­der­sen fairy tale. by Ramin Za­hed

Animation Magazine - - Content -

Frozen, the stu­dio’s 53rd an­i­mated fea­ture, puts a mod­ern spin on the clas­sic Hans Chris­tian An­der­sen fairy tale. by Ramin Za­hed

The haunt­ing tale of Hans Chris­tian An­der­sen’s An Snow Queen has been be kick­ing around Dis­ney since the 1940s, when Walt Dis­ney him­self was con­sid­er­ing a full-fledged an­i­mated fea­ture based on the story. The prob­lem­atic fairy tale, which was first pub­lished in 1845, has lots of great im­agery and is re­ally about the heal­ing power of love against a cold­hearted vil­lain­ess who sep­a­rates the story’s hero and hero­ine. But the story’s char­ac­ters are not re­ally fully de­vel­oped and the plot doesn’t ex­actly lend it­self eas­ily to the de­mands of mod­ern moviego­ing au­di­ences.

Luck­ily, a new ver­sion of the story, which reaches the­aters this month, is quite dif­fer­ent from the orig­i­nal Scan­di­na­vian tale. Thanks to the team at Dis­ney, which went back to the draw­ing board de­spite sev­eral false starts through the years, the new 3-D, CG-an­i­mated fea­ture Frozen has kept the orig­i­nal mes­sage, but built a de­light­ful new sto­ry­line and ap­peal­ing char­ac­ters that are bound to en­ter­tain au­di­ences this hol­i­day sea­son.

Di­rected by Chris Buck ( Tarzan, Surf’s Up) and Jen­nifer Lee (screen­writer on Wreck-It Ralph), Frozen ex­plores the re­la­tion­ship be­tween two sis­ters, heirs to the throne of Aren­delle—the op­ti­mistic Anna (voiced by Kris­ten Bell) and Elsa, who has pow­ers she can’t truly con­trol ( Wicked star Id­ina Men­zel). Along the way, there are ro­man­tic in­ter­ests, the comic snow­man Olaf (Josh Gad) and a col­or­ful cast of char­ac­ters that pro­vide the film’s hero­ine with her share of laughs, thrills and chills.

As visu­ally as­tound­ing as s the movie looks, the di­rec­tors tell us that fi find­ing di a way to tell the story cor­rectly and get­ting to the real heart of the tale were two of the movie’s big­gest chal­lenges.

“Chris had pitched the film’s pow­er­ful end­ing early on in 2009, and Ed Cat­mull said, ‘Change ev­ery­thing if you have to, but you have to earn this end­ing,’” re­calls Lee. “‘If you earn it, they it will be great—but if you don’t, it will suck!’ We knew that we needed to have a much big­ger movie to earn that end­ing. It was a huge un­der­tak­ing. We also had to re­ally work on the char­ac­ter of Elsa. She started out as a vil­lain, but we ended up with a much m more com­pli­cated char­ac­ter.”

B Buck k says they knew that the mes­sage of the movie in­volved an act of true love. “Our so­lu­tion ended up be­ing el­e­gant and sim­ple,” says the vet­eran di­rec­tor. “We knew we had to do it in such a way that rang true and felt real from ev­ery­one’s points of view. The theme didn’t change…it shifted from ro­man­tic love to fear ver­sus love.”

As be­hooves a 21st cen­tury an­i­mated hero­ine, Frozen’s Anna is not the typ­i­cally pris­tine, per­fect princesses we used to see danc­ing with birds and squir­rels in older Dis­ney clas­sics. She makes hasty de­ci­sions, is not afraid to joke around and look fool­ish, and is able to sur­vive nu­mer­ous hard­ships and heartaches along the way.

“Anna is strong and fear­less, in her own way, but she also has flaws,” ex­plains Lee, who has the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the first woman to di­rect a Dis­ney an­i­mated fea­ture. “She’s re­ally evolved along the way, be­com­ing what she’s meant to be: em­pow­ered, yet play­ful with her own sense of hu­mor. She reminds me of a lot of the girls I grew up with, and Kris­ten [Bell] also brought a lot of those qual­i­ties to the char­ac­ter.”

Since An­der­sen’s tale is set in Scan­di­navia, the Frozen team based d the de­tails of the king­dom of Aren­delle le on

Nor­way as well as the phys­i­cal de­tails of the win­ter sea­son in Wyoming. As art di­rec­tor Mike Gi­aimo, who also worked on Dis­ney’s Poc­a­hon­tas, points out, “We wanted to cre­ate an in­ti­mate world with an en­chant­ing and dy­namic set­ting that would be im­me­di­ately iden­ti­fi­able…Nor­way pro­vided us with a cul­tural back­ground we’d never ex­plored be­fore and we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to blend its dra­matic en­vi­ron­ment, ar­chi­tec­ture and folk cos­tume aes­thetic?’ It feels like a world from a clas­sic Dis­ney movie, but it’s com­pletely new.”

Gi­aimo used the work of ac­claimed cin­e­matog­ra­pher Jack Cardiff in Black Nar­cis­sus and Ted D. McCord’s Cin­e­maS­cope pas­toral scenes in The Sound of Mu­sic as in­spi­ra­tion for the movie’s great en­vi­ron­men­tal de­pic­tions. As the film’s pro­ducer Peter Del Ve­cho re­marks, “This story has an epic scope, with the rare abil­ity to sweep you in—you be­lieve

this place ex­ists and feel its magic. That’s what ev­ery film­maker, artist and an­i­ma­tor at Dis­ney wants to achieve.”

Build­ing the Ice Palace ce

A key scene in the movie in­volves Elsa build­ing a daz­zling ice palace us­ing her spe­cial magic. Mem­bers of the pro­duc­tion team vis­ited Que­bec City to see an Ice Ho­tel to take notes on how light re­flects and plays off snow and ice. “We had at least 50 ef­fects artists and light­ing artists work­ing to­gether to cre­ate that long shot,” says Lee. “It took about 30 hours to ren­der just one frame; that’s 4,000 com­put­ers ren­der­ing one frame at a time. That’s why that scene is one of my fa­vorites. It re­ally rep­re­sents the jour­ney all of us took on that movie.”

Another vi­tal part of bring­ing the movie to an­i­mated life is the mu­sic. Thanks to lively songs by Robert Lopez ( The Book of Mor­mon, Av­enue Q) and Kris­ten An­der­son­Lopez ( Win­nie the Pooh), Anna and Elsa’s jour­ney is able to hit all the right emo­tional notes. They have also de­liv­ered one of the comic high­lights of the film with their sig­na­ture song for Olaf the snow­man, in which the dim-wit­ted char­ac­ter longs for sun­shine. Their con­tri­bu­tions to the movie also helped solve some of the sto­ry­telling chal­lenges, says Lee. “Each song drives the plot for­ward and has to be in­te­gral to the over­all story,” she ex­plains. “They are do­ing two things at the same time, el­e­vat­ing the emo­tional stakes and telling the story.

Bobby and Christina were great part­ners, and we were Skyp­ing with them ev­ery day for a cou­ple of hours. The songs also had to feel con­tem­po­rary and fresh. And when we’re telling the story, we had to be very flex­i­ble with each other. If you throw out a song, then you lose that nar­ra­tive, and in turn, if you change the sto­ry­line, then the song won’t make sense. That’s why it took about 14 months to get the fi­nal songs.”

Now that their la­bor of love is ready to en­ter­tain mil­lions of fam­i­lies around the world, both Lee and Buck are proud of what the ta­lented artists at the Mouse House have achieved. “I love so much of this movie, and there is so much of all of us in ev­ery scene, so it’s dif­fi­cult to just pick one as­pect of it,” says Buck. “But if I had to do it, I would pick the se­quence to­wards the end of the movie where the trolls are singing. It was one of the last things we fin­ished and the last song to write. It was the fi­nal piece of the puz­zle. As we were shap­ing and shift­ing the movie around, we al­ways knew that the trolls had to be this fi­nal piece. They bring such a sig­nif­i­cant change through the course of the movie. I just thought we would never get there, and they han­dled it beau­ti­fully.” That’s prob­a­bly what Un­cle Walt had hoped for when he en­vi­sioned a movie about An­der­sen’s ice maiden so many decades ago.

Dis­ney will re­lease Frozen in the­aters aters na­tion­wide on Novem­ber 27.

Build­ing a Win­ter Won­der­land: Frozen fea­tures a record num­ber of de­tailed, CG vis­ual ef­fects for a Dis­ney an­i­mated movie, thanks to Elsa’s mag­i­cal pow­ers and the amount of snow, ice and bliz­zard se­quences.

A Snow­man for All Sea­sons: Ac­cord­ing to di­rec­tor Chris Buck, the an­i­ma­tors loved play­ing around with Olaf’s body since he’s made up of three balls of snow that can break apart and come to­gether in dif­fer­ent ways. Comic ac­tor Josh Gad also put his own cr

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