As we’ve already reported, Frozen absolutely crushed it at the box office this holiday weekend. And though I heard a few anecdotes and ran into a few tearful children who were a little scared by Frozen’s more adult moments (trade embargoes and snarling wolves, I imagine), found this film such a return to the classic Disney musicals of my youth (Little Mermaid, Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin) while also breaking new ground. But it wasn’t always the case that Frozen was going to be so delightfully unconventional (and appealing to both boys and girls). Here are 10 ways in which Frozen was saved from being just another boring princess movie. Careful, you’re on thin ice. Spoilers ahead.
Elsa Was Originally A Hardcore Villain: It’s pretty obvious from the trailer that Elsa is our “antagonist,” but the creative way in which she’s portrayed as a nuanced woman who’s afraid of her own power and was told to suppress not out of hate but misguided parental love is ground-breaking. That is some sophisticated villainy right there. Because, of course, Elsa isn’t actually the villain. In the original concept, however, she was much more conventional and it’s not until the songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez wrote “Let It Go” that the whole idea behind her changed. They said “She had really been more of the villain of the movie up until that point and we weren’t looking to reverse that. But, I think it was because we really got into the mind of the character and found a little bit of vulnerability in her. Elsa was the villain before that. Before ‘Let it Go.’ Elsa had gone evil.” (Source)
In fact, Megan Mullally was originally cast as Elsa which should give you a taste of what kind of cartoonish villain we could have had.
The Love Song Is Actually The Villain Song: If the soundtrack reminds you of early 90s Disney it’s because the Frozen composers, a married couple, met at a Broadway Songwriting Workshop called the BMI Musical Theater Workshop. That’s where Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (Beauty And The Beast, The Little Mermaid) met as well. So while Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez talk about following the typical Menken/Ashman structure ( “I Want Song” “The Charm Song” “The Comedy Song”), they also admit to flipping “The Love Song” on its head. When Prince Hans talks about “searching my whole life to find my own place” he’s not talking about falling for Anna, he’s talking about putting the moves on her kingdom. It’s a “The Villain Song” disguised as “The Love Song.” The explain, “Normally that’s the villain. The villain is singing a tango about his evil plan. Instead, we wrote this like karaoke-meet-cute ‘Love is an Open Door’ kind of thing….It’s a misplaced song. It’s too early in the film for a love song. And, It’s unsettling in a weird way, but really it kind of sucks you in. And then when the turnaround comes later. That song really creates the whiplash effect. That guy? That guy that was so cool and boppy?”
Kristen Bell Helped Build The Character of Anna: In interviews, both he composers and the directors attribute Anna’s warmth, spunk and humor to Kristen Bell who was the first actor cast and the only person to stay attached to the project over the years and through many iterations. Her push was always for more human and more “real” in the Princess Anna character. Plus, Kristen Anderson-Lopez says, she gets all the pop culture references.
The Pop Culture References: In a post Shrek world, pop culture references aren’t unknown in animated kids movies. But so often they have an expiration date and the cheeky contemporary nod can feel stale and dated. That’s why, in my opinion, something that tries so hard to be hip, like Shrek, will never achieve classic status. Frozen, on the hand, has a few pop culture jokes here and there, but they’re subtle. You hardy notice them. They’re not tricks, they’re allusions, Michael.
Not Afraid Of Undignified Princesses: A Disney animator got in a lot of trouble this Fall for saying the following: “Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, ‘cause they have to go through these range of emotions, but they’re very, very - you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to - you can get them off a model very quickly…Having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the same scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression; that Elsa looking angry looks different from Anna being angry.” Those who reacted poorly might be a little comforted by the fact that our princesses here are in no danger of having their hair braided by blue birds. Anna was originally designed as a blonde and though hair color isn’t the most telling character feature, I much prefer her Anne of Green Gables freckles and braids.
These are not your typical princesses. They’re gassy! They stuff their faces with chocolate! They look like this in the morning! (Still good.)
In fact, one of the songs that ended up on the cutting room floor was written for the two girls when they were younger all about not doing what princesses are expected to do. Here’s a demo of the composer’s daughters singing the song. One of them ended up being the voice of young Anna in the movie.
Kristoff Was Orginally Gruff And Very Macho: That’s right the affable snow salesman who was raised by trolls and talks to reindeer. Begging your pardon, croons to reindeer, was originally a gruff and macho mountain man. That all changed when Jonathan Groff came in and read and the females in the studio swooned over his voice. Director Chris Buck compared Groff’s voice to butter. They rewrote Kristoff to make him sweeter. The Peeta to Anna’s Katniss. Groff recalls, “It changed so much over the year and a half we recorded it. At one point I was a hoarder with my sleigh and all the relationships were different.” (Source)
The Setting Is Anchored In Reality: This is obviously a fairytale. There are magical powers and trolls and talking snowmen. But the Scandinavian setting is faithful rather than fantastical. In fact, the most outlandish set, Elsa’s ice castle, is based on a real ice hotel, the Hotel de Glace near Quebec City, Canada.
They Even Managed To Un-Dumb The Dumb Sidekick: The thing I was most worried about in this movie was the dumb snowman played by Josh Gad. And while Olaf was originally supposed to be a runty, misshapen guard that Evil Elsa created to protect her castle, that plot went out the window with Evil Elsa. So we get the MUCH better plot tying Olaf to the innocence of the girls’ early friendship. (You’ll notice he gets created thoughtlessly with a wave of Elsa’s hand. Animation is much easier to rearrange than live action.) Another reason, of course, that Olaf worked so well is that Josh Gad was given the freedom to improvise. Most of Olaf’s scenes are a result of Gad’s sound booth riffs. You can tell in this introductory scene.
They Never Once Lost Their Sense Of Fun:The composers wrote this fun little end credits song for Jonathan Groff when they realized that he only had one sad little duet with himself. It didn’t make it into the film, but you can tell they had a blast writing and recording it.
The Kristoff character does get his moment in the credits, though. You may have spotted the following disclaimer:
The views and opinions by Kristoff in the film that all men eat their boogers are solely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The Walt Disney Company or the filmmakers. Neither The Walt Disney Company nor the filmmakers make any representation of the accuracy of any such views and opinions.
There’s also a fun hidden cameo from another Disney princess.
Most Of All, They Kept The Kissing Stuff To A Minimum: One of the directs, Jennifer Lee, explains, “Our original pitch was much more about romantic love, and this is much more about fear vs. love thematically.” To recap, the original pitch pit two women against each other, one good and wholesome, one evil and the solution was True Love Conquers All. Does that not sound like the worst, most boring movie you could imagine? To be fair, the ending was always there. The Heroine Saves Herself ending is what landed director Chris Buck his pitch. But they wrote and re-wrote their way to get there and make it much more about these two sisters and familial love. Which is a much more interesting and universally relatable story anyway, isn’t it?
Joanna Robinson has spotify:user:128899670:playlist:5NtjgKz4doejP5HJtKXFcS">literally been listening to the Frozen soundtrack all weekend.