Disney’s Frozen came out six years ago in 2013 and caused a global sensation among children and adults alike. There was something to the sister story that captivated audiences and garnered the film two Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song. Rumors of a sequel began immediately circulating and, in March of 2015, Disney announced that FROZEN 2 was in development. With the trailer’s release this past February, audiences got their first look at Anna and Elsa’s new adventure, taking place against a fall backdrop instead of a winter one this time.
FROZEN 2 takes place three years after the ending of the original film. Elsa has been a beloved reigning queen, Anna is happy, surrounded by her family and friends, and Christophe’s attempts to propose keep going awry before he is ever able to pop the question. But something is off, and only Elsa seems able to sense it. There is a voice calling to her, one that she longs to answer, but is afraid of what will happen if she does. When the voice becomes too much, and Elsa finally answers its call, the sisters must journey to an enchanted forest where mystery surrounds them to save their kingdom. Along the way, they meet some new friends and face some terrifying challenges. In Frozen, Elsa’s magic was almost too much. In FROZEN 2 the question is, will it be enough?
In developing the storyline for FROZEN 2, Director Jennifer Lee and producer Peter Del Vecho realized that they had two different magical storytelling styles at odds with each other – the mythical and the fairytale. These stories were at war within the characters of Anna and Elsa, and that back and forth was not only one of the things that made the first Frozen so captivating, but also the basis for what they wanted to do with the sequel. A mythic tale is typically larger than life. It’s one where the main character is gifted with magical abilities or superhuman strength in order to take on the challenges set before them but often must sacrifice themselves to save those when they set out to protect. “Elsa was definitely a mythic character, which generally carries the weight of the world on their shoulders and does things the rest of us can’t. They also typically suffer a tragic fate—which might have happened to Elsa in the first film were it not for Anna,” Del Vecho stated. Lee went on in a similar vein, “Mythic characters are magical, but it’s not aspirational. It’s about the hard answers and truths that we face. There can be a tragic aspect, too, so in that way, they teach us about ourselves.”
Elsa’s mythical nature is at odds with her sister because Anna is the other side of the coin – a fairytale character. Jennifer Lee discussed how Anna is Elsa’s opposite, revealing that, “She’s the optimist. [Fairytale] characters are only human. They’re not magical, but often enter into the dangers of a magical world. They go into the belly of the beast, suffering hardship and loss with great struggles, yet rise triumphant.” Anna starts out FROZEN 2 with everything she could ever want. She has her family, Arendelle, and family game night to look forward to. When the enchanted forest awakens, everything Anna ever wanted is now in danger as Elsa is determined to venture there. Anna’s fairytale nature is what drew Elsa back from the brink in Frozen. Will she be able to do the same in the sequel?
While there were challenges presented by the clashing between Elsa’s mythical nature and Anna’s fairytale-like nature, those weren’t the only challenges the creative team had to face in bringing this sequel to life. Unlike the first film, which is set against a winter backdrop, animators had a new challenge in FROZEN 2 – a fall backdrop, and the entirely new color palette that autumn brings. Production designer, Michael Giamo embraced the idea of an autumn backdrop for the film. “Anna and Elsa go on very specific journeys in FROZEN 2, and they both grow and mature in the process. Little by little they each peel back layers, revealing more and more depth and dimension in these characters. For me, that meant removing the layers of snow and getting down into the earth.”
This created a new challenge for the animators on two fronts, re-creating Arendelle, which had previously been established in a winter palate in the new autumn one, as well as creating backdrops with colors as vibrant as the characters, but didn’t distract from the action onscreen. David Wormley, the art director of environments had a team that was up for the challenge: “When buildings are covered in snow, it creates a specific graphic look with cool colors. Some of the buildings were originally designed to look good against snow and ice. Not only did we have to remove the snow from those we wanted to reuse, we had to adjust them to look good against a new backdrop that included not just trees and leaves, but fall decorations.” This meant that some buildings that had been seen in the first film had to be tweaked so that they didn’t clash with the new fall colors.
Another change from the first Frozen is that audiences get to see much more of the kingdom of Arendelle. Where in the first film, audiences only caught small glimpses of the village beyond the castle’s walls, this time there is an entire song that takes place there. In order to make the village come to life, the animators had to do a bit of civic planning. “We had to know how you would get from whichever areas we chose to use, there was some kind of linkage between them. So, it felt more logical. We went into Arendelle, we made it more of a real place, pulled things together, made them all rational and kind of a lot more urban logic going on”
As for creating a striking autumn that didn’t overwhelm the characters, Giamo shared, “A fall palette means an incredibly vibrant environment with striking colors that I was initially concerned that it would pull focus from our characters, or look like a new place and time, but we were able to create a ‘Frozen’ version of fall that still felt cool. We minimized the yellows in favor of oranges, orange-reds, and red-violets. It’s distinctive to our world.” The cooling of the fall tones not only allowed the characters to pop from the settings, but it also married the fall tones with the winter palate of the first Frozen, keeping the second film in the distinctive visual style of the first.
While the creative team had the overwhelming task of figuring out what challenges they were going to have to deal with going into this sequel, it was still amazing to see how each department knew what they had to deal with head-on. In the case of director Jennifer Lee and producer Peter Del Vecho, they knew there was a natural conflict between Anna’s and Elsa’s characters that would change the dynamic of how the story between them unveiled itself. And, in the case of the animation department, adapting the kingdom of Arendelle to an autumn setting and making sure that it didn’t overwhelm the characters in the film was the most paramount thing they had to work on. However, trust me when I say that everything looks amazing and I can’t wait to see the film.
From the Academy Award-winning team – directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, and producer Peter Del Vecho – and featuring the voices of Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff and Josh Gad, and the music of Oscar-winning songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. Also lending their voices to the film are Evan Rachel Wood (Westworld) and Sterling K. Brown (The Predator).
Walt Disney Animation Studios FROZEN 2 opens in U.S. theaters on November 22, 2019.