We first caught up with Frozen directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck months before the Disney animated film became a phenomenon. Since then, Frozen has taken over the world, won Academy Awards (Best Song for Let it Go and Best Animated Feature for Lee, Buck and producer Peter Del Vecho) and with success comes expectations for more.
With the arrival of Cinderella in theaters March 13, fans of Frozen will get a treat -- an all new Frozen short film called Frozen Fever.
We caught up with Lee and Buck for an exclusive chat about how thoughts of a sequel dominated headlines after Frozen became the highest grossing animated movie of all time and how the short film came to be. They also dish what it was like to get the entire Frozen gang back together for Frozen Fever, including Idina Menzel as Elsa and Josh Gad as Olaf. They even share a fantastic story about the pregnant good luck charm that seems to be Kristen Bell as Anna!
Buck and Lee also answer our question about whether this short quiets the talk about Frozen 2 and frankly, if we will even see a Frozen 2!
Movie Fanatic: We first talked way early in the process of getting Frozen to the screen. I thought immediately that you had something special. Did you have any idea it would become what it became?
Jennifer Lee: No, we had previewed it with some audiences and were shocked because the response had far exceeded our expectations. But then, we always said, “You never know if people will come.” You just don’t know. Are we in a too cynical world now? What a delight.
Chris Buck: We wondered if marketing was reaching everyone, and they did. Then the movie took on a life of its own with word of mouth and people wanting to go back.
Jennifer Lee: That was a big surprise. The biggest surprise was, we both went to the theater, different theaters, the same day. I was in New York and Chris was here to see it with an audience. And they were speaking the words and singing it. That meant they were back for a second time. I called him immediately.
Chris Buck: We were shocked. I saw the same thing. People were reciting the lines and singing the songs.
Movie Fanatic: That must have given way to the sing-a-long version?
Jennifer Lee: We were talking about it and then John Lassiter said, “We should do a sing-a-long” and we were going to do it in like three cities. We mentioned it to the theater owners, and we ended up in 2,000.
Movie Fanatic: And when it comes to movie sing-a-longs, you’re talking The Sound of Music and Grease. That’s some pretty heady company. Now, I know you guys were super busy getting Frozen out, and then promoting it and then the whole awards season where you conclude by winning Best Animated Feature. When did the talk about what was next come along?
Chris Buck: It was in the spring, right after the Oscars. We had just opened up in Japan. There was the talk, “Can we do something for the fans? Is there a thank you we can do?” That’s where the idea for the short sprung up. But, we didn’t start working on it until June.
Jennifer Lee: We had our wonderful team with story artists and creatively, Chris and I started throwing noodles at the wall and saw what stuck. I think we knew, because people laughed, somebody said, “What if Elsa has a cold and this is how it manifests?” That was Mark Smith, who has a story credit on this. He said it and we went, “Oh, how fun!” We loved the idea of Elsa. It’s something different with Elsa. We talked a lot about an Olaf-centric thing. But, she’s the character that we don’t know what’s next because all we know was that she was the tragic character in Frozen. How fun that we can now look at it because she’s free. Everyone responded to that.
Chris Buck: It was a little bit of having fun with Elsa… can we?
Movie Fanatic: Does she have fun?
Chris Buck: [Laughs] Does she?!
Jennifer Lee: Then we went a little crazy with it [laughs].
Chris Buck: But, then we started to do some drawings and we went, “OK.” The first ones were scary ones because she would sneeze big spikes of ice and freezing people every time she sneezed. We thought, “No, that’s not really that fun.” Scary! It kept evolving and it evolved into her sneezing and creating all different size Olafs.
Jennifer Lee: That’s right, even huge ones and little ones. It was complicated and we kept having to remind ourselves that a short has to have one simple idea. If you go too far with it, people are lost and it loses its magic. We kept stripping it down and ended up with these little guys, Snowgies.
Movie Fanatic: When you have the kind of success you had with Frozen, obviously people are going to go, “Sequel! Sequel! Sequel!” Was it nice to have a short film be what’s next?
Chris Buck: Absolutely. We love the characters too, the entire world of Frozen, just like everyone else. But, it was very daunting. We have seven minutes. Let’s have fun.
Jennifer Lee: We were creatively kind of tired and I think for all of us it was clunky to get started and we had to be broad and relax and play. It is a lot to creatively, after coming off of the energy of a film, go right into another one. Bobby and Kristen (Lopez, songwriters) and us were just sitting around going, “Whoa, Ok.” Then you get in a groove and you stop worrying. Then you start with the, “What if? What if?” It was about the end of July that we found our energy. We went right into production in September [laughs], so we had to solve it fast!
Chris Buck: We weren’t even all together at the beginning because we were taking some breaks and having some vacations. We were doing some tag team work.
Jennifer Lee: It was hard to get started, but you find that sweet place and it’s like, “Ah, here we are again.”
Movie Fanatic: What was it like to get everyone back together, from Idina Menzel to Kristen Bell, Josh Gad and the entire Frozen voice and musical team?
Jennifer Lee: There was lots of hugging.
Chris Buck: We hadn’t seen them since the premiere, really. We’d been texting and emailing, especially when the movie started to take off. There was that shared excitement.
Jennifer Lee: We had a funny thing with Kristen Bell because she was pregnant for the first film and her voice had changed when she was pregnant. We wondered if she would sound different for the short. But, she was conveniently pregnant for the short [laughs]. It was so nice of her!
Movie Fanatic: Given that you only have seven minutes and it is a short, was there ever any thought to not use a song?
Chris Buck: It always had to have a song. Frozen is so music-centric. Frozen without music would be strange.
Jennifer Lee: I think the nice thing about it is tonally, if we had not done a song, it would have been sillier and not had the sweetness. The song is very sincere and it carries all the elements from the original story about the bond between these two girls. Then, we were able to do what animation does best, which is do visual storytelling in a very dynamic way. We were almost telling a second story with it. To me, that felt like the right combo with how we told Frozen in the first place. And the animators loved it because the humor had to come from them. They had a blast.
Chris Buck: We had a lot of animators on the credits but it was because a lot of them wanted to work on it. They’d say, “Just give me one scene!”
Movie Fanatic: Does this put off the sequel talk for a while for you guys and is that nice?
Jennifer Lee: Yes, please!
Chris Buck: I don’t know. We’ll see how the audience responds, if it feeds it or not. It’s us trying to get a little bit of time away from it. The one thing that it did for us, we were very concerned about even the idea of a sequel. Then we got to play with Elsa even more in this one, it took that fear away of, “What are we going to do with Elsa?” That was the big concern, if we ever did another one, “What were we going to do with Elsa?”
Jennifer Lee: I remember the first shot that came from animation and I was almost in tears because they were back. That feeling was so wonderful and overwhelming. I don’t think we could have anticipated that. But, we’re quite spent. You want creatively to do your best work and not run on fumes.
Chris Buck: And it has to be a great idea because we can’t come out with anything less.
Watch Frozen online and see how it all got started.