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Disney In Depth: Reviewing ‘The Story Of Frozen’ and Franchise Future
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Brett Nachman   |  @   |  
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“The snow glows white on the mountain tonight.” So begin the lyrics of the ice-set ballad we have all come to know by heart – and for some critics, despise – since the debut of Frozen. This film is a phenomenon, defying even the studio’s highest hopes. This week ABC aired a special (The Story of Frozen) to push the fantasy forward on becoming more of a franchise.

This edition of Disney In Depth explores the Frozen special’s highlights and shares some new details regarding the future of the behemoth brand.

Disney character Elsa of "Frozen" shapes snow and ice

“It was an old fairy-tale for a new generation,” Josh Gad, voice of Olaf, says as he narrates the start of this one-hour television event. Despite 2009’s The Princess and the Frog obtaining an ABC special at the time of its release – more generally focused on the “return of hand-drawn animation” – no Disney animated film has garnered this much network attention since perhaps the age of The Lion King. How fitting is it that in Disney’s promotion of Frozen that the company made a direct comparison to the 1994 feature, stating that it was “the greatest Disney animated event since The Lion King.” This special deems pretty monumental itself, in terms of reflecting on Frozen‘s storied development and potential forthcoming impact.

Through interviews with cast and crew members alike, the special reminds us that Frozen may never have emerged from the vaults, so to speak, had it not been for John Lasseter‘s and other top creative personalities’ input on bringing back the “Disney princess” films. Walt Disney had aimed to produce a feature based on The Snow Queen tale, but alas, that never happened – that is, not until Lasseter and crew came in to redevelop the story for a modern audience.

Despite there being a deluge of Frozen making-of videos populating the web, the special effectively portrayed various facets not already accessible to viewers. For instance, several minutes is dedicated to sharing how the actors’ and animators’ movements and idiosyncrasies were translated from reality to fiction. Each main character garners some attention here. Jonathan Groff earns major laughs while portraying Kristoff’s imitation of Sven. His facial reactions are priceless. Of course, Gad’s Olaf would be viewed by many as the breakout character of the film – just make sure not to share that perspective with Elsa’s fan club. Would you have guessed that Donny Osmond, Lasseter, and other individuals would account as inspiration for some of the characters’ quirks?

The special revealed the stories behind the songs and sights showcased in Frozen, too. As late as early 2013, “Do You Want To Build A Snowman,” the much-parodied song, was not featured in the finished film. But thanks to the “rank-and-file” folks at Disney pushing for the piece’s inclusion, according to songwriter Bobby Lopez, the song was reinserted into the movie. “Let It Go,” the transformative song that would allow Elsa to release “her powers out and sort of try to get away from society,” Lopez said, was not initially a part of the movie. Yet, as the Elsa character evolved from evil queen to repressed soul, the powerhouse piece took form. Thank goodness. “That song came at the right time and it fundamentally changed the entire movie,” Lasseter said.

Lasseter’s encouragement that the filmmakers visit Norway, full of majestic fjords and mountains, allowed for the research to majorly influence Frozen‘s development. For instance, the rosemaling, or Norwegian decorative design, would be highly incorporated in the film’s art direction. Elsa’s remarkable art castle integrated rosemaling, as well as the structure of snowflakes, to account for its magnificence.

Far from cheesy or heavy-handed in tone, the Frozen special, albeit furthering the branding machine, took a step away from overemphasizing its cultural impact. Instead – at least for the first two-thirds of the special – it centered on the challenges in formulating an animated film, from the characters’ identities in writing songs to encapsulating the essence of how these settings played into creating a mood. The interview selections, featured artwork and footage, and film clips are all blended cohesively and swiftly. As you would expect, though, the special possessed a purpose – to promote Frozen‘s future.

“I always called it kind of the ‘anti-Disney princess’ movie,” Lasseter joked, in terms of how the strong female protagonists contrasted with past heroines. That must have resonated with the young viewers, and boy does this special applaud them for maintaining Frozen‘s enduring popularity nearly one year after its opening. We see excerpts of the innumerable “Let It Go” videos swarming YouTube. “And it’s just not little girls going nuts,” Gad says. A video featuring U.S. Marines singing the Idina Menzel masterpiece also obtained several seconds of attention. This song has become a “touchstone,” as Gad described the sensation. Even the filmmakers poke fun at how it has become mainstream to the point of other parents saying “I can’t stop hearing your song in my head,” according to songwriter Kristen Anderson-Lopez. The song has become global, too, as demonstrated in the multi-language version below.

“I am excited about the ‘cool mom’ street cred I might get from this role,” Kristen Bell says on voicing Anna. “It’s a really nice superpower.” Menzel added that she is “certain grateful” for having had the opportunity to participate in Frozen. But it’s not over quite yet, not by a long shot. Disney has full plans to make sure we cannot forget about its 53rd animated feature. An ice tour and sing-along DVD will launch this fall. Even sooner, we can find Anna, Elsa, Kristoff and others popping up in Storybrooke on ABC’s Once Upon A Time starting September 28. Should we re-name the show, though, to Once Upon a Cool Franchise Nobody Saw Coming? A brief advertisement aired prior to the special’s final segment, which possesses the most exciting news.

As my Geeks of Doom colleague Athena shared with you, a Frozen short will debut in Spring 2015. This reminds me of how Disney maintained familiarity with Tangled by releasing the Tangled Ever After short just over a year after the Mandy Moore film’s debut. Frozen Fever will have a new song, along with “basically the whole crew returning,” promises Lasseter. Do you have chills of excitement?

The Story of Frozen also proved to win over viewers anticipating Big Hero 6, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ November release. Some of the footage has already been shown, but it works to build buzz and to give us a tease: a “complete” scene that shows teenager Hiro Hamada being healed by Baymax, the giant white “personal healthcare companion” after Hamada injures his toe. The humor is infectious – no pun intended – as Baymax questions Hamada on how he feels “on a scale of one to 10,” complete with accompanying visuals displayed on his puffy body. Count me ready for Big Hero 6 to join Frozen as part of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ new renaissance.

Who’s ready for more Frozen? Share your thoughts!

This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.

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