The magic of Frozen, the animated phenomenon that took the world by blizzard, will be back in an all new animated short film that can be seen before all showings of Pixar’s Coco. In the short, titled Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, the holiday season gets underway in the kingdom of Arendelle, Elsa reveals to Anna that there has never been a holiday tradition since their parents’ death. However, hope is at hand when Olaf and Sven decide to go on an epic adventure and find the perfect tradition for the two sisters before the big day arrives.
We were fortunate enough to sit down with directors Kevin Deters and Stevie Wermers, as well as producer Roy Conli and, of course, the voice of Olaf himself Josh Gad to talk a little bit about Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, its themes, and what they hope audiences pull from their experience watching it. Check out what they had to say below.
The project first started in 2015, which feels a lot like light speed according to Deters. Theatrical films like the first Frozen can take anywhere from four to five years to complete – research, animation, design, etc. So to complete a 22-minute feature short like this in nearly two years is pretty incredible.
As for the story itself, Deters said the challenge was creating a story around a supporting character. “He’s guileless, he loves everybody, he’s very happy, and as storytellers, we thought ‘oh gosh, what are we going to do to create a nice dramatic story with a character like that?'” Deters said. “We realized that he is a bit of a little child and that was our doorway into it. Then we started talking about different sort of relatable thematic ideas that could resonate.” He credits John Lasseter for zeroing in on the emotional core of Olaf’s Frozen Adventure and recognizing that traditions in the holiday season are relatable to everyone.
“The fact that it’s a holiday special, we had this box to work in,” Wermers chimed. “When you think about the holidays, you think about traditions.”
There are four new songs in Olaf’s Frozen Adventure written by Kate Anderson and Elyssa Samsel, a fairly new composing duo you will definitely hear more of in the near future.
The short itself is about traditions, with Anna and Elsa searching for their own since it will be the first time celebrating the holidays since the events of the first Frozen. “No matter where you are from, no matter what your religion is, we all celebrate some kind of tradition, particularly around the end of the year,” said Stevie. “This is something that Olaf discovers on his own, and he realizes he doesn’t have any traditions of his own. So it leads us to this kind of story.”
Collaboration Is Key
Despite being one of the Disney Animation producer figureheads, Conli is relatively new to the Frozen franchise. He served as a producer for Big Hero 6, and most recently the Disney Nature film Born In China. However, he said this has been one of the most giving projects that he has worked on.
Deters and Wermers have been working together for seven projects, first starting out on the storyboard team then moving on to greater things like the Prep & Landing Christmas specials, which won two Emmys.
“As a producer, I can say, they create the more creative, warm, and giving environments, and it makes my job a lot easier,” said Conli.
Deters does admit that he and Wermers were a little intimidated by Lasseter’s request to work on Olaf’s Frozen Adventure.
“Early on we worked with Chris Buck and Jen Lee, and Peter Del Vecho, the film’s original directors and producer, and really abscond ourselves in that world,” said Conli. “It’s great, and it is a testament to the studio. Because these guys saw the entire development of the project.”
Even Gad provided some helpful input to elevate the story and character. “Josh is always accommodating,” Deters said. “Whatever is on the page, whatever we had written with our writer Jac Schaeffer, he would give us some great takes on it and he would start riffing. There is some great improvisational material that found its way in.” And because the actors have been playing the characters longer than Deters and Wermers have been working on the project, they know a great deal more about them and what they would say.
“Improv is definitely a part of the journey,” Gad said. “And they [Deters and Wermers] were amazing collaborators in letting me come up with some insane stuff. Like in the original Frozen I remember saying ‘I’ve been impaled,’ and I was shocked that they animated this and kept it in the film. It is a fun collaboration.”
Even Pixar helped out a little bit as Coco marks the first time that a Disney feature short appears before a Pixar feature film. While Disney is the parent company of Pixar, the idea of a Disney feature short appearing before a Pixar film has to do with the fact that they are thematically similar. “We actually showed this at Pixar about a year and a half ago at a marketing summit, and that’s when they said it would be a great pairing,” Conli said.
For coming up with the songs Anderson and Samsel came out to California from New York for a week, and sat down with Deters and Wermers, Conli, and Schaeffer, to talk about the project and where the music could go. “We had broad plot points, and we thought okay ‘let’s talk about where could the songs go. Where could it accommodize storytelling?” Deters said. “It was a very collaborative effort. We both feel strongly, as directors, that the best idea wins, it’s all about the collaboration, making ideas stronger, you sort of have to be ego-less in the story room and put it all out there and see what works. Everybody has the same goal in mind.”
Josh Gad On Singing In An Olafy Voice
Gad admits that it is hard to do the dialogue and sing as high as the character does while maintaining that bright and Olafy voice. “Bobby Lopez, who wrote Book of Mormon, which I did with him, he would always write it an octave higher than that I deserved to sing it, and he carried that tradition over to Frozen. So when the brilliant songwriters Kate and Elyssa did this, I was like ‘Oh great, they’ve been speaking to Bobby and Kris.’”
The first time he performed one of the songs was live at the D23 Expo. Although that wasn’t the original plan. Gad told the press that he was going to be fed the lyrics through a monitor while on stage and that he would lip sync through the entire animated sequence. Which was a relief to him at first because he never sang it live. However, he was then told the monitor would not be working. “We did it, and my heart was beating through my chest. It was surreal that we landed it,” Gad said. “Once in a lifetime. I promise you nine out of ten times it would have been a disaster. I promise you.”
It has also come to a point where Gad’s kids want him to stop speaking as Olaf. “My kids say ‘stop speaking as Olaf,” Gad said. But it tickles them to know that he voices Olaf. He even reads Frozen books to them in his character, which he believes is very surreal to them. But as for him returning to voice the character for the third time in Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, it’s an absolute thrill. “It’s a thrill to come back. It’s a thrill to work with such a brilliant new team, who are taking this character and opening new doors for him to go,” Gad said. “The first movie is so much about Olaf discovering. Olaf is like a newborn waking up. And so as we continue to tell these stories, what is fun as an artist is that we get to have Olaf in a place where he is learning and growing, emotionally and educationally.”
The Pressures Of Keeping The Frozen Legacy Alive
For Gad, he still cannot believe that Frozen took off the way that it did. “Not a day goes by where I don’t wonder ‘how did this become the biggest animated movie of all time?'” Gad said. “At its core, it’s a movie about siblings. It’s a very universal thing. Any of us who have grown up with brothers or sisters, having two daughters, seeing it through the prism of their eyes, it’s amazing to see how important Anna and Elsa’s journey is to them.”
In fact, it is still surreal to him that it became the phenomenon that it is now. “Everyday, seeing kids wearing Frozen gear and they just announced an Olaf balloon for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade,” Gad said. “I never take for granted that this is magic hour that I am living right now.” Gad gave a quick nod to the late Robert Guillaume, who voiced the original Rafiki in the animated The Lion King, as an inspiration to what he does now. “To give life to these characters. To give something like ‘Asante sana squash banana’ that lives on in another generation, my kids are watching that. Or the late Robin Williams as the Genie, being a part of that tradition, is the coolest gift that I have ever been given as a performer.”
And since music plays such a huge part of that legacy, it’s easy to see why there might be some pressure to keep that legacy alive, especially since Bobby and Kristen Lopez aren’t working on the music for Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. But the original cast, Gad, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, and Idina Menzel, got together shortly after the completion of the four songs, and they were surprised by how good it is. “We were like ‘have you heard what they did? They’re really good songs,” Gad said. “It’s hard cause you have such iconic music from the original, and especially ‘When We’re Together,’ I cannot shake that song. Good luck parents, because it’s going to play a lot in your household. It’s incredible music.”
Olaf’s Frozen Adventure is a 22-minute feature short that will be appearing before all showings of Pixar’s Coco, which opens in theaters on November 22, 2017.