Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck talk about earning their ending and creating deeper, darker music.
In Frozen 2, Elsa (Idina Menzel), Anna (Kristen Bell), Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and Olaf (Josh Gad) will leave Arendelle behind as their next adventure takes them to an enchanted forest and beyond in search of answers about the past. There will be bewitching new magic, plenty of new faces and the much-anticipated follow-up to "Let It Go." And when the sequel finally opens in theaters on Nov. 22, it may or may not reveal how Elsa got her powers, it may or may not settle the debate over where their parents were going, and it may or may not include a proposal.
Even during a recent press day for Frozen 2, much of the movie was still shrouded in secrecy. However, the filmmakers were willing to say one thing definitively: "Elsa's not going to have a romantic relationship in this," writer-director Jennifer Lee told a group of journalists gathered at Walt Disney Animation Studios. When Lee, fellow director Chris Buck and their producer, Peter Del Vecho, sat down with ET, they discussed whether they ever considered introducing a love interest for Elsa, earning their ending and creating deeper, darker music.
ET: There were plenty of business reasons why you could make Frozen 2. What was the moment you knew you should make one?
Jennifer Lee: "Want to" is better, because should you do a sequel is always a dangerous question, especially because expectations come with that. But the want I think, [was it] for us. It started with we'd done a short, almost a year later after finishing the film, and realized we missed the characters. Like we got emotional when we saw them animated. That was a clue but we still weren't there. But then [Paul] had done that trip and started hearing a lot about people relating to Elsa, wanting to understand her powers more, what happens to them now--
Paul Del Vecho: So many questions people had or things that they were interested in.
Chris Buck: It got our brains going too.
Lee: Yeah, we've been asking them too. So it was a little over a year after. I remember it was the holiday party of 2014. That's the moment. I remember it very vividly. We had just talked about it before going to the holiday party. "I want to go back," we both said.
Buck: And we had started to get excited about certain ideas. We had already talked about pretty much where we saw the characters could be at the end. And our ending is very much what we had originally talked about, which is great.
How much did the journey to that ending change?
Buck: A lot! [Laughs] It's earning that. We had the same thing with the first movie, and it's actually a great thing if you know your ending, because then you know your true north and it's just earning it. There's nothing more frustrating than not knowing where you're ending a movie and your characters just wander. It's tough enough when you do know your ending, but at least we had that. We had that pretty much from the beginning.
You've talked about these questions the movie will ask -- why Anna doesn't have powers, why Elsa does, where she got them from -- how much had you discussed those before making the first one? Did you already have some of the answers to fall back on?
Lee: As a writer, I had never gone past the concept of Elsa wrestling with being different. Because the first film was so much about a character who is suffocating under fear -- her own fear and other people's fear of her -- I never thought past that moment when she's accepted. What does that feel like for her? And then the concept that there is more for her out there. Great, now you're accepted, but you have these powers for a reason. I hadn't been able to get there, because I was so caught up in her struggle with being different.
For Anna, it was so much about someone who had nothing to lose, so therefore she was ridiculously, dangerously fearless. But now she has everything, and what does that mean when you have everything to lose? Those two things I'd never thought of until we started talking. And then I started journaling and then we started going back and forth on these. Those two things were when we knew we had a lot more to tell and a lot of things to ask. But I hadn't asked them. I mean, the why, you could say, "When the stars aligned..." But at the heart of the first film, that wasn't what mattered. It was about a woman's struggle and with being different.
You very definitively said, "Elsa does not have a love interest in this movie." In the first movie, that was something that people found so refreshing. Was it something that was on the table or that you had to mull over for this one, whether you would introduce a boyfriend or a girlfriend or what have you?
Lee: For this film, we spent a lot of time journaling and we said we took these pretty intense personality tests [for each character]. We found this is a woman who wasn't ready for a relationship at all. She's carrying a lot of pressure and the weight of her kingdom on her shoulders and struggling with this call for her powers. That's where she was, so for us, it really hadn't come up in terms of what fit with where the story was going. And we knew the end we wanted for her. So it just didn't fit with where she was in her life. I don't know if it'll fit in the future. We haven't asked that question, and I'm not stretching past Frozen 2 about what happens to these characters in their lives! [Laughs] But it's just not where she was now.
"Let It Go" was the biggest song in the world. As you were approaching the music for this one, were there ways you wanted to stay true to what you had done musically in the first? Were there ways you intentionally wanted to venture out into new sounds?
Buck: Doing a musical sequel is a challenge unto itself. You don't necessarily have all the beginning songs -- which introduce characters' "I wants" and all that -- but we pitched it to Bobby [Lopez] and Kristen [Anderson-Lopez] and talked about the idea of Frozen 1 and Frozen 2 being a complete thought and almost one movie. You look at Frozen 2, then, as Act 2 of a Broadway musical. To them, that was really exciting and they could wrap their heads around that. And a lot of times in Act 2 of any musical, things get a little deeper, a little more emotional, maybe a little darker. That was all very exciting to us and it sort of was our guideline at that point.
It's not a bad problem to have, but you've set the bar very high for the music. How do you know when a song is right as a Frozen song?
Del Vecho: You can't answer that at the beginning. What we had to do is go back to the same way we made the first film. Start with the characters, the story we're trying to tell, let the story evolve and tell you what the songs need to be. That takes time, so you can't rush that process. And they've come up with seven very different -- from each other-- songs for this movie.
Buck: And like the first one, there were a lot of songs that didn't make the cut because the story evolved. The same thing on this one: the story evolved and there were songs that we did love, that we loved in the moment, we loved them for the month or two that they were in, and then suddenly it was like, "Oh, the story we're telling just doesn't support that anymore." So you have to make that painful decision of like, "We've got to take that out." But something stronger always comes in place of that.
When the movie was first confirmed at D23 a few years ago, I believe you referred to it as Frozen 2 but weren't sure if that would be the official title.
Del Vecho: We actually said that it wouldn't be that.
I didn't want to be so presumptuous to call you out, but yes. So how far did you get toying with other titles or alt titles before you decided on Frozen 2?
Lee: We played with a lot of titles and as the story evolved, we would test titles. The biggest thing that made us come back to Frozen 2 is when we were seeing that Frozen 1 and Frozen 2 felt like a complete thing, that it was like a chapter. Also, knowing there was Frozen Fever, there was a team doing the Olaf special for television and feeling like the blurring of the canon a little bit.
Buck: Even the name of the ride down there at Epcot. Frozen was used in several different ways.
Lee: Even the short, anything that was done peripherally wasn't canon to us. We didn't have to worry about that. Our job was to put these two films together seamlessly as one. So it just felt like, that's it. I also love that you could have the two look like an Anna and Elsa. They're sisters standing next to each other.
Del Vecho: In some respects, the world named the movie, because they referred to it, "When is Frozen 2 coming? When is Frozen 2 coming?" We wanted to let them know this isn't another ancillary project. This is the next movie.