Everything you need to know about Frozen II
“Do you have any Elsa and Anna Christmas tree decorations?” a 30-year-old woman feverishly asked the sales clerk at a boutique on Disneyland’s Main Street in early December 2014.
They didn’t. They apparently hadn’t had any for weeks, and even when stock arrived, it was snapped up in less than five minutes.
In fact, a year on from the release of the hit animated film, the entire park was devoid of any Frozen merchandise, despite being dotted with hundreds of children dressed as Elsa and Anna, the leading ladies from the movie.
Quite simply, Disney had underestimated the global domination this story of sisterhood would achieve and was still failing to keep up with consumer demand. And to think… it almost didn’t happen.
Frozen as we know it today boasts a long and troubled history. The studio first considered the Nordic tale of two sisters, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, in 1937.
Make that century. In the early 2000s, Disney found itself in what would now be called a lull, but was then considered a crisis.
The years between 1989 and 1999 had been so commercially successful for the studio — thanks to a consistent string of blockbusters such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King and Pocahontas — that the era became known as the “Disney Renaissance”.
But at the dawn of the 21st century, animation had evolved beyond Disney’s classic 2D format, with Pixar and DreamWorks leading the way (and winning the Oscars) with their technologically advanced, computer-aided and stylistically spikier films.
The Snow Queen was reconsidered in the late ’90s but abandoned for Tangled, the story of Rapunzel that was reasonably well-received by audiences and critics when it was finally released in 2010.
Several more failed attempts were made to revive the project until 2008, when director Chris Buck pitched a version of the fairytale that moved away from the “kissed by a prince” narrative.
Idina Menzel, who voices Elsa, tells Stellar she believes that notion unlocked the film’s potential — and propelled its success. “It’s refreshing to see a movie about young women that isn’t about romantic love,” she says.
“It’s about unconditional love, the love of family and loyalty. And I think it’s infectious to see two young women taking risks and pushing each other to be their greatest selves.”
Infectious is an apt way to describe the film, which far surpassed expectations after opening in November 2013 by winning two Academy Awards, cracking $1.27 billion at the worldwide box office and becoming the highest-grossing animated film of all time until a remake of The Lion King eclipsed it this year.
But the film’s popularity went far beyond sheer numbers. Around the world, it seemed millions of children — and plenty of adults — succumbed to Frozen fever and fell in love with the sisters and their sidekick snowman Olaf.
“I love that Frozen and [its upcoming sequel] threw the spotlight on the enduring love of family,” Kristen Bell, who voices the endearingly relatable younger sister Anna, tells Stellar. “Because to me, it’s just as romantic as love between lovers. It’s just as beautiful in sentiment.”
And if retiring Disney’s princess narrative was a solid driver of Frozen’s success, there is little doubt that the song ‘Let It Go’ cemented it into the popular imagination.
Elsa’s character-defining power ballad, elevated by Menzel’s Tony Award-winning voice, took on a life of its own.
It won Grammy and Academy Awards, charted around the world, got dubbed into 41 languages, clocked up 1.8 billion views on YouTube, and was described as “musical crack” by critics.
Menzel tells Stellar the song also altered the course of the story, as well as Elsa’s arc. “She was originally written as much more your quintessential Disney nemesis,” she explains.
“Then they wrote the song and I recorded it, and as many great songs do, it gave her more layers and complicated the way you feel about her. You could hear the loss and longing in her voice.
“And I think they felt like, ‘Well… why do we have to adhere to these rules? Why can’t we be different?’”
Already there’s talk about how ‘Let It Go’ can be matched in next month’s Frozen II. The latest trailer gives a taste of ‘Into The Unknown’, one of Elsa’s big numbers.
“Idina has two jaw-dropping songs in the next movie that take my breath away when I think about them,” says Bell.
“They’re beautifully written and then also Idina singing… you just can never go wrong. People are going to fall in love with Elsa all over again.”
Broadway star Menzel is no stranger to a big song. In 2003, she originated the role of Elphaba in Wicked and sang ‘Defying Gravity’, which many consider to be part of the melodic DNA of ‘Let It Go’.
Wicked won her a Tony and made her a star, but Menzel says the Frozen track catapulted her to genuine global fame.
“‘Let It Go’ meant people were being introduced to me for the first time who didn’t follow theatre, so that had an enormity to it that was exciting,” she admits.
“When I sing it, I can just hold the mic out and everyone in the crowd sings every word.”
Menzel is more pragmatic than Bell when considering how Disney can match the juggernaut that was that tune.
“I know that I think they’re incredible songs for the character, her story and what she’s longed for,” she says.
“I’m excited to sing them and for people to hear them. Whether they have the success that ‘Let It Go’ had… I don’t know.”
She’ll find out soon enough. And this time around, a lot of girls aged five and under, who are expected to be in attendance on opening weekend, will have a special connection to what they’re watching.
In 2014, for the first time in nearly a century, the name Elsa earned a spot on lists of most popular baby names. Anna is a perennial favourite — but it’s an irony not lost on any that the sister originally slotted to be the “villain” tended to be more popular with audiences.
Even Bell’s own daughters requested she dress as Elsa the past two Halloweens. When asked if she’ll be pulling out the blue and silver gown once again at the end of this month, the mother-of-two sighs. “No doubt I will. I can never say no.”
Yet Bell insists she never felt shortchanged that the more conventionally charming princess she voices was superseded by her feisty sister.
“Elsa is the character with the issue, right? She has this shame and embarrassment, so you yearn for her; the whole drive of the movie was to help Elsa. It doesn’t surprise me that people hold Elsa in their heart.
“It’s Elsa who has the struggle; Elsa who overcame the most. People identify with that. Anybody who’s gone through struggle would identify with Elsa. For sure. And I love that.”
But popularity is a double-edged sword. When a project becomes a phenomenon of the magnitude that Frozen has, any sequel will arrive weighed down by intense expectations and even more intense scrutiny.
As the producers of Game Of Thrones and Star Wars follow-ups or the Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them can attest, appeasing superfans is not an activity for the faint of heart.
For her part, Menzel claims not to feel that pressure as the release date draws near. “I’m just so grateful to be on this ride with everyone, but I didn’t have to do the heavy lifting and write the script!
“I know they’re incredibly wise and intuitive and nobody is making the film just to have a sequel. They all feel there was a reason to make it.”
Bell also has no qualms. “This is gonna sound arrogant and I don’t mean it to, but I’m not concerned,” she says.
“We’ve stumbled onto something utterly perfect and fun and joyful to make, and it’s the exact same recipe; everyone is returning. Jennifer Lee wrote it and Jen and Chris Buck directed it. Bobby [Lopez] and Kristen [Anderson-Lopez] wrote the music. I don’t feel the pressure because I have the winning team around me.”
Whether Frozen II reaches the dizzying heights of its predecessor remains to be seen, but industry pundits predict it will be a resounding box-office success.
As for the parents bracing themselves for marathon soundtrack listens on forthcoming car rides, five-hour waits to meet Elsa at Disney theme parks and letters to Santa begging for everything from Anna’s new frock to an Olaf lunchbox, there’s but one thing to do: just chill out — and let it go.