Fall Preview: The women behind Elsa on ‘Frozen 2’
Years after “Frozen” came out, some of us still can’t walk through our home without accidentally prompting “Let it Go” to erupt from some unseen toy.
Elsa never really left us. But she’s back.
If you haven’t already been informed by some young girl (or boy) in your life, “Frozen 2” will be unleashed in theaters on Nov. 22, six years after the original amassed $1.2 billion in worldwide ticket sales (a record for an animated film), sent the name “Elsa” skyrocketing up popular baby name lists and ingrained the lyrics of “Let it Go” on the collective consciousness of humankind.
To reflect on Elsa’s journey ahead of the release of “Frozen 2,” The Associated Press assembled the two women most responsible for her creation: Jennifer Lee, co-director and writer of each film, and Idina Menzel, the Tony-winning actress who gives the ice queen her clarion voice.
Elsa was initially designed as the villain of “Frozen” but was reshaped as a new kind of Disney princess: fiercely independent, magically powerful and humanly flawed. She has ever since been a beacon of female empowerment to millions of young girls — and, as they explained, to Menzel and Lee, too.
AP: How does it feel to have created the most powerful thing known to man?
Menzel: (Laughs) I don’t think we’ve created the most powerful thing known to man, but it’s nice to know we created something that resonates so strongly and beautifully within young people.
Lee: For (co-director Chris Buck) and I, everyday we’re still surprised. We always ask the question of “Why?” and there’s not a single answer.
AP: But why do you think “Frozen” has so resonated? After watching it a few hundred times, I’d say its power is predicated on its portrait of sisterhood and a young woman coming to terms — letting out — her talent.
Lee: They had flaws. They were messy and real. They were misunderstood and they were alone at times. But they had in this journey a perseverance and looked out for each other. To me, it’s not trying to be perfect or polished. It’s trying to connect with real experiences and real emotion.
Menzel: It’s so refreshing that a man is not the answer to their problems. It’s (Anna and Elsa’s) relationship to one another, seeing the love affair of these two sisters. That’s unique to most films in general and especially in a Disney movie.
AP: Idina, how would you describe your relationship with Elsa?
Idina: It’s funny. The character has sort of catapulted me to be a role model for young girls and boys. Yet I’m a woman in her 40s who still has to remind herself of her own power and pick herself up every day and figure out how I want to tackle the day and approach my life. I have to sing her songs and say her words all the time. It’s a constant reminder to walk the walk and talk the talk and love myself, and love my vulnerabilities and my idiosyncrasies and everything that I am. And to understand that what makes me different and unique is what makes me powerful and beautiful.
AP: You were both very successful before “Frozen” but your lives have been changed by it. Jennifer has since become the head of Disney Animation.
Lee: What “Frozen” did for me is that it opened doors. As a woman in Hollywood, it’s all about access. I was given a chance on “Frozen” and because of “Frozen,” the doors were opened. Having those opened doors makes you take more chances.
AP: “Frozen” is the highest-grossing film worldwide directed by a woman, a record “Frozen 2″ is likely to surpass. Is that a meaningful mark to you?
Lee: It’s a surprising mark for me. I didn’t know any of these statistics when I came into the industry. I sort of naively just said I want to make movies and didn’t realize that I would be the first woman of certain things. I’m hoping that all changes. I’ll be the first in some of these but I can see a huge change happening where women are directing more.
AP: Idina, what did you think about becoming Elsa again?
Menzel: I hadn’t stopped being Elsa because I had been on the road and singing all over the world and would close my show with “Let It Go” now. It’s the biggest song I had in my repertoire. It’s the first time I had sort of a hit song. Being from Broadway, you have songs people know and love but they’re not necessarily “hits.” Singing it in different languages all over the world and it being this conduit to kids in my audience. Not just kids, actually. A wide demographic of people actually like the song, whether they admit it or not. (laughs)
AP: You’ve sung “Let it Go” in other languages?
Menzel: I have. I can do Japanese. I once tried Dutch, which was horrible. I wrote it out phonetically and they’ll probably never have me back there. But I at least tried.
AP: It took some soul searching to initiate plans for a sequel. What kick-started it?
Lee: We weren’t thinking about a sequel at all. About a year after the film came out, our producer Peter Del Vecho had been traveling and came back with messages from around the world. He was trying to understand what it was about Elsa and “Let it Go.” The feedback was that she’s freeing for people who feel a lot of pressure, for people who feel misunderstood — someone who carries our pain and sets us free. And every one of them asked: Why does she have powers? Chris and I looked at each other and said: “There’s still more of this story.”
AP: What should fans expect in “Frozen 2”?
Lee: At the end of the day, this film is still about two sisters. Life throws you curve balls post-Happily Ever After — how you cope and a family struggling to stay together. They’re all changing — even Olaf!
Menzel: Elsa and Anna push each other and make each other rise to new levels. They evolve and through this journey they become the most gorgeous women they can be. They both find themselves.