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Interview: Filmmakers Jennifer Lee And Chris Buck On 'Frozen'

Caroline Langella |
November 25, 2013 | 9:05 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck (middle, right) talk about "Frozen" along with Josh Gad (Pinterest)
Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck (middle, right) talk about "Frozen" along with Josh Gad (Pinterest)

It's no surprise that Disney's "Frozen" has already captured the hearts of many, from little kids to grandparents.

With its official release on Thanksgiving Day, "Frozen" is a tale of two sisters, Anna the Princess and Elsa the Queen of Arendelle, who, with the help of a few other characters, work together to save their kingdom from an eternal winter.

READ MORE: Film Review: 'Frozen'

Two people who were vital in making "Frozen" become reality were Jennifer Lee ("Wreck it Ralph") and Chris Buck ("Tarzan," "Surf's Up"), who worked as writers and directors on the film.

Neon Tommy had the privilege of sitting down with them for a round table interview, discussing their new movie.

"Frozen" is inspired by Hans Christian Anderson's "The Snow Queen" and was also a project originally attempted by Walt Disney himself in the 1940s. How did you manage to actually make it happen in 2013?
Jenn: [The story] was a hard one to crack. I can see why a lot of people had problems, because the original story is fantastic, but very poetic and ethereal and symbolic, all the things that are really hard to do in concrete medium like film…I think no one knew anything about the snow queen and we had to sort of invent her… and we also didn't just want to do just good versus evil; It became very hard for Elsa to just be a villain…The theme that I loved in the original story was more love versus negativity and love versus fear, and that was a theme we hadn't done…[it] seemed to resonate; I felt like it kind of gave us a way in. And then, when we made the girls sisters, that was the biggest breakthrough of all; it really gave stakes, it gave emotion, it gave us a new lens and I think that that's when we knew that we were gonna be able to make this one.

Chris: Everybody really got it emotionally…and it just really took off from there.

Jenn: The original story is so different in the way it was told as not very cinematic and so I think for us we had to sort of find our own way, our own journey. We really knew that we had to find our own emotion and our own drive, sort of this curse by eternal winter gave a second act drive, and having them be sisters gave the emotional drive, so a lot of what we end up doing are making choices so we can feel it as we're going through, and if we're not feeling it, we know something's not right.

Chris: I've always felt the freedom of when you take a story, at least for Disney, you know we take the essence of whatever story it is, and we make it our own.

Can you talk about the snowman Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad) and what he brings to the movie?
Chris: We've always loved that idea of a snowman that would fall apart and put himself back together… His character was a little bit different and it started with Elsa creating snowmen guards for her ice palace and Olaf was the very first one she made. The other [snowmen] were these big "hulk-like" things and he was this little squirt. That was just the initial Olaf and then Jenn came on [to the project] and we found more of the real Olaf, that personality as we were working it and then [Josh Gad] helped us find [Olaf] in his sessions.

Jenn: We knew there was a lot of potential in Olaf but [as a writer] I always know that he has to belong in the story, he has to matter to the main characters and it has to drive the story forward and he cannot just be a funny sidekick…for me, [as a writer] I always have to go "Who is he?" or "What's he feeling?" When we found the innocence that he represents with the girls when they're little, and they made this Olaf that was non-magical, when Elsa makes him as she's just going back to freedom again, and he's the memory of the little girls and he's viewed with that childlike innocence, that's when we were saying, "Ok, now we know him"… But it wasn't until Josh came in that we knew his voice, not just the sound, but the way he would speak. We improved with him for about three hours the first session and that improv session is the "meet Olaf" scene… Then I knew how to write [Olaf] from Josh, so it was very collaborative.

Chris: [Josh] gave us improv the whole way through...He's just a blast to work with.

The humor of "Frozen" feels a little more awkward and quirky than the average Disney movie. Can you talk about that?

Jenn: Well, we're a little awkward and quirky, that's probably it, and Kristen Bell too. I think we all love that humor that comes from the character versus gags and things like that… I think people are funny just in the way that they try to live their lives, and when you throw a lot of obstacles in their way they do ridiculous things so we just kept it to that and I think it's what we relate to.

Chris: I always love doing [quirky humor] you know sometimes people are afraid to make the male and female leads funny. They put them up on a pedestal and they have to be somewhat perfect, but we're the opposite. [We're] like, "give them flaws, make them relatable, you know, make them funny."

Jenn: They are still inspirational in that. I love the ordinary humor; that's my favorite kind, so I think that was what was great.

I noticed similarities between reindeer Sven and the horse Maximus from the movie "Tangled" in that they both had "dog-like" antics. Do you relate "Frozen" to the movie "Tangled" at all?
Jenn: I honestly don't really see it at all because they are our characters and when we make them, we make them who we want them to be and who's right for our story. I know Anna and Elsa and Christoph and Sven. I know them so well and they're so "themselves" that and you know. No offense to Sven but he's not nearly as smart as Maximus.

Chris: People were starting to compare even in the studio and we said "No, no, no."… It's interesting, we studied reindeer; reindeer pant like dogs, they scratch like dogs… We had a reindeer come in [to the studio] so we learned that they're not that bright.

Jenn: They're more like dogs then horses are, so we "get" that one [over Tangled]. We wanted [Sven] to be a lot more like an animal. It's not till the end that you start to realize what's going on in his head. Christoph speaks for him and treats him more like a pet than I think Disney's used to, but it was a fun change for us… We kind of hope that once people see the film [that they will] just kind of go with who these characters are because to us its like all these characters are [our] friends; they are exactly who they are.

Can you talk about Disney and its evolution of love's meaning in its movies over the years?
Jenn: I grew up on Disney films; My favorite was cinderella [and] it always will be, I guess, in a way. That romantic notion of true love is a part of that legacy and a part of life, but I think we kind of wanted to get a little more connected to how it really goes down often in real life. We wanted to say that it's 2013…that this naîve love isn't really what happens.

Chris: I'd like to say too that I've been married almost 24 years now, and that romantic love lasts like six months, you know, the hearts and roses and all that, and then it can be about rough times and good times, but it's real after that, the nitty gritty real stuff.

Jenn: It all leads to the greatest of all [love] which is family. We liked having the parallel stories that combine at the end, because I think that's sort of what it all ends up being.

Chris: It's a more familial love… It was just time for us to try something new.

If you haven't seen "Frozen" yet, go see it with your family or friends over Thanksgiving! You can watch the trailer below:

Reach Staff Reporter Caroline Langella here. Follow her on Twitter here.



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