30 October 2013 1503 Views

“Frozen” Interview: Directors Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee Talk Casting Kristen Bell And Idina Menzel, Finding The Music, And Walt Disney’s Legacy

by Michael Lee

Frozen Disney Movie Interview Chris Buck And Jennifer Lee

The Frozen portion of the animation panel at the D23 Expo was more than enough to convince people – well Disney fans at least – that Disney’s 53rd animated feature is in a class of its own. It certainly offered more than the trailers could offer. Last month, MovieViral was invited for a special look at Frozen and the animated short Get A Horse. We learned a lot from both of the directors of their respective animated features, and will be posting exclusive looks throughout the coming weeks.

Be sure to look at the top 50 things we learned about Frozen while visiting Disney’s animation studio.

In our interview with directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, and producer Peter Del Vecho, we talk about the casting process of the film, the research that was conducted to get the scenes right, the recording process, and what it was like to work on a film that Walt Disney wanted to do before he passed. Hit the jump for more.

MovieViral: The trailers don’t show it, but there is a sister versus sister dynamic that is rarely seen in a Disney film, especially when one of the sisters is the primary antagonists. Why do you think we are not seeing that, because I think audiences would be excited about that angle.

Jennifer Lee: Well, I think that might be coming. When you are rolling it out, trying to introduce a story, it’s a very big story, and you want to set who the lead is, and then what the general issue is, and then you want to start adding the layers. People know Snow Queen, and Anna is pretty iconic immediately, but I think it can get confusing, unless we do it in stages. We found trying to throw everything in the trailer was confusing people.

Chris Buck: The trailer that just came out was sort of giving the people the idea “what is this movie about?” It was all about “who was going to save the day?”, “who was going to save the kingdom” from this enteral winter. That was sort of the thing, because we did some sort of tests to see what works.

Lee: It’s a very big movie, its complex, and it has high stakes, we just wanted to make sure that you don’t go “I already know what that is about.” We are kind of doing it in phases.

Buck: It’s a tough movie to market, there is no doubt. Because there is a lot in here. It’s hard to pigeonhole it into one thing.

Can you tell us how intimidating it is to do musical numbers for Disney, a company that has some of the most iconic musical numbers?

Lee: We can ask Bobby and Kristen [Lopez] that. I think they might have even a bigger answer.

Buck: Yeah, it was a big thing.

Peter Del Vecho: We should talk about a little about about the process. Just the fact that we hired them, early on in the process, and worked with them everyday. I mean they were based in New York, they would come out where when we needed them. We had a big screen video confernce connection with them, and met with them for at least two hours everyday. A lot of it was just about story and character development, really understanding what they were because it was very important. Our story is very complex, and our songs are needed to kind of fit into that story and propel that complex story. So before they could write anything, they had to understand who these characters were.

Buck: Well they really hammered us about simplifying these characters wants. What does each one want, and a song has to have a very simple idea. You can shoot off from there, but you have to have a simple idea. So it was a challenge for us to simplify each of their wants: Olaf, Elsa, Anna, all of them.

Lee: Yeah, we didn’t want to do a traditional, like music we tradtionally wanted to have. Often times in the past, it is a very simple story, and so the music in it was just the stop and start, and that. ANd we wanted a big movie where the music either drives the plot forward or reveal something about the character that was significant. The minute you hear Idina’s song “Let It Go,” it changed everything in the movie. And so a song they wrote would fall out and we would have to write a new one. So it was this chicken and egg concept all the way to june, all the way until we wrote the final song, even that we would have to go back and hopefully not affect the animation. The stuff that had already been animated we tried hold off anything we thought we might want to change.

Del Vecho: This movie really had to be flexible, because one thing affected a lot of other parts.

Buck: Also to your question, yes it is intimidating. It’s intimidating to do a Disney feature, because of the legacy. But you kind to have to put that back of your mind. We know all of the great movies. You know it’s all there, but you have to make the movie it’s own. The movie will sort of tell you what it needs. There are songs that didn’t make it, that weren’t right for this movie, and others you knew were right. And the board artists, they bring those to life, along with the animators, lighters, and everyone else. They are the ones that make that initial leap with us. Once we say “Yes, this is great, how do we visualize this, what are the shots we are going to use?” And I don’t think we ever go “such and such is a great movie, we are never going to be able to top that,” you just keep moving forward and do the best you can with each of it.

Olaf Singing "In The Summer" In Disney's FROZEN

Was Olaf’s “Summer Song” something that came from the story or was it something that came up along the way?

Lee: That was an early idea. When I came on the project, and we were working on all the characters, we were talking about love and fear, those were the two main themes. Every character hangs on the clothesline of love and fear. Some exploit fear, some exploit love, some are controlled by fear, some are controlled by love, we just thought that Olaf was perfect as innocent love, and innocent love in vulnerable. And for a while I remember I was saying “what if his dream is to see spring or summer?” And people were going, “that’s a little sick.”, and Bobby goes “I can run with that.”

Buck: Bobby is twisted enough to do that.

Lee: But we really felt like it fit him. That naive innocence.

Was there any difficulty for the characters to play around with the environment animation wise?

Buck: The snow, the deep snow they obviously get into was a trick. That was a fun environment. The ice was another one. A lot of the slipping and sliding they do, and just creating it, and the beauty of it, I think that was just phenomenal. I think the guys did an incredible job, it wasn’t easy by any means. The first things kind of looked plasticy. Just like Lauren MacMullen was saying, the CG can make things too perfect, and you would have to go in and give it the flaws; and we had to to that with the ice to make it feel believable. That was challenge, and it was gorgeous what they did with it.

Idina Menzel Singing LET IT GO From Disney's FROZEN

Who do I thank for casting Ms. Menzel for the role of Elsa?

Beck: Well that was all of us, but our casting director [Jamie Spare Roberts] brought Idina in. We always thought, who could do this? Because we knew the songs were going to be outrageous. And just that character, the strength of her. Of course we had seen her in Wicked, and knew what an amazing talent she was. But I always told Idina, and didn’t realize this when I was working with her was that the character of Elsa is so powerful yet there is a really vulnerable side to her, and Idina is the same way. Her persona is very powerful, but she is very sweet, and it comes out in Elsa, this vulnerable side. Besides the voice, which we knew was killer, the acting.

We did a table read. One of our table reads was with Kristen [Bell]. Kristen Bell was in and she did Anna, and Idina Menzel was in. And we actually put John Lassester in between them. 

They read through the script, and of course it was wonderful, but we had no songs yet. We had to show the power of music for this film. They sang this beautiful song, and they sang it to each other. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It was just magical.

Lee: And John’s right in the middle.

Beck: That’s right.

Del Vecho: And then Bobby and Kristen lean to each other and say: “We have to write a song that tops that.”

You guys talk about how Kristen and Idina did a table read together, did they have a chance to record their voices together during the recording process.

Lee: We did do some. It was really a two year process with them. What we do every 10 to 12 weeks in storyboards or whatever form it is in, and we rerecord the dialogue as much as we can with the actors. And we bring all the directors John and Ed [Catmull], and we really watch them, and see what we can push and what we can do better, and we do that 7 times. We were rerecording a lot. On the Key emotional scenes particularity, Kristen and Idina, we wanted them together. We wanted Santino [Fontana] and Kristen together.

Del Vecho: We even got Kristen and Idina together for one of the songs, because that really helped elevate the song because they had a duet in the movie, and it definitely helped.

Buck: And because the last thing i did was Surf’s Up, which was a faux-documentary style, we brought in the actors together to get the real feeling of characters playing off each other, that happening in the moment, and I have pushing Peter with “I love that style,” so as much as we could, we got them in together, and it does add this amazing chemistry between the actors and things they wouldn’t do on their own.

Del Vecho: Jen mentioned we bring them in over the course of 7, 8, 9 times, so I think it’s important really that with them that we find the voice of the characters.

Buck: Bell, didn’t even audition at one point because a casting director brought her in for another project and asked me to meet her. And we sorta fell in love with her from there. Then we did a whole slew of casting, but she was it, she became Anna or Anna became her. It was fantastic.

Disney’s Frozen opens in theaters on November 27.



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