How 'Frozen' Transformed Princesses to Caped Crusaders in Sequel

Frozen 2 - Publicity - Split - H 2019
Courtesy of Disney

It's been six years since Elsa and Anna broke new ground (and grossed $1.27 billion) in a feminist fairy tale of two sisters coming into their own in Disney's Frozen. Now, the royal siblings are back in Frozen 2 (out Nov. 22), a little older, wiser and shedding their princess attire for a journey.

Set three years after Frozen, the sequel sees Anna and Elsa leave the Scandinavian-inspired kingdom of Arendelle to find the source of Elsa's magic.

The Walt Disney Animation Studios team traded Anna and Elsa's ball gowns for autumnal dresses, designed for adventure and reflecting their maturity.

"It was tricky to find the colors for Anna," says visual development artist Griselda Sastrawinata-Lemay, who crafted a new look for the auburn-haired princess voiced by Kristen Bell. "She was going to be set against the richness of the forest, and Elsa would be in her icy blue signature color."

Anna was given a sleek black dress, paired with a burgundy cape. A pop of color was added to the inner lining of her cloak along with magenta soles for her boots.

The inspiration for the outfit came from Norway's traditional Bunad folk costumes that feature detailed embroidery, reflected in Anna's cape. Sastrawinata-Lemay also researched high-fashion designers including Valentino, Elie Saab, Ferragamo, Louis Vuitton and shoe designer Manolo Blahnik. But it was Christian Dior's debut haute couture "New Look" collection from 1947 that she leaned in to.

"Anna is a fairy-tale character, and we wanted to give her a fairy-tale silhouette. The Dior New Look is very much married to that silhouette," says Sastrawinata-Lemay.

Anna wears a Japanese obi as a belt — a symbol, Sastrawinata-Lemay explains, of Arendelle's global influences: "The gate of Arendelle is open, and there's a lot of people from all over the world. Maybe someone gave her a gift and she is wearing it. It shows that she is open to the world."

For Queen Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel), a few rules were bent. "Silhouette-wise, we knew we had to lift her hemline off the floor, and we were a little worried that she might not look like Elsa anymore," explains visual development artist Brittney Lee.

Elsa's cape had strong shoulders to "feel a little militaristic and like this is a bit of her queen uniform," she adds.

Elsa's journey in the new film thrusts her into the dark waters of the North, and Lee says her dress was designed to give her freedom in movement.

She is "going through so much in the dark sea," says Lee. "We wanted to make sure that this dress could really move and look beautiful underwater. So we looked at a lot of underwater photography and a lot of dancewear to try to find a cut that would give us the best performance."

Elsa's magic powers to conjure ice were referenced in her attire; a peek-a-boo back on her coat is adorned with an encrusted snowflake emblem, for example, and her boots also feature a snowflake pattern and heels made of ice.

But the real magic, Lee teases, is in Elsa's dress. The ice sequins "fade into nothing up her neckline toward her clavicle," she explains. "We really thought that was a magical neckline."

This story first appeared in the Nov. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.