'Frozen 2' Songwriters on Creating New Music Magic for Anna and Elsa

Walt Disney Studios
'Frozen 2'

Oscar winners Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Bobby Lopez wrote seven new songs, ranging from the fun '80s homage "Lost in the Woods" to the powerful ballad "Into the Unknown," for the new film.

Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Bobby Lopez’s list of accomplishments as a couple includes 16 years of marriage, two daughters, two Oscars and two Grammy Awards. While they’ve been collaborating for years, their career hit a new level after the breakout success of Frozen and the ballad "Let It Go" (for which they won their first Oscar). For the sequel, the pair wrote seven new songs, ranging from the fun ’80s homage "Lost in the Woods" to the powerful ballad "Into the Unknown."

What were your first thoughts when it came to your approach on the sequel?

BOBBY LOPEZ It all starts with story. We got a call from [directors] Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, who pitched us the basic idea behind what would become the story. It was all about the idea that the two most important days of your life are the day you’re born and the day you find out why.

KRISTEN ANDERSON-LOPEZ We didn’t really write any music right away, but we knew that the potential was there for a lot of depth and a lot of emotion. Jen took two days of therapy, full Myers-Briggs assessments as each of the characters, to sort of see what they still needed to learn. We all took research trips to Norway and Iceland and Alaska.

LOPEZ We went to Alaska to see a glacier.

ANDERSON-LOPEZ We got to walk on a glacier just to feel how ancient and powerful [it was], and that sense of memory that exists in all that ice.

Tell me about the mysterious lullaby "All Is Found."

ANDERSON-LOPEZ That was the first song we wrote. We looked at "Rock-a-Bye Baby." We also looked at Norwegian lullabies that all feel like they’re sung in a misty forest just as the sun is going down.

Which of these songs was the hardest to write?

LOPEZ The biggest story moment was definitely "Show Yourself." We knew this was the end of Elsa’s journey, and we were a little vague on what exactly happened when she got there — and we’re going to keep it vague because we don’t want to give too much away of the story. But suffice to say, the first draft of "Show Yourself" was completely different than what ended up in the movie. It was longer, it had a different feel, it had a different ending —

ANDERSON-LOPEZ The chorus was the same.

LOPEZ The chorus had the same title, let’s put it that way. And it had a different middle. And everyone loved it, but we had to shape it. When we saw the first round of visuals and then we saw it in the film, everyone agreed changes needed to happen. And it went back and forth for months — it’s now four minutes and 20 seconds and it has a big ending. It transformed a lot, and it was hard.

Olaf has a number about understanding things later in life, "When I’m Older." What was the inspiration behind that one?

ANDERSON-LOPEZ It really came out of a mantra we were using at the time, sort of a self-soothing mantra to ourselves. When you’re working on these original musicals there are moments that you really understand — there are some things that are clear. But there’s so much that’s unclear and shifting, and one day you think a song is in the movie and then you turn around and it’s gone. And we kept saying, "This will all make sense six months from now. Six months from now, we won’t be dealing with this amount of flux." And I was actually ice skating in Prospect Park to try and bring my stress down and I realized, "Ah, we can take all this that I’m feeling and make that Olaf’s mantra." But I do think, just to speak to a deeper message, the whole movie is about growing and finding where you belong, and you can’t do that unless you step into the unknown, unless you take risks. But when you do that, you also need to be able to say, "It’s gonna be OK. I’m OK with not knowing right now. I’m OK with this feeling of incompetence, because one day I’m going to know it." I think that’s a big part of allowing ourselves to risk.

Jonathan Groff gets a big musical number with "Lost in the Woods," which channels '80s glam rock.

LOPEZ One of the things that everyone agreed was that in Frozen, Jonathan did not have enough to sing. The guy has pipes of gold, and we just sort of let them lie. So we wanted to get to this idea of a guy who is very much used to repressing his feelings, probably from childhood,suddenly feeling them all in one big ’80s power ballad. So that it would be funny but also, you know, a little emotional too. Maybe too emotional.

ANDERSON-LOPEZ And also, reindeers in harmony. Bobby and I were both in a cappella groups, and so whenever possible, the great joy of our process is putting vocals and vocal harmonies in our demos.

"Into the Unknown" is the big ballad number for Idina Menzel’s Elsa. How did you take off the pressure of having to replicate "Let It Go"?

ANDERSON-LOPEZ We promised ourselves, and we were given permission by Chris and Jen from the very beginning, don’t worry about trying to do "Let It Go." Because if you ever tried to write "Let It Go," it would be a disaster. You can’t write a song like that. You have to write from story and character. We knew this movie was really going to be Elsa’s movie about resisting that feeling that you’re not quite where you belong and then giving over to it and taking all the risks and finally finding it.

How has your collaboration process changed from the first Frozen?

ANDERSON-LOPEZ As we have grown to really trust each other in a deeper way, our writing process has become much more trusting.

LOPEZ The success of Frozen opened my eyes to the world of women, basically. I was working with Kristen for a long time, but I really began to see her as a leader through what she had to say and how she worked with Jen. I was just astonished at the success [that transpired] when I listened to female voices. I’ve been trying to do that more and more and resist less and less.

ANDERSON-LOPEZ Resistance is futile.

Interview edited for length and clarity. 

A version of this story first appeared in a November stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.