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Frozen 2 co-director Jennifer Lee doesn’t have much time to chat. Despite being a Golden Globe nominee this morning and a previous winner for Frozen, she still has to get her daughter off to high school.
Lee, along with Chris Buck, received a nomination for best animated feature for Frozen 2, along with songwriting duo Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez for their showstopper of an original song “Into the Unknown.”
“It was actually Bobby and Kristen that woke us both up,” Buck and Lee share over the phone. “I had the time wrong, so I was totally asleep. But they started texting us, so it was the best way to wake up,” Lee says.
As the first film was beloved and “Let It Go” itself became a phenomenon, Buck says, the most challenging aspect of returning to the world of Arendelle was breaking the story. “Jenn wll attest to that,” he says. “But the exciting thing was that we had taken a year off before we really started on the second one, and we just missed the characters.”
Frozen ends with Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) reunited and opening the gates to their kingdom, but Buck says he and Lee knew there was more story to tell. “These characters are growing up. Their stories had just begun. There was a lot of love and passion for these characters, and then just asking everybody else, our original cast and crew, if they would be willing to do it. And everybody jumped on board.”
Lee says they went so far as to journal as the characters to get back into the rhythm. “We really grounded ourselves in who they really are outside of the sort of zeitgeist of what Frozen was. I think that was the best thing and for us in terms of telling the story that was right for them.”
One aspect that felt particularly right to Lee and Buck was crafting the arc for Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), who is indeed unlike most other male love interests of lore. An iceman in touch with his emotions, he showcases his love for Anna with his own anthem, “Lost in the Woods,” in the sequel.
“First off, in the first film, we really tried to get Kristoff a song. But the story wouldn’t allow time for that,” Buck says. “So this time we could, and luckily, we were able to have that song that is almost the culmination of his story arc. It’s not quite there yet. And Jenn had this wonderful idea, that if Kristoff is going to be able to sing a song, why not have it be an ’80s power rock ballad?”
Lee says the idea really came from the guys in the story room. “It was the guys who said, ‘You know, the proposal day is all about the girl. But it’s really hard on the guy, and we have emotions, too. We love, too.’ And we talked about those ’80s songs we danced to, where the men just sang out their hearts about love. We were like, ‘What happened to all that?’ Kristen and Bobby loved the idea, too, that guys have all these feelings but they just aren’t often allowed to express them.”
Kristoff’s characterization is an ode to supportive partners rather than those who disappoint, like certain princes in the first film. “I’ve dated the Hanses (Santino Fontana) of the world, and I’m very happily with one of the Kristoffs of the world,” Lee says. “We wanted to celebrate the strengths of a guy who’s a great partner and believes in love, who respects and trusts the woman he’s with. I know and work with a lot of guys like that. It’s nice to celebrate those fellas.”
Lee and Buck also recognize the spontaneous magic that can occur in the recording booth, like Josh Gad, who voices Olaf, the beloved snowman, improvising the running gag “Samantha.”
“We actually got a beautiful letter from a mother whose daughter’s name is Samantha,” says Lee. “She’s like, ‘She’s part of the Frozen family now,’ and I thought, ‘Absolutely!’ It was one of my favorite letters ever.”
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