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Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Frozen

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Frozen

Year: 2013

Source materials : The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson

Budget: $150 million

Box office: $1.276 billion

Plot: Princess Elsa of Arendelle possesses magic that allows her to control and create ice and snow, often using it to play with her younger sister, Anna. After Elsa accidentally injures Anna with her magic, their parents, the King and Queen, take both siblings to a colony of trolls led by Grand Pabbie. He heals Anna, but alters her memories to remove traces of Elsa’s magic, warning Elsa that she must learn to control her powers.


The King and Queen isolate both sisters within the castle. Elsa shuts Anna out, causing a rift between them. Unable to learn to control her power, Elsa can only suppress her power, causing her to become more insecure. When the sisters are teenagers, their parents die at sea during a storm.

When Elsa turns twenty-one, she is to be crowned queen of Arendelle. She is terrified that the kingdom’s citizens might find out about her powers and fear her. The castle gates open to the public and visiting dignitaries for the first time in years. Among them is the scheming Duke of Weselton and the dashing Prince Hans of the Southern Isles, the latter of whom Anna falls in love with at first sight.


Elsa’s coronation happens without a hitch, but she still remains distant from Anna. When Hans proposes to Anna, Elsa objects, accidentally unleashing her powers before the court; the Duke brands her a monster.

Elsa flees to the North Mountain, where she builds a palace of ice in which to live a hermit life. In the process, however, her suppressed magic engulfs Arendelle in an eternal winter. Anna ventures out to find Elsa and end the winter, leaving Hans in command. She gets lost, collecting supplies at Wandering Oaken’s shop. She meets an ice harvester named Kristoff and his reindeer, Sven, convincing them to take her to the mountains.


An attack by wolves leads to Kristoff’s sleigh being destroyed. On foot, they meet Olaf, a cheerful snowman brought to life unknowingly by Elsa, who offers to lead them to her. When Anna’s horse returns to Arendelle, Hans sets out to find Anna and Elsa, accompanied by the Duke’s minions, who have secret orders to kill Elsa.


Reaching the ice palace, Anna meets Elsa, but when she reveals what has become of Arendelle, Elsa becomes upset, saying that she cannot undo it, and accidentally freezes Anna’s heart. She then makes a giant snow monster named Marshmallow, who chases Anna, Kristoff, and Olaf away.


Anna’s hair begins turning white, so Kristoff takes her to meet the trolls, his adoptive family. Grand Pabbie reveals that Anna will freeze solid unless “an act of true love” reverses the spell. Kristoff races Anna back home so Hans can give her true love’s kiss. Hans and his men reach Elsa’s palace, defeating Marshmallow and capturing Elsa.


Anna is delivered to Hans, but rather than kissing her, Hans instead reveals that he has actually been plotting to seize the throne of Arendelle by eliminating both sisters. Hans locks Anna in a room to die, and then manipulates the dignitaries into believing that Elsa killed her. He orders the queen’s execution, only to discover she has escaped her detention cell. Olaf frees Anna, and they venture into the blizzard outside to meet Kristoff, whom Olaf reveals is in love with her. Hans confronts Elsa outside, claiming that she killed Anna, causing Elsa to break down. Anna spots Hans about to kill Elsa; she leaps in the way and freezes solid, stopping Hans.


Devastated, Elsa hugs and mourns over her sister, who thaws out, her heroism constituting “an act of true love”. Realizing that her magic is controlled by love, Elsa ends the winter before giving Olaf his own snow flurry to survive the warmer climate.


Both Hans and the Duke are arrested and removed from the kingdom. Anna gives Kristoff a new sleigh, and the two kiss. Both sisters are reunited and Elsa promises never to lock the castle gates again.

Background: Walt Disney tried to create an animated version of The Snow Queen since the 1930s. After the United States entered World War II, the studio began to focus on making wartime propaganda, which caused development on the project to grind to a halt in 1942.


In the late 1990s, Walt Disney Feature Animation started developing a new adaptation of The Snow Queen after the tremendous success of the Disney Renaissance era, but the project was scrapped completely in late 2002, when Glen Keane reportedly quit the project. In 2008, John Lasseter was able to convince Chris Buck 1 to return to Walt Disney Feature Animation. Buck pitched several ideas to Lasseter, one of which was The Snow Queen. It turned out Lasseter had been interested in The Snow Queen for a long time; back when Pixar was working with Disney on Toy Story. Development began under the title Anna and the Snow Queen, which was planned to be traditionally animated.


The first major breakthrough was the decision to rewrite the film’s protagonist, Anna as the younger sibling of Elsa, thereby effectively establishing a family dynamic between the characters. In March 2012, Jennifer Lee, one of the writers of Wreck-It Ralph, was brought in as screenwriter. A breakthrough was the composition of the song “Let It Go” by Lopez and Anderson-Lopez, which forced a reimagining of Elsa as a more complex, vulnerable, and sympathetic character. “Let It Go” caused Lee to “rewrite the first act and then that rippled through the entire movie. So that was when we really found the movie and who these characters were.”

Changes from the Source Material: The main character is named Gerta and is no relation to the Snow Queen. The Queen has kidnapped Gerta’s friend Kai, who has been turned bad by a piece of troll glass that froze his heart. Gerta travels to find and rescue Kai.


Animation: Art director Michael Giaimo disoatched animators and special effects specialists to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to experience walking, running, and falling in deep snow Lighting and arts teams visited an Ice Hotel in Quebec City, Quebec to study how light reflects and refracts on snow and ice. Giaimo and several artists traveled to Norway to draw inspiration from its mountains, fjords, architecture, and culture. A live reindeer named Sage was brought into the studio for animators to study its movements and mannerisms for the character Sven.

Giaimo brought in character designer Jean Gillmore to act as a dedicated “costume designer”. The effects group created a snowflake generator that allowed them to randomly create 2,000 unique snowflake shapes for the film. Software engineers used advanced mathematics to create a snow simulator software application called Matterhorn. Other tools designed to help artists complete complicated effects included:

  • Spaces, which allowed Olaf’s deconstructible parts to be moved around and rebuilt.
  • Flourish, which allowed extra movement such as leaves and twigs to be art-directed.
  • Snow Batcher, which helped preview the final look of the snow, especially when characters were interacting with an area of snow by walking through a volume.
  • Tonic, which enabled artists to sculpt their characters’ hair as procedural volumes.



Further reading:

Music and Songs: The songs were written and composed by the husband-and-wife songwriting team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, both of whom had previously worked with Disney Animation on Winnie the Pooh. The decision, of course, was easy: “Whenever Disney asks if you want to do a fairy tale musical, you say yes.”-Robert Lopez.


  • “Frozen Heart”
  • “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”
  • “For the First Time in Forever”
  • “Love Is an Open Door”
  • “Let It Go”
  • “Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People”
  • “In Summer”
  • “For the First Time in Forever (Reprise)”
  • “Fixer Upper”


The score was written by Christophe Beck. He won an Emmy Award in 1998 for his work on the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. His film credits include Starstruck, Bring It On, American Wedding, Under the Tuscan Sun, Garfield, Elektra, We Are Marshall, License to Wed, Fred Claus, Charlie Bartlett, I Love You, Beth Cooper, The Hangover, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Date Night, The Muppets, Muppets Most Wanted, Ant-Man, and Ant-Man and the Wasp.


Sámi musician Eatnemen Vuelie appeared in the film’s opening song, as it contains elements of the traditional Sámi singing style joik. The producers traveled to Trondheim, Norway to record the all-female choir Cantus, for a piece inspired by traditional Sámi music.

Voice Cast:

Idina Menzel as Elsa. 2 She originated the role of Maureen Johnson in the Broadway musical Rent. 3 She reprised the role in the film. She originated the role of Elphaba in the Broadway musical Wicked, 4 and returned to Broadway as Elizabeth Vaughan in If/Then. 5 She appeared on the TV series Glee and the film Enchanted. Kristen Bell as Anna. 6She made her Broadway debut as Becky Thatcher in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and starred in the Broadway revival of The Crucible. She is probably best known for the title role in television series Veronica Mars. She appeared onnthe shows Heroes, Deadwood, and Gossip Girl as well as tge TV movie musical Reefer Madness. She has appeared in the films Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Couples Retreat, When in Rome, You Again, The Boss, Bad Moms, and A Bad Moms Christmas. She starred on the series House of Lies, and currently stars in the series The Good Place.

Jonathan Groff as Kristoff. 7 He became known for playing Melchior Gabor in the original Broadway production of Spring Awakening. 8 He returned to Broadway in 2015 to play the role of King George III in Hamilton. 9 He currently stars as FBI Special Agent Holden Ford in the Netflix period crime drama Mindhunter Josh Gad as Olaf. He became known for playing Elder Arnold Cunningham in the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon. His other film roles include The Rocker, The Internship, 21, Love & Other Drugs, Frozen, Jobs, Pixels, The Wedding Ringer, The Angry Birds Movie, A Dog’s Purpose, Marshall, Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, and Beauty and the Beast.

Santino Fontana as Hans. His Broadway debut was in Sunday in the Park with George in 2007. Fontana originated the role of Tony in the Broadway production of Billy Elliot. He is known for playing Greg Serrano on the television show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. He will star as Michael Dorsey in the stage musical adaptation of the film Tootsie. The musical is expected to open on Broadway in April. Ciarán Hines as Grand Pabbie. He appeared in Road to Perdition, Munich, There Will Be Blood, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Silence, and Justice League. His television roles include Gaius Julius Caesar in the series Rome, DCI James Langton in Above Suspicion, and Mance Rayder in Game of Thrones.

Where in the World is Alan Tudek?: Alan Tudek returns as the Duke of Weaseltown. 10

Disney animator and director Chris Williams plays Oaken. He will go on to co-direct Big Hero 6 and Moana. Paul Briggs plays Marshmallow, Maurice LaMarche plays the King of Arendelle, and co-director Jennifer Lee plays the Queen of Arendelle.

Critical Reception: Alonso Duralde of TheWrap wrote that the film is “the best animated musical to come out of Disney since the tragic death of lyricist Howard Ashman, whose work on The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast helped build the studio’s modern animated division into what it is today.” He also said that “while it lags the tiniest bit on its way to the conclusion, the script… really delivers; it offers characters to care about, along with some nifty twists and surprises along the way.”

Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter observed Frozen as a true musical and wrote, “You can practically see the Broadway musical Frozen is destined to become while watching Disney’s 3D animated princess tale.” McCarthy described the film as “energetic, humorous and not too cloying, as well as the first Hollywood film in many years to warn of global cooling rather than warming, this tuneful toon upgrades what has been a lackluster year for big studio animated fare and, beginning with its Thanksgiving opening, should live up to box office expectations as one of the studio’s hoped-for holiday-spanning blockbusters.”

Kyle Smith of the New York Post awarded the film 3.5 out of 4 stars and praised the film as “a great big snowy pleasure with an emotionally gripping core, brilliant Broadway-style songs and a crafty plot. Its first and third acts are better than the jokey middle, but this is the rare example of a Walt Disney Animation Studios effort that reaches as deep as a Pixar film.”

The film was nominated for two Golden Globes at the 71st Golden Globe Awards and won for Best Animated Feature, becoming the first Walt Disney Animation Studios film to win in this category. It also won two Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song (“Let It Go”), the BAFTA Award for Best Animated Film at the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA), five Annie Awards (including Best Animated Feature), and two Critics’ Choice Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song (“Let It Go”). At the 57th Annual Grammy Awards, the Frozen soundtrack won the Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack For Visual Media and was nominated for Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media (with credits going to Christophe Beck as composer); the song “Let It Go” won the award for Best Song Written For Visual Media, with credits going to Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez as songwriters and Idina Menzel as performer.


Legacy: Anna and Elsa meet guests at the Norway Pavilion at Epcot. The Maelstrom ride at Epcot was repurposed to a Frozen ride. Anna, Elsa and other characters appeared in the fourth season of Once Upon a Time. Two shorts have been produced: Frozen Fever and Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. A Broadway version opened this year.


On March 12, 2015, Disney officially announced that a feature-length sequel to Frozen was in development with Buck and Lee returning as directors, and Del Vecho returning as producer. Disney announced that Frozen 2 would be released on November 27, 2019. Bell and Menzel reprised their roles in Ralph Breaks the Internet, in theaters now!

My take: I don’t know what else I can add. The best anecdote about this film is my young niece declaring rather decisively that “She’s not evil, she’s just magical!

Next Week: Big Hero 6