Like the first film, Frozen 2 has a pretty surprising reveal (that we’d not dare spoil here). But a big difference is that the reveal in this second film is a fairly grim truth about Elsa and Anna’s own past. And when this is brought up to the filmmakers — directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, and producer Peter Del Vecho — they admit, yes, that was a challenge. In fact, they found themselves making the scene in question vague, before deciding, no, if we are going to do this, there won’t be any sugar coating. And the result will drive a lot of conversations between parents and their kids.
Ahead, we spoke to the three filmmakers about the movie a whole heck of a lot of families will be seeing soon. The film picks up a few years after the events of the first one. Arendelle is in danger and Elsa starts hearing voices coming from an enchanted forest, a forest Elsa and Anna’s parents told them, years ago, to avoid at all costs. But to save Arendelle, the two sisters, along with Olaf and Kristoff, venture there to save their home and, along the way, learn some difficult truths. Ahead… Lee, Buck and Del Vecho explain why the film’s plot became what it did.
With the first film you struck lightning in a bottle. I’m trying to imagine that first day sitting down, okay, let’s write another one.
Jennifer Lee: Well, we joke we were a little naive in that we just love these characters. We weren’t ready to leave them. We knew there was more story to tell. Elsa seemed at the beginning of her journey and that felt very unresolved to us. And as we spent time with the characters we just wanted to stay with them. And we knew, parts one and two, to us, feel like one complete journey. We didn’t have all the story when we started. We had ideas of the ending we wanted to achieve, but we had our whole creative team back, the same people, the same cast, and we felt like we could find it together. We couldn’t really compare from outside in. We could only go from the story out. And we’re really excited about — it feels like the characters kind of told us a lot more than we knew was there, which was really great.
There’s no traditional villain in this movie. That seems difficult to do and actually pull that off.
Chris Buck: Well, I think it’s the strength of Anna and Elsa, really. Their characters and their push and pull the whole time. You know, it’s because of how much they love each other; they’re pushing each other to be the best they can be. And they’re kind of the antagonists in their own way. We have antagonists along the way that do push on them, and I think that kind of pushes and pulls the story itself.
Jennifer Lee: Well, and in life there’s rarely a single villain.
I can think of a few right now, actually.
Jennifer Lee: I know, but rarely. I didn’t say never! You know, even Frozen 1, while we did have a fun reveal at the end, the villainous force was fear. And that is something that we like to do. Antagonism, you know, nature is both dangerous and beautiful. Fear is a threat to love. Love is more powerful than fear. Those are antagonistic themes and I think it was fun. We have a lot of films with great classic villains and great villains, but to do a different kind of villain is also exciting for us.
There’s a lot going on in this movie. A big theme is that the history we are taught as a child may not be a true representation of what actually happened.
Jennifer Lee: Well, I think for all of us, that we say, when we try to work on the film, for us it’s about being more evocative versus like singular. So, because I think “message movies” are dangerous, but having stuff that can be a conversation — where you have all points of view, and you can look at it with different lenses — I think is important to us. But the concept of learning from the past, not repeating it, changing it for the future, I think is one that is, again, more universal. And like you said, it’s not exactly specific, but that we can project our own stories onto it wherever we are, whatever our journey’s been. I think it’s more the aim, but as you see it through that lens, it’s really fun to get to talk about it now that you’ve seen the movie. So I’m just like, oh wow, I love hearing what you just said. It’s so fascinating.
Chris Buck: And there are things within everybody’s family, and their past or something, that you may not be that proud of it, but it’s good for the young people to find out the truth. And sometimes they can right a wrong from the past that could have been committed. And if they have that chance, I think they should do it. So there is that sort of message there, too.
To be clear, while I was watching it I never even thought it was a message movie. But you know this is going to spark a lot of conversations between parents and kids. which is a good thing right?
Jennifer Lee: I mean, nothing means more than working on something that becomes worthy of conversations. We work on these films for, this one was a little over four years. We have very deep conversations all over the place, all different points of view. And that, as you just said, it’s not that it directly informs what we’re doing. The whole thing begins to mature and symbols come into your head. And it evokes something and it feels right. But we don’t try to over define it because I think that’s when it’ll get reductive. And the best thing for me, as a filmmaker, is to hope it’s something that is the opposite. So hearing you say that, I was like, okay, I might smile through this.
Chris Buck: And there’s a lot of times that we’ll come into the story room, we’ll be working on an issue with characters, and we’ll come into the story room with our own stories of our kids, and the struggles they’re going through. And it becomes very personal in that way. And also kind of believable, too. And you go, wow, well if my kids are struggling with this, well what if Anna and Elsa struggle with that? What would happen with that? And it really is a jumping-off point. And I think that’s what makes the story relatable too.
There’s a reveal in this one I won’t spoil, but it’s feels grim? You don’t sugar coat this at all. It’s a very hard truth to learn.
Jennifer Lee: Well, I think part of it, for us, was that there was a while where we were being a little bit more vague about it, I think. And the minute we realized, no, this is what he really did, the most important thing is for Anna and Elsa to confront that. And I think that’s what we were focused on: the most important thing is that these two girls understand the past. They get the truth they seek. But what that needed to really do is, every choice Anna makes after that is just proof of why she ends up where she does at the end of this film, and why she’s a fairy tale hero, you know?
So will it be another six years before a Frozen 3? Is there an idea in mind?
Peter Del Vecho: I mean, obviously, making this movie, it’s like running a marathon, and we’re just about to reveal it to the world. We haven’t yet seen how the world will react to this movie. And we’ll probably need to take a break. So, we joke now, ask us in a year, but anything sooner than that is going to be really hard.
And if there’s one thing marathon runners love right when they finish a marathon is, “you should run another one.”
Jennifer Lee: [Laughs] Exactly.
Peter Del Vecho: Yeah, you understand.
‘Frozen 2’ opens this weekend in theaters nationwide. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.