Preview: Finding the warm heart of Disney's 'Frozen'
In some ways, "Frozen" is a classic Disney movie, an animated tale with princesses, castles, a prince and people singing on cue.
But there's one radical departure: the absence of an evil queen.
"In one sense, the conflict of good vs. evil has been done," said "Frozen's" co-director and screenwriter, Jennifer Lee. "We were going for something that was more about love vs. fear. And fear is so complex."
The love in "Frozen" (which opens nationally on Wednesday) is sisterly, with princesses Anna and Elsa growing up together in a loving family, until Elsa's powers to produce ice and snow emerge. Then, the king and queen act out of fear to remove Anna's memory of her sister's ice talents and keep the sisters separated.
As adults, the sisters attempt a reunion, but when Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) reveals her powers and scares the kingdom, she goes into exile in the mountains and puts the kingdom in perpetual winter. It's up to Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) to find her sister, reconcile their relationship and persuade her to bring warmth back to the kingdom.
Lee's co-director, Chris Buck, pitched the idea for "Frozen" to Disney five years ago, working off the Hans Christian Andersen fable "The Snow Queen." Buck said he always envisioned the movie to be classic Disney, complete with traditional musical numbers.
At the heart of the story, though, is the relationship between the sisters. "[Anna's] secret weapon is love," Buck said.
A symbol of that love, and of a relationship gone cold, is a snowman the girls built together as kids. That idea became the basis for "Frozen's" comic-relief character, Olaf a living snowman with the voice of comic actor Josh Gad.
The task of making Olaf come to life fell to one of the film's supervising animators, Hyrum Osmond, a Utah native and an alumnus of Brigham Young University and Utah Valley State College (now Utah Valley University). And, yes, he is "one of the thousands" in the mighty Osmond clan. (Hyrum's father is George Virl Osmond Jr., the nonperforming oldest brother of singing siblings Merrill, Wayne, Alan, Jay, Donny, Marie and Jimmy.)
"My personality's a bit like Olaf," Osmond said of the goofy character.
Creating Olaf began with Lee's script and expanded with Gad giving voice to Olaf's dialogue and ad-libbing his own additions. Gad's studio performance was videotaped, and animators used his facial expressions and physical moves as a reference point for animating the character.
One wrinkle is that Olaf, being a snowman, sometimes loses his head. Or torso.
"It was kind of an animator's dream," Osmond said. "You have a character that can come apart. We said to the animation crew, 'Just have fun with it.' He really is that one character in the film you can just do anything with."
Olaf "represents innocent love," Lee said. "He represented the joy they had when they were young before they were split. â¦ It wasn't until he meant something to the girls that he resonated with us."
Another element of "Frozen" is the music, with songs written by Robert Lopez whose credits include "Avenue Q" and working with the "South Park" guys on "The Book of Mormon" and his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who worked together on Disney's 2011 "Winnie the Pooh" reboot.
"The songs tell the story also," Buck said. "We don't stop the movie for a song. â¦ The songs really move the story forward."
Buck said the Lopezes would take Lee's script and decide to rewrite parts as songs. "They'd take pages or scenes she would write, the funniest and most emotional scenes, they would always say, 'We're going to make those our own, and make them songs.' â¦ And once they would write a song, Jen would have to go in and rewrite some things to really tee up the songs correctly, sometimes all the way back to page one."