The world of "Frozen" is back, albeit in a much shorter form. Think of it as a cold snap.
Disney's new animated short "Frozen Fever" debuts in front of the studio's live-action "Cinderella" film March 13, offering a fresh glimpse into the magical kingdom of Arendelle since the events of the mega-hit 2013 film. It's Anna's birthday, and her sister Elsa is determined to make up for closing herself off throughout their childhood by pulling out all the stops for the celebration with the help of Kristoff, Sven and Olaf -- but complications arise when the snow-and-ice-powered queen unexpectedly comes down with her very first cold -- not the least of which being the unintentional creation of Snowgies, a small army of mini-snowmen.
The feature film's directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee are back at the helm, along with voice actors Kirsten Bell, Idina Menzell, Josh Gad and Jonathan Groff. A new song, "Making Today a Perfect Day" by the movie's Oscar-wining songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, is featured as well, destined to permeate pre-schools and homes worldwide in short order. With the short just landing in theaters this weekend, Buck and producer Peter Del Vecho, another "Frozen" veteran, joined Spinoff for a peek behind the scenes.
[NOTE: This interview was conducted prior to the announcement that Disney has a "Frozen" feature film sequel conceived by Buck and Lee in development.]
Spinoff Online: Let's talk about both the excitement and trepidation, I'm sure, to come back to the world of "Frozen." Did you feel like, "Yes, yes, yes -- let's do it!" or was it like, "Ummmmm, I don't know...?"
Chris Buck: I think it was a little more of that. [Laughs] But part of that was also just because we hadn't had a break yet.
Peter Del Vecho: Yeah, we just came off the movie, and then if you include international -- Japan opened when? It was like, March? Really, it was right about then that they started talking about even an idea of doing a short, so we were still in the midst of just experiencing going for the ride.
Buck: I mean, we joked about it, but we also, when they said, "What are you going to do next?" -- it was at the junket on the feature. I said, "Well, I think we're going to go to some tropical island somewhere for several weeks and just chill out." But --
Del Vecho: I don't thing we ever did that.
Buck: It never quite happened.
Did you feel during the process of exploring ideas for the short that there was a lot of very fertile ground left to be explored in the "Frozen" universe?
Buck: Yeah, I mean each character has some wonderful things about them that can be explored, different ways to go. There's also, within that kingdom itself, you know, the outer regions that really haven't been explored either.
Once you got the idea kind of settled on, when did this become really fun? When did the excitement really kick in, and the creative energy?
Buck: I think it's when, probably, we all got back together, because we sort of did a tag-team thing. Because we did take a break, a little bit. Each of us took a week or two.
Del Vecho: Certainly, landing the song was a lot of inspiration. And I think for me, it's starting to see the animation again. Starting to see these characters come alive. Bringing the cast back in, who we hadn't actually seen since the premiere. Getting the animators and the creative team back together.
Buck: Yeah and seeing their kind of excitement, too. We would either show them the storyboards, or we'd say, "This is where we're going, we'd love for you to work on it." And they'd say, "I can't wait. I'm in! Just let me know, what scene can I animate?" It was fun, and we were kind of invigorated by their excitement, too.
Because you get to revisit very specific sets in the short, are those saved in a hard drive that you can pull them out and do what you need to do, from the first movie? Or do you have to ere-create everything over and over again?
Del Vecho: They were saved, except that the whole pipeline at the studio changed between "Frozen" and "Big Hero 6." So we couldn't simply just open them back up again in the new pipeline. They all had to be converted, one by one, into the new pipeline.
I'm always fascinated by this current creative process at Disney Animation, where the other filmmakers look at your rough stuff and weigh in. How did that apply to the short.
Buck: The short was different in that for the features, we use several screenings throughout the years -- six or seven -- and every screening, we bring in all the directors and writers and heads of story to watch the movie and then have a big roundtable afterwards. Sometimes, we even do a retreat for a day or two, just to kind of hone in on what the story could be, how to make it better. But the short was not so much. We brought in a couple of the guys to come in and look at it, but it didn't require all of the [team].
Del Vecho: Yeah, like all shorts, it's a relatively simple idea that once you land on that idea. We know the characters, we know the world, we know the voice of these characters now. A lot of directors would stop me in the hallways, because they would see it or they would see it [internally] and love it, so we would get notes. But it was a slightly different process.
We get to see a different Elsa than we saw in the movie, because by the end of the film she's changed, so tell me about working with that sort of fresh, new take on her.
Buck: Well, I think that's what sort of excited us -- it was part of it. If we did this short, again, would Elsa be the same, would she be a side character, what's her next step? Because she's a very serious character in the first one. So when the idea came, about Elsa getting a cold, that started to open it up and open her up. We're like, "Oh my gosh. Oh, yeah." Anybody that gets a cold, you know these things: You start to get tired, and your eyes, and this and that, and you go a little loopy. Here, she gets even more than a cold; it's kind of this fever that hits her, so we thought that would give another side of Elsa that we hadn't really seen before. Kind of strip away -- you know, sometimes she puts on a good face, or she can be a little more reserved than Anna would be. This time, we could have more fun with her. Bring those walls down a bit.
The franchise is obviously very important to Disney, to the fans and to you. How did you know, or when did you know, that this felt like a "Frozen" short that would make everybody happy? Was there a moment of, "Yes, we just got it there. People are going to respond to this. They're going to recognize it as the next bit of 'Frozen.'"
Buck: We had gone through some different iterations of the storyboards and it wasn't quite there yet. We had things that weren't quite as funny, and then maybe it got too wacky sometimes. We always kind of, we watched the tone. But the thing is, we know the tone of the movie so well, so it wasn't hard. We weren't finding a new tone for this. The tone of "Frozen" is always, there's some heart, there's humor, there's music. There's always a bit of emotion. We knew we wanted a bit of everything, but we just had to keep sort of honing until we knew, "Okay, that's it."
Del Vecho: To answer the other part of your question, I think it was three or four months after the movie came out when it was clear that the movie was going to become sort of a phenomenon. And I think it was John [Lasseter] early on who said, "Let's see if we can give sort of a 'thank you,' back by doing a short to let the fans continue to live the movie, through a short." We started talking about that in the springtime and worked on it starting in June.
The "Toy Story" shorts have been creatively and commercially embraced by the audiences. Do you see "Frozen" maybe continuing in that vein? Are there multiple short tales to tell in the world of "Frozen?"
Buck: I think you could. I think, again, it's a rich cast of characters and environment, so I could possibly see that. You never know.
Del Vecho: I'll say, we're not actively working on [any more shorts] at the moment, just to make that clear. But we love the world, we love the characters.
What are some of your very favorite Disney shorts?
Del Vecho: Oh, wow.
Buck: My favorite Disney shorts? I'm not even going to count the Pixar/Disney ones.
Del Vecho: Oh, I kind of went there --
Buck: Because those were all my buddies and friends. But the ones I grew up with? There's one I just love. It's a Mickey one: it's called "The Little Whirlwind," and it's just Mickey sort of battling this little tornado. I just love it. I love the animation in it, I love the kind of the spunk that Mickey has in it. It's an older Mickey. It's not one of the black-and-white kind of things. That's probably one of my favorites, I think.
Del Vecho: One of my favorites is a recent one, I think. I really liked "Paperman." I liked it both in terms of the style, [and] I liked it in terms of the storytelling. It was just a very unique short.
Do you guys have your break, finally, or --?
Buck: [Laughs] Oh, this is it -- today! We're going to the movie ["Cinderella"] tonight, and that's it!
Do you have a next project lined up or percolating, or do you get to step back for a minute and relax?
Buck: I think there's a little percolating going on.
Del Vecho: Not a whole lot of relaxing. Just because "Frozen" hasn't finished, not only the short but all of the ancillary stuff that happens -- at the parks, publishing, gaming -- that all goes through, what we call now, the "Frozen" franchise team, which is us and a few others. So that's keeping us pretty active.
Buck: When we were doing the short, half our day was doing the short and half our day was doing these other projects.
"Frozen Fever" is in theaters now, ahead of Disney's "Cinderella."