So yes I’m late to the movie Frozen. On the left are the key characters: Olaf the snowman, Elsa the older sister and snow queen, and Anna the younger sister. And on the right, well, let’s just say each of my three kids identified their favorite movie character with exactly no help from me. So maybe Frozen is just a great fit to my kids, but after multiple viewings I think there’s more to it. Time to agree with the critics and give Frozen it’s due.
Of course the Oscar winning song Let It Go is the movie’s centerpiece. As we can confirm from John August’s excellent podcast Scriptnotes. In a recent episode he and Aline Brosh McKenna interviewed Frozen writer and director Jennifer Lee. From the transcript:
Jennifer: Let it Go came in about 15 months from finishing. It was the first song that landed in the film and was in the film. And it was an amazing moment. I remember, you know, we had spent a lot of time talking about Elsa and we were still going on the villain journey, which was killing me to try to figure out how to make that work and then redeem her. And have a love story. I was dying. [laughs]
And we just said, “Let’s talk about who she is. What would it feel like?” And Bobby and Kristen said they were walking in Prospect Park and they just started talking about what would it feel like. Forget villain. Just what it would feel like.
And this concept of letting out who she is that she’s kept to herself for so long and she’s alone and free, but then the sadness of the fact that the last moment is she’s alone. It’s not a perfect thing, but it’s powerful. And they came in with the demo of Let it Go and it’s exactly word-by-word the exact song.
Aline: Wow. You’re kidding.
Jennifer: Exactly. And we — half of us were crying. And then I just went, “I have to rewrite the whole movie.”
Jennifer: I really, it was — I was just like I’m going to go lie down for a couple minutes. But it was the best thing. We knew we had the movie.
This is such a great interview, and I love this moment. Recognizing the power of that song instantly and completely throwing aside months of work to go in a new direction. And even better is when they talk about animating Let It Go, and the role Pixar’s chief creative officer John Lasseter played.
Jennifer: It’s so funny because also it was animated — half of it was animated by a woman, half was animated by a man. And my favorite thing about it though is the actual model for doing it was John Lasseter. Not a woman. Because we got him — he was so moved by Let it Go. He knew every line and what he thought it meant. And he was a huge help in talking through how we translate that emotional journey, not just with Idina’s voice, but with the animation. And for him he got up and he’s like, “Let’s, all that uptight, bottled up down and her hair goes, and she transforms, and she struts,” and he’s doing it. He’s acting it out.
And so it was really, he was the inspiration which his ironic –
Aline: To picture him in that dress.
Jennifer: Well, I have a lovely caricature by John Musker of John in that dress.
Aline: Oh, you do?
Jennifer: Someday maybe I can share.
Aline: Oh my god, that’s great.
You have to understand that John Lasseter is 57, so see below where I put Elsa doing her great hair flip next to Lasseter. It’s worth clicking on the image below to watch the video. Jump to the 3:00 mark to see the hair flip transformation scene to get the full effect. Lasseter is awesome. Much leaderships.
Another great moment from the interview is when Edwin Catmull, President of Disney Animation Studios, talks to Jennifer about when Anna sacrifices her life for her sister Elsa. Catmull says “You can do whatever you need to do the film, anything you want, but you’re earning that moment.” Then “And if you do, it will be fantastic. And if you don’t, the movie will suck.” Of course demanding and inspired leadership isn’t a guarantee. I’ve been on inspired teams that worked like crazy and then, well, the project failed horribly. But there’s no doubt it’s essential for people to do their very best. This story about Elon Musk inspiring his team after the Falcon 1 rocket crashed is such a great example. Company culture is so important. And so fragile.
The first time we watched Frozen, I skipped most of it and was doing stuff around the house. The second time I started paying attention about halfway through. By the third time the kids watched it, I decided to do it right. My wife and I sat down with the kids from the very beginning, and paired the movie with a workmanlike $13 bottle of Talbott Kari Hart Pinot Noir from Safeway (comes with an excellent twist off cap). Plus home cooked popcorn. Movie night perfection.
It’s worth pointing out the songwriters for Frozen are the husband/wife team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Robert Lopez also co-wrote the songs from musical Book Of Mormon, and is now an EGOT. The couple have a new musical Up There coming out next year. And if you missed Indina Menzel’s Oscar performance of Let It Go, the one where John Travolta mangled her name in his introduction, it’s worth a few minutes to watch the video. Menzel’s powerhouse vocals kill. Perfect for the song and movie.
Finally, since I’m plugging kid stuff this week, might as well put in a good word for the great reboot of the science show Cosmos. It stars Neil DeGrasse Tyson, pictured below. Brannon Braga, who did a lot of the newer Star Trek TV shows, directs Cosmos. I didn’t like Braga’s florid style on Star Trek. But it works great on Cosmos. My kids are really enjoying it. With the new production values and Tyson as host, the show is far better than the original Carl Sagan version from 1980. Recommended.