Why Frozen II Was Arguably Harder To Make Than Frozen, According To The Directors

Elsa sings Into The Unknown in Frozen II

From a creative perspective, one might think that making a sequel would be easier than making something original. After all, when you’re creating a follow-up, you’ve already done the legwork in terms of creating all of the main characters and the environment in which they live. All that the second movie needs to do is create a new story. Yet, that’s not exactly as easy as it sounds. In fact, in the minds of the directors of Frozen II, it actually makes the endeavor arguably more challenging.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to sit down with co-directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, and producer Peter Del Vecho. It was during this interview that the comparison/contrast of originals vs. sequels came up.

The subject was raised when I asked the trio about how Frozen II being a sequel affected the standard story process at Walt Disney Animation Studios – which for years has had teams of filmmakers go through a cycle that has them first build a narrative, then tear that narrative down, and then rebuild a new narrative with the pieces that withstood scrutiny. The filmmakers acknowledged that the process was ultimately very much the same, but where things differed was that everybody in the making of the new movie has been operating with a different mindset. Jennifer Lee explained,

When you're inventing a story from scratch, things are malleable together. And once you've committed to these characters, you ask yourself every day, 'Are we being true to them? True to them, true to them...' And that's a really hard challenge! And then you add music onto it, where it's never been done before in a sequel, and you go, 'Oh!' So in some ways I think we could argue sequels are harder. They're certainly not easier.

It’s an interesting point. With an original story, changes can be made at whim, as nothing is established and everything is evolving. In the making of a sequel, though, there are rules – namely the rules that were made canon by past firm decisions. This includes elemental and aesthetic factors, like how Elsa’s ice powers manifest and are expressed, but rules are also a key part of developing character arcs, as how Anna reacts to certain surprises needs to line up with the personality audiences already recognize.

The music is yet another massive complication that is unique to Frozen II in the world of Walt Disney Animation history. It’s been widely noted that this isn’t a studio that produces a lot of sequels in general, but what makes Frozen II stand out in comparison to a short list that includes Rescuers Down Under, Fantasia 2000, and Ralph Breaks The Internet is that it’s the only one in the bunch to be a musical featuring original songs. There is an intense amount of pressure that now exists for Oscar-winning duo Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez to match the remarkable success of the soundtrack for Frozen.

While Jennifer Lee largely expressed that she feels Frozen II has been a greater challenge than Frozen, she did note – adding her experience in the making of Ralph Breaks The Internet to the conversation – that there is one particular advantage that sequels have, and it exists in the casting:

One thing I've learned with sequels, with Ralph and with this, is they are all just as hard. They take just as much work. There is not one ounce of a shortcut. The only thing, as a writer, is I know what Olaf sounds like, where I didn't until I met Josh Gad.

As described by Jennifer Lee, it’s easy to imagine the Frozen II filmmakers becoming a bit paralyzed by their strictness in regards to staying true to canon, but Chris Buck added that there is a special mindset that helps them keeps things in perspective, and has been integral to the story building process in the making of the film. Breaking it down, what it really is at the end of the day not seeing the new movie as a sequel, but instead a continuation of the narrative they already started telling back in 2013. Said the co-director,

Once we started deciding what this story would be, one of the things that did excite us is that Frozen I and Frozen II can be basically one story, one solid story. And so looking at Frozen II as a sort of act two of a Broadway musical. And that also helped our songwriters too, to sort of figure out how you go deeper: deeper with the songs, deeper with the emotion, all of that.

From what we learned about the plot of Frozen II, it very much sounds like the movie is just that. While the plot picks up a few years after the events of the last snowy adventure, this one picks up with the lead characters as they face down some massive questions that the last film didn’t answer – such as “Why does Elsa have powers?” and “Why doesn’t Anna?” The story takes Anna (Kristen Bell), powerhouse singer Elsa (Idina Menzel), Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), and Olaf (Josh Bad) away from their home in Arendelle into the enchanted forest to learn about themselves and their pasts.

Also featuring the impressive acting talents of Santino Fontana, Evan Rachel Wood, Alfred Molina, Sterling K. Brown, Martha Plimpton, and Jason Ritter, Frozen II will be hitting theaters everywhere on November 22nd – and you can be sure that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our coverage. Be sure to be on the lookout for more updates about the film here on CinemaBlend, and to discover what else is heading to the big screen between now and the release of the next Disney blockbuster, check out our 2019 movie release calendar.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.