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While it’s been a whole six years since Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Frozen hit the big screen, actor Josh Gad didn’t exactly get a huge reprieve from voicing Olaf during that time period. Between short films, television specials, theme park attractions and more, the character has become a consistent presence in pop culture, and Gad’s voice can be heard for every iteration.
This in mind, you might think that slipping back into the goofy snowman’s personality would be tremendously easy for Josh Gad in the making of Frozen II, but as I recently learned from the actor, that really wasn’t the case. Instead, the sequel was something for which he required a different kind of energy than all of those supplementary projects, and needed a different kind of preparation.
Sitting down with Josh Gad and his Frozen II co-star Jonathan Groff at the movie’s Los Angeles press day earlier this month, I asked about the experience they had bringing their respective characters back for the new film, and in his response Gad explained why he couldn’t just approach the recording sessions like those he has been doing since post-November 2013. He said,
You have to play a different version of these characters, an almost a heightened version for the ancillary products. When you're doing stuff for a theme park, you can't do an intimate performance.
It’s an interesting perspective coming from a performers point of view, as it is interesting that Olaf can be alternatively defined depending on what projects he is appearing in. Taking Josh Gad’s point, the character’s role on a theme park ride isn’t to add dramatic weight and depth to the experience, but instead is there more to purely entertain.
That’s not the case for Frozen II, as the new movie actually features Olaf going through a significant evolution. In the time since we last saw the characters, the snowman has not only gotten a layer of permafrost that allows him to stay alive in all seasons, but he has also learned to read, and it’s given him a different perspective on life. Namely, he is happily experiencing a kind of existential crisis where he realizes that the universe is full of questions to which he has zero answers.
In order to better capture this character growth and deliver an authentic performance, Josh Gad actually had a particular method when he was in the recording booth for Frozen II:
For me it was about tapping back into [the character]. At the beginning of every one of my sessions, I would have Jeff [Draheim], our brilliant editor, play back some of the original V.O. from the first Frozen so that I could tap into essentially 'that guy.' But I also wanted to give his voice a little bit more gravity in this one because he is older and hopefully a little wiser.
And it wasn’t only Josh Gad who initially felt that things were a bit different in the making of Frozen II than the material released in the last six years. Jonathan Groff, who returns as Kristoff in the animated sequel, found that he was actually quite a bit nervous returning to the character and the world of Arendelle at the start of work on the project – though he did eventually find comfort in the fact that he was surrounded by familiar faces. Said Groff,
I felt a little anxious going in on the first day, because it had been so many years since the first one… But then seeing Jen... It's the same creative team. Jen Lee, Chris Buck, Bobby and Kristen Lopez, the amazing songwriters from the first movie, and so there was like a feeling of homecoming coming back the second time around that was really lovely.
In Frozen II, Josh Gad and Jonathan Groff are reunited with stars Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel, and you’ll be able to hear all of their lovely voices playing through theater speakers nationwide this weekend. Also starring Sterling K. Brown and Evan Rachel Wood, the new Disney animated blockbuster will be released this Friday – and be sure to stay tuned here on CinemaBlend for a whole lot more from my interviews with the cast and filmmakers!