Movies take a very long time to get made at Walt Disney Animation Studios. Not only is there a protracted story building method, as ideas are repeatedly constructed and deconstructed through development, but it also takes thousands of man-hours to build an entire universe from the non-existent ground up. Given all of this labor, it makes sense that they would also try to splash a bit of fun into the process, and in the making of Frozen II, Kristen Bell got to witness a good amount of this goofiness first hand.
I had the wonderful pleasure of sitting down with the actress and her co-star Idina Menzel at the Los Angeles press day for the new movie, and it was in a discussion about how the actors were brought into the development process that she revealed some of the very strange footage she got to watch in the making of Frozen II.
It started with a conversational tangent about what the animation looks like before it’s finished – and by Kristen Bell’s description, it’s definitely kind of weird:
[Describing a conversation with the animators] 'And you're going to color it, right?' There's many colors in it? So not gonna be black and white. Okay, good, good, good.' The funniest thing is that a lot of the pre-vis, like when we watch it we're nude! We're wearing slip dresses. And we're bald. Yes. We're bald and we're nude.
But that wasn’t the end of it – and is where the aforementioned goofiness comes in. Evidently the Frozen II animators enjoyed playing around with the in-development footage that they would show in the in-house screening rooms, and apparently a frequent gag was the insertion of a “giant hand.” Said Kristen Bell,
The animators have a lot of fun. Do you remember the hand? There's this hand that came up one time, and it swivels like this. And so often when I would watch, they would show me - these as a joke - where it would be like an intimate scene between the two of us and this giant hand would just come in and swirl. It's just a stupid thing that the animators liked.
Perhaps a reference to Terry Gilliam's cartoons for Monty Python? Or maybe some kind of “Duck Amuck” thing? It’s hard to say without knowing more about the footage, but it definitely sounds weird.
But that wasn’t all. Apparently the folks behind Frozen II also enjoyed animating certain “alternate endings” for the film. For example, without being too spoilery, there is a scene in the finished cut where Kristen Bell’s character, Anna, takes a dangerous leap off of a cliff, but lands safe and sound. In some of the extra material the animators cooked up, though, this wasn’t the case:
There's a point where I do like a cliff jump in the movie, and the first screening that they showed me, um, I didn't make it. And I went [whistles imitates falling off a cliff]
At the end of the day, it’s cool that the folks at Walt Disney Animation Studios can have a bit of extra fun when presenting their work, and also that the actors take such an interest in the film even when it’s just in the earliest stages of development.
As described by Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell, they got involved in the making of Frozen II long before it looked anything like a movie, and were privy to all of the changes that were made along the way. As a result of all this, though, they also had to put a lot of trust in the fact that the filmmakers know what they are doing:
Idina Menzel: You walk in for the day, and they tell you what they're working on, and what maybe wasn't working six weeks before when we came in. And then they show you the storyboards - they're excited to share with you the storyboards, and the changes that they've made.
Kristen Bell: Which are pictures of us that are this big, like in a comic strip. And we're like, [sarcastically]'Oh, this is going to be such an epic movie. That is... whoa!'
Idina Menzel: They get really used to screening parts of the movie as like old school Mickey Mouse stuff. When I see it I'm like, [with hesitation] 'Okay, I think that's going to be really impactful...'
The good news is that the animators at Walt Disney Animation Studios are regarded worldwide as some of the best in their craft, so the trust of the actresses was well warranted.
It took many years for it to be finished, but now Frozen II has locked picture, and it will soon be on its way to a theater near you. The film is going to be out in cinemas everywhere this Friday, November 22, and be sure to be on the lookout for more from my interviews with the cast and filmmakers behind the movie here on CinemaBlend!