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Frozen II is a unique movie in many ways. It's in a class by itself as the highest grossing animated film ever made, but it's also one of Walt Disney Animation's few sequels. These things alone would make the film worthy of it's own documentary series, but the new Disney+ series, Into the Unknown: Making Frozen 2, which debuted this past weekend, also shines a light on another way the film is special. It deals with some powerful emotional issues you don't usually see in animated "family" movies, like depression. And it's thanks to Kristen Bell that the movie did that.
Prior to the release of Frozen II Kristen Bell spoke about the character arc we would see for Anna in the film came out of specific discussions she had with writer/co-director Jennifer Lee, but, likely to simply avoid spoilers, Bell was somewhat vague about exactly what made up those conversations. However, in Into the Unknown Bell speaks out directly about how Anna's journey, and the song "The Next Right Thing" came out of the actresses own struggles with depression. Bell says...
When Anna thinks everyone around her has perished she has to look inward and realize what else is there to live for. And this mantra of “do the next right thing” came out of a conversation that Jen and I had really early on about my anxiety and depression. And I think “Do the Next Right Thing,” it really is for anyone who is feeling low and struggling and does not know what to do. Because the only thing you can do at those lowest moments is one step at a time.
Animated Disney movies have never been all that afraid to go dark, but rather than focus on a potentially grisly death for a villain, the darkest moment of Frozen II comes when Anna has to fight the desire to just...stop. She has lost her best friend in Olaf and she believes she's lost her sister as well. Anna has largely identified herself through her relationships, and so without them, she's wondering what the real point even is.
"The Next Right Thing" is a beautiful song in both its terrible feeling of loss and, eventually, it's pinpoint of light and hope that Anna eventually finds. She knows that there is a job that needs to be done, and in the end she chooses to do it, even if all she can do is focus on each next step as it comes, because the big picture is simply too big to handle. Kristen Bell admits that sometimes, she has to do exactly that...
When I’m experiencing that, for me, if I wake up and I’m feeling very low, all I gotta do is step outta bed and then, the next right thing is to brush my teeth, and the next right thing is to go and have a cup of coffee, and the next right thing is to wake my kids up. And I take those steps incrementally when the world and its problems seem to big for me to handle.
Sometimes the world and its problems seem to big to handle? No idea what that's like.
It's maybe not too surprising that "Do the Next Right Thing" is a somewhat autobiographical song for Kristen Bell. You can feel the emotion in her words, and you see in Into the Unknown that recording the song brought tears to her eyes. It's a pain a lot of people have probably felt, and maybe, hearing Kristen Bell speak openly about the fact that she does as well, will help others do the next right thing.