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Into the Unknown: Making Frozen 2 doc might make you cry harder than the movie

By Kristina Manente
frozen 2

Frozen 2 smashed box office records and hearts back during the holiday season, so perhaps it was only apt that the documentary chronicling the final months of production would be heart-wrenching as well. Now available on Disney+Into The Unknown: Making Frozen 2 is a surprisingly emotional six-part series journey that gives an in-depth look at the trials and tribulations of making a highly anticipated sequel.

Director Megan Harding has produced a multitude of documentaries and television series including Game Changers: Inside the Video Game Wars, Double the Fist, and TLC’s My Crazy Obsession. Into The Unknown isn’t even Harding’s first foray into documenting behind the scenes on Frozen, having executive-produced The Making of Frozen: A Return to Arendelle for ABC. 

Harding’s take on the icy sequel spans the final months of production after years of work had already gone into the film. The final push is where major changes can happen and big decisions are made and reversed. She documents a frenetic time, but also shows the process of creating an animated film at its peak. Each episode focuses on a different stage of the final moments of filmmaking. From struggling with the show-stopping “Show Yourself” to showcasing how animators use their own recordings and movements to help with their work, Into The Unknown tries to leave no part of the process unturned. Frozen 2 co-directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck feature prominently throughout the series, giving key insights into how the film came together, as well.

Harding jumped on a call with SYFY WIRE to talk about running into the unknown with the mammoth task of telling not only the story of making Frozen 2, but also the stories of the people who were helping to create it.

There are so many wonderful surprises inside Into the Unknown. It's the first real behind-the-scenes look at an animated Disney film. Was it daunting at all to take this on?

Absolutely, but in a good way. We knew that there were so many wonderful stories to tell, it was really a matter of trying to hone it down as we went along to find what are those real gems that should make it into the series. At first, it was completely overwhelming because there are a lot of people who make these animated movies and we can't tell everyone's story, but we really needed to go in with the idea to tell as much of the process as we could and to meet as many of the people who really put their heart and soul into these movies. 

What was the process of actually tackling the documentary?

Truthfully, it kind of evolved. We had come in just under a year before the release of the movie, that last year is really very much where the majority of the work happens. We knew what big pieces still needed to be created from scratch and that was "Show Yourself," so we had always intended for it to be a central part of the series.

We didn't know going in that it was actually going to be this big touchstone and that it was going to be so difficult for them to actually crack it and that we would be able to see that. 

There was a moment that you weren't allowed to film. Was there anything that you regret not being able to include? 

Not really. The moment that's in the series is literally the only moment where we were asked to leave the room. I feel that there was an understanding and an openness on the behalf of the directors and the producer to really let us in whenever possible. I think given that we shot for 115 days that only being asked to leave once was pretty good. There's a couple of meetings where Chris Buck says "not a good day for cameras," but we still stayed... it kind of made us think perhaps it was a good day for cameras.

frozen 2 doc

There are wonderful human elements in this that showcase the personal stories of those involved in making the film. Why was it important to you to feature these in the documentary?

This team put so much of their own personal experiences on the screen. Their stories are important to why Frozen 2 is so beloved. It seemed that we couldn't really explore that without understanding that it's more than just writing a story. That's not just the directors, it's animators and junior staff members as well that really mine their own experience to put it on the screen, which I think makes it relatable to an audience.

"Do The Next Right Thing" was the hallmark for so many different people involved in the process. Is there anything that was a personal touchstone for you?

I would have to say that I'm always completely honored that Chris Buck decided to share the story of his son Ryder with us and invited us into his home. They were so incredibly generous to us. I feel very honored that this was where they wanted to share that story. I knew about Ryder, but I wasn't planning on asking Chris about it because somehow it just felt too personal. He shared it with us unexpectedly, and we were not prepared.

By the end of the interview, myself and the camera team were crying. It was so incredibly moving. Chris let us know that they did the fundraiser for Ryder's foundation and that seemed like it belonged in our story as well. It was a place where this close-knit team would come into Chris's house and celebrate Ryder's life. Ryder appears in the movie, as well, so it seemed like a good way to demonstrate the love between some of these creatives on the movie.

What's your "unknown"?

The documentary series. It felt like we were going into the unknown pretty much every day that we were there because we would think that we're going to film something and nothing that was on the schedule was happening for various reasons, and we would end up shooting a whole lot of other things. And so then I would come back to the edit room, where we had a brilliant team of producers and editors and an absolute mountain of footage.

I think it was 1,500 hours [of behind-the-scenes footage] or something like that. Then we would have to say, "OK, here is our series, let's try to find the story."

Who is your favorite character or characters from the movies?

No one's ever asked me that. I think it would have to be Anna. I love her plucky, can-do spirit. It's something that I aspire to, but don't always live up to that expectation. It's really great to see that someone who normally has such an incredibly positive outlook actually goes to the depths of despair. It's really interesting. And brave.