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One of the most remarkable things about the original Frozen is how it represented part of a sea change for Disney's films in terms of their depiction of love. While the movie isn't completely devoid of romance, it turns some of the classic tropes of Disney's own films on their heads. The movie openly questions the logic of falling in love and marrying someone you just met, the core plot element of many of its forebears. In doing so, it creates space to tell a story about another kind of love — not romantic love, but the deep familial love between two sisters, Anna and Elsa. It's a story about women saving each other and themselves, not relying on a prince to do it.
Recently, SYFY WIRE FANGRRLS went behind the scenes at Disney Animation Studios to preview some of the things we'll see in the upcoming sequel. Amid all the special effects demonstrations, character designs, and previews of songs, it was still Anna and Elsa that stood out as the heart of this new film.
Potential spoiler warnings for FROZEN II within!
According to co-director and co-writer Jennifer Lee, who also wrote and co-directed the first film, this relationship was at the forefront of her mind, even during a 2016 research trip to Norway and Iceland, which inspired the eventual story. "We realized on this trip that Anna is your perfect fairy-tale character. She's an ordinary hero, not magical. She's optimistic. Whereas Elsa is the perfect mythic character. Mythic characters are magical. They carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. In fact, the mythic characters often meet a tragic fate, and we realized we had two stories going together, mythic story and a fairy-tale story. In the mythic aspect of it, the fear of that tragic fate is something that Anna's been worrying about and thus protects her sister from."
Preserving the relationship between Anna and Elsa, while still showing how it evolved, was of primary importance to Hyun-Min Lee, animation supervisor for Anna. "In this film, we really tried to keep our focus on making sure that they stay true to who they were in the first film. But also, we wanted to show everybody who they're maturing into as they go into this new journey," Lee said.
"So, in this film, there is a little bit of a role reversal between the two. In the first film, Anna used to be the fearless one, forging ahead. 'I'm just going to go save my sister. Go ahead. I don't care!' And this time Elsa is the one being called into the unknown. And Anna is a little bit more worried and nervous for her sister's safety. And the big difference with the first film is that Anna is not alone anymore."
This change in Anna is signified even in her costumes, explained Griselda Sastrawinata-Lemay, visual development artist for the film. "In Frozen II, we started with Anna's costume with the new Arendelle icon, which signifies the fall season," she said. "In her travel costume, we did so many iterations, and exploration, because we grow as the story grows. And designing for Anna is a little bit tricky, because we decided that Elsa will always be in a light value and color, so she looks like ice. It's challenging to find a color that would be brilliant enough, and strong enough when they're next to each other. The chosen outfit is actually number 122."
As for Elsa, her costume design was greatly inspired by the change her character went through in the first movie, says Visual Development Artist Brittney Lee, who talked about how Elsa's costumes were restrictive and dark in the early parts of the first movie, but that's changed now. "Elsa can be a little bit more glamorous. She's also not restricted so much by real-world materials," Lee explained.
"Once 'Let It Go' happened, we sort of, um, basically set the precedent that she can make her own clothes out of ice. So from that point on, we have more freedom with her to use more ethereal materials, so she gets some tulles, and some silks and that, that's meant to support who she is as the Snow Queen."
It's not all just about fashion styles, either; even Elsa's movements in the new movie are different. Wayne Unten, Elsa's animation supervisor, discussed a major change to how she casts spells, drawing on modern dance as an inspiration for her movements to make them more graceful. "Her fingers, for example, when she's casting the magic, there's a nice flow to them. Instead of, like, a claw type of thing. We did something like that in the first film. But that was only, really, to illustrate a point that ... Remember in the first film, Hans says don't be the monster that they fear you are," Unten said. "And, you know, she was kind of doing kind of like a monster-type claw. So we stayed away from that."
It became very clear that these characters mean as much to the people working on them as they do to the audiences that connected to them when the original movie was released. Becky Bresee, one of the heads of animation and a self-described lifetime fairy tale fan, summed it up early on in the conversation: "When the first Frozen story turned into a sister story, that's when it really spoke to me in a different way. Now I was not only working on it for myself, I was working on a very personal level for my sisters, as well as more so for my daughters. So Frozen II goes even further for me personally, and I'm so excited for the world to see it, and to revisit our characters all over again."
Frozen II hits theaters November 22.