While we knew Idina Menzel‘s character in Frozen was originally supposed to be a straightforward villain, we didn’t realize how freakin’ dark the OG script was for the 2013 Disney hit.
In fact, the flick’s producer Peter Del Vecho revealed how Queen Elsa’s characterization helped the movie do a 180 from being a tired fairy tale to the most successful animated film of all time!
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While chatting with Entertainment Weekly, Peter explained:
“With all the movies we were work on, eventually the film tells you what it needs to be and if you’re smart enough to listen to that, it leads you to a different direction than perhaps your preconceived notion… So when we started off, Anna and Elsa were not sisters. They weren’t even royal. So Anna was not a princess. Elsa was a self-proclaimed Snow Queen, but she was a villain and pure evil — much more like the Hans Christian Andersen tale. We started out with an evil female villain and an innocent female heroine and the ending involved a big epic battle with snow monsters that Elsa had created as her army…”
Not to mention, early drafts of Frozen featured a prophecy that stated “a ruler with a frozen heart will bring destruction to the kingdom of Arendelle.” Apparently, Elsa’s backstory was that she gained her magical powers after getting a frozen heart from being stood up at the altar. At the end of the film, it is revealed that Prince Hans is the royal from the prophecy as he causes an avalanche which could destroy all of Arendell.
Anna, the pure-hearted heroine, convinces Elsa to use her powers to save the kingdom and, in result, the self-proclaimed Snow Queen’s heart thaws.
Sadly, there was nothing new about this story line… and the Frozen team knew it. Del Vecho continued:
“The problem was that we felt like we had seen it before. It wasn’t satisfying. We had no emotional connection to Elsa — we didn’t care about her because she had spent the whole movie being the villain. We weren’t drawn in. The characters weren’t relatable.”
While trying to make Miz Menzel’s character more likable, directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee began exploring the possibility of making Elsa and Anna related. The industry vet explained:
“Making them related led us to the idea of her living in fear of her powers. What if she’s afraid of who she is? And afraid of hurting the ones she loves? Now we had a character in Anna who was all about love and Elsa who was all about fear. That led to making Elsa a much more dimensional sympathetic character, and instead of the traditional good vs. evil theme we had one that we felt was more relatable: Love vs. fear, and the premise of the movie became that love is stronger than fear.”
Now that’s the Frozen we know and love! However, it still took some time to perfect the ending as Peter noted:
“Now that they’re related, Elsa had her own fear and it was Anna who would save the day instead of Elsa by rescuing her sister — and it would be that selfless act that thawed Elsa’s heart. Once we landed on that idea for an ending [Disney animation chief] Ed Catmull called in Jen Lee and said, ‘If you can make that ending pay off and if we can really feel it, I think we’ll have a successful film. And if you don’t … we’ll have nothing.’ … So that really put the pressure on her to make that work.”
Thankfully, story artist John Ripa helped solve the ending issue by coming up with the idea that Elsa causes a white out blizzard with her emotions. In this blizzard, Prince Hans showed is true colors and Anna is able to be there for her sister when she is needed most.
On how Ripa pitched the ending, the producer dished:
“He went off, boarded it and came back in, and what he showed was that Elsa’s emotions created a white out blizzard. That allowed us to isolate Hans and Elsa from Anna searching for Kristoff through the mist. That way we can reveal Kristoff just moments before we reveal Elsa to Anna, and it allowed the timing we needed. When he pitched that ending [Disney Chief Creative Officer] John Lasseter, the directors and the whole story team stood up and gave him a standing ovation. He helped crack visually how we were going to depict that ending.”
AH-Mazing! We’re so glad the Frozen team was able to figure it all out, because we don’t know how we’d handle the OG version of the movie…
[Image via Disney.]