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Calm under pressure: How Frozen II director did it

Lucy Dean
·4-min read
Images: Getty, Walt Disney StudiosMotion Pictures.
Images: Getty, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

When Frozen was released in December 2013, it became the highest-grossing animated film of all time, taking in US$1.28 billion (AU$1.85 billion) at the box office.

In 2014, co-directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, accepted the task of following it up with a sequel.

Faced with an audience desperate to know what came next, Buck’s solution was simple: get on with the job, and throw in some yoga.

It paid off: Frozen II went on to surpass Frozen at the box office, taking in a staggering US$1.5 billion (AU$2.17 billion).

“The pressure [of Frozen II] was more from inside the story room on how to stay true to the characters,” Buck told Yahoo Finance.

“Since they were characters that were already created and well-fleshed out and people responded to them quite well, we didn’t want to betray them but we also wanted them to grow and mature and have a new journey, so that was a challenge along the way.”

Chris Buck and producers Peter Del Vecho and Jennifer Lee. Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios
Chris Buck and producers Peter Del Vecho and Jennifer Lee. Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Personality tests and yoga

The creators delved deep into the personalities of the main characters, Princess Anna and Queen Elsa, through personality tests designed to measure certain personality traits. They discovered that Elsa was a protector, and Anna, a leader and from there, they were able to continue finding new places to take the characters.

But when it came to pressures in the form of others’ opinions, Buck just tuned them out.

“One coping mechanism is I do yoga every morning so that kind of helps, but you do try to put that [external pressure aside],” he said.

“I’m not on social media so I don’t have that connection of people demanding things from the film or the characters. I’m not aware of that.”

He’d still hear it from the press or colleagues, but it was important for Buck and co-director Jennifer Lee to separate those voices.

“Everybody has their own version of the next story they could tell and we had to be true to our characters and feel like we were telling the next journey for them.

“It was really just back to the basics of who everybody was and what that world was.”

Entertainment with purpose

Kristen Bell voicing Anna. Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios
Kristen Bell voicing Anna. Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Speaking to mark the release of a documentary on the making of the film, Into The Unknown: The Making of Frozen 2, Buck said his role also comes back to purpose: Disney makes movies for younger audiences, so they need to entertain but also impart a good message.

“Purpose is I think a great word right now and something that we’ve always felt as we make these movies,” he said.

“We’re not trying to preach, but there is something in there that people can take away and be inspired by. So when it comes to the word purpose, I’ve always looked at… making movies that inspire people and that will give them hope.”

For Frozen II, the story also had distinct modern relevance.

It follows Anna and Elsa as they navigate not just the regions surrounding the mythical kingdom of Arendelle but also the impacts of colonialism and the case for reparations as they meet the fictional Northuldra people.

The Northuldra people are a fictionalised version of the indigenous Sámi people, who live across northern Scandinavia and Russia, with the filmmakers working alongside Sámi experts and forming an advisory group.

Chris Buck with sound editor and wife Shelley Buck. Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios
Chris Buck with sound editor and wife Shelley Buck. Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

The Walt Disney Company signed a contract with the transnational Sámi Council and the Sámi parliament to ensure the film was culturally sensitive in its depiction of the Sámi people.

Diversity of voices is something Buck is personally excited by.

“I'm excited by the diversity that's happening throughout the stories that we're doing, and we're doing that at Disney too,” he said.

“I've been around a long time but it's so great to be surrounded by fresh voices and fresh talent that's pushing me beyond my comfort levels and making me look at things in a fresh way, so personally I'm very excited by all of that.”

Into The Unknown: The Making of Frozen 2 will be released on Disney+ on 26 June.

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