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'Frozen II' asks how Elsa got her powers

By Fred Topel
1/6
'Frozen II' asks how Elsa got her powers
Idina Menzel returns as the voice of Elsa in "Frozen II," in theaters Nov. 22. File Photo by Phil McCarten/UPI | License Photo

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 30 (UPI) -- Frozen questioned the usual Disney princess myth. Anna did not need to end up with a prince charming, and Elsa (Idina Menzel) was not an evil queen the heroes needed to destroy. Frozen II attempts to provoke more questions in the fairy tale world when it opens Nov. 22.

"There were still a lot of questions from the first film that were unanswered," co-director Chris Buck said. "One of them was why does Elsa have icy powers? How have they grown since Anna saved Elsa's life? Why was Anna born the way she was? Where were the parents going when their ship went down? And, is there really such a thing as happily ever after?"

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Frozen was based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen, but with a modern twist. Elsa was born with the ability to control ice. She was so powerful that her parents isolated her from even her sister Anna, fearing her powers. As an adult, Elsa scared the kingdom of Arendelle with her powers.

Hans (Santino Fontana) came to Arendelle presenting as a Prince Charming type for Anna, but he was really sent to assassinate Elsa. Elsa built herself an ice castle as she Let It Go, while Anna teamed up with woodsman Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and the snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) to save her. In the end, Elsa learned she could control her powers through love.

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Now, Frozen II explains that Elsa and Anna's father, King Agnarr (Alfred Molina), angered the spirits of the Enchanted Forest years before. Just as Elsa is settled into Arendelle, the spirits now want something from her.

"That is life," co-director Jennifer Lee said. "We all know that just as you've got things worked out, life throws you a curveball or a new path. Elsa, while she's been accepted, which is beautiful, there has got to be more to what's going on inside her. Having to answer that call in life, the thing that speaks to you, it's scary. [It] can be dangerous, but it's an important thing to explore."

In Elsa's case, the forest spirits literally call to her. She sings the new song Into the Unknown as she ventures out of the castle on the new adventure. Anna and Elsa reverse their characteristics from Frozen. Now Elsa wants to venture out and Anna is more conservative.

"Anna is not alone anymore and she feels like she has everything she could ever need," animation supervisor Hyun-Min Lee said. "As the winds of change are coming, Anna is very protective of her clan, of her people, all of her loved ones. She'll do anything to do the right thing for them, including kicking their butts and getting rid of the bad guys."

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The filmmakers distinguished the heroines as fairy tale versus myth. Anna represents the fairy tale character who believes in happy endings. Elsa represents the mythic character whose quest comes with tragedy. Elsa already experienced exile in Frozen, and even her victory may be bittersweet.

"A big question for Elsa is: I was born with these ice powers. Why? What's the purpose? What am I supposed to do with that?" head of story Marc Smith said. "I've got a destiny, I've got something I can fulfill and if I have to go down in the course of that well, so be it."

Frozen II has seven songs, and Menzel sings two of them. Into the Unknown comes first, expressing her uncertainty that drives the sequel.

"She's not quite sure if she is where she's meant to be," head of story Normand Lemay said. "Her powers have been growing. Once she fully connects with the voice, we see a big explosion of like little mini iced crystals with symbols. This moment will bring about change."

Frozen II begins three years after Frozen, even though it has been six years in between movies in real life. Perhaps it is 3 1/2 years later, since Frozen II takes place in the Autumn in Arendelle. Instead of snow cover everywhere, the leaves are visible and turning colors.

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The filmmakers returned to Norway, Finland and Iceland to research environments for Frozen II.

"Anna felt at home in Norway with its fairytale settings, but Elsa felt strangely at home in this dark, mythic Iceland," Buck said.

Finland's Lake Inari inspired Frozen II's Enchanted Forest.

"Lake Inari in Finland felt like a fairytale," Smith said. "You understood why all of their tales are so imbued with magical spirits, forest spirits, magic."

Iceland inspired Frozen II's most threatening worlds.

"Iceland was this incredible land that was alive," Lee said. "It could kill you at any turn. I will go into the volcano. I will walk in the glacier."

Returning to Arendelle in a different season gives it a whole new look.

"It's not the original Frozen Arendelle, covered with snow," head of environments Sean Jenkins said. "Now, we need to get a version of it that works with the autumn palette."

The filmmakers consulted a Norwegian botanist about what types of trees exist in northern Scandinavia and chose the ones that would look best on screen.

"We chose trees particularly for the contrast in shapes -- that we could use different shapes to create these interesting-looking collections of trees," art director of environments David Womersley said.

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The black pebble beach of Iceland inspired another scene in which Elsa freezes and pierces giant waves.

"One of the challenges was that Elsa had to be running on top of this undulating water surface," effects supervisor Erin Ramos said. "We had to work really closely with the animators to make sure that Elsa's performance was in synch with the water and vice versa because not only was Elsa reacting to the water, but the water was also reacting to her."

Elsa attempts to freeze the waves and pierce through the ocean. Beyond that, Ramos wasn't giving away any secrets.

"If you want to see whether she makes it out of this little predicament, you'll have to see Frozen II in theaters," Ramos said.

Frozen II will be in theaters Nov. 22.

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