Icy hearts will be significantly easier to melt this Christmas season in part thanks to Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, a new 21-minute featurette starring Frozen snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) on his quest to find an apt holiday tradition for sisters Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) in their first merry season together as non-estranged princesses.
“People forget that the first movie took place in the middle of summer, so this is really the first holiday season after the girls have come together, but what they’re realizing is that because they were separated for so long, they don’t have any family traditions” explains John Lasseter, chief creative officer for Disney and Pixar animation, speaking exclusively to EW about the new original (the trailer for which debuted on Good Morning America earlier this morning). “So, Olaf is so sad about this that he decides to step out with Sven the reindeer to go around Arendelle to find the greatest family tradition for Anna and Elsa.”
Initially announced as an ABC television special, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure was bumped up to theatrical run status after Lasseter and the filmmakers decided it was too cinematic to not inhabit the big screen (to wit, it’ll now run in 3-D). Moreover, as an apt thematic match for Coco, Pixar’s upcoming Nov. 22 release about a boy uncovering his own family’s traditions on Día de Muertos, the opportunity was clear as ice crystal, and the result will be Pixar’s first movie to feature a lead-in from Walt Disney Animation Studios. (Cool your comment fingers: Yes, on the flip side, there indeed have been plenty of Pixar shorts that ran before WDAS films).
“When we put shorts in front of features, I always love to have shorts that contrast, that aren’t about the same subject or setting or environment, but with this, both stories are incredibly emotional and so much about family that they really fit,” Lasseter says. “And both celebrate two completely different holidays, so I think that was also fun to put them together.”
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Olaf’s Frozen Adventure reunites the principal cast (including Jonathan Groff, returning as Kristoff), enlists decorated directors Kevin Deters and Stevie Wermers-Skelton (Prep & Landing) and producer Roy Conli (Big Hero 6), and adds four new original songs to the Frozen canon, this time from a new composing duo, Kate Anderson and Elyssa Samsel. “This was a high hurdle I set, but one of my dreams was to create a new Christmas standard in one of those songs, and Kate and Elyssa just killed it,” says Lasseter. “The song that’s actually in the trailer is ‘When We’re Together,’ and it just brings tears to your eyes. It has such great meaning for frankly anybody coming together for the holiday season.”
More than anything, the holiday featurette sticks to Lasseter’s philosophy on sequels — “No matter the length, you only do it when you have a great story” — and serves as a fundamental foundation for Frozen 2. In a string of projects set in the world of Arendelle, the animation chief stresses that everything you’ve seen thus far of Frozen will coalesce in the November 2019 sequel, which will pick up after this timeline and examine the next chapter of Anna and Elsa figuring out how to co-exist on a united front. “In Frozen, they dearly loved each other but were separated, and now they’re back together and never going to close the doors again. But now what? What are they going to do with their first birthday? That’s Frozen Fever. Now, they have their first holiday season together. [That’s Olaf’s Frozen Adventure.] And then what? We go from there, and it fits in perfectly with Frozen 2,” he says. “It’s interesting to have this continuity between Frozen, Frozen Fever, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, Frozen on Broadway… all of these projects really lead to Frozen 2 and this new story we’re creating that’s all, in a weird way, connected in the life of Anna and Elsa. You could sit and watch Olaf’s Frozen Adventure and Frozen 2 as one big marathon. And it’s all in [Anna and Elsa’s] learnings. As we learn, they learn.”
For the purposes of Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, the big lessons this time around are most felt by Olaf, who remains committed to discovering everything he can about the seasons — only he’s now less concerned with what happens to snowmen in summer and more by what befalls fir trees in winter. “It’s fun for him to go around and listen to everybody’s traditions and analyze them very blankly, like a Christmas tree—‘You cut down a tree and dress its corpse with ornaments!?’” Lasseter chuckles. “Olaf is one thousand percent enthusiastic and positive, but also one thousand percent naïve about everything. And he’s so much fun because of it. Every now and then, you create a character and you’re just like, ‘Oh, this is comic gold.’”
Olaf’s Frozen Adventure debuts in front of Coco on Nov. 22; you can also catch the trailer in front of this weekend’s Cars 3.