Wrapping up a full-length animated feature can be a bittersweet moment after years of hard work, so it was with excitement and relief that the award-winning team of filmmakers behind “Frozen II” moved swiftly from their latest blockbuster to “Once Upon a Snowman,” a new animated short, debuting on Disney+ on Oct. 23, that tells the story of Olaf’s first moments of life.
Inspired by the iconic first-step scenes immortalized in Disney classics like “Bambi” and “Pinocchio,” writer and director Trent Correy felt the beloved snowman’s origin story needed to be told.
“Elsa meets Olaf and it’s beautiful and then she just walks away,” Correy, who oversaw the animation of Olaf in ‘Frozen II,’” said in a virtual press conference. “She creates life and she walks away and I was like, there’s got to be a story there.”
A partnership with Disney+ gave Disney Animation what Correy called “the perfect opportunity” to do the short, which comes on the heels of the blockbuster success of “Frozen II,” the highest-grossing animated film of all time.
Diving right into “Once Upon a Snowman” after wrapping “Frozen II” enabled to team to maintain the momentum they’d established working on the feature-length film, said Peter Del Vecho, the Academy Award–winning producer of “Frozen” and “Frozen II” and creative consultant on “Once Upon a Snowman.”
“As hard as the movies are to finish, it’s also hard to step away,” said Del Vecho, who features prominently in the recent Disney+ docuseries, “Into the Unknown: The Making of Frozen 2.” “So I think the fact that Trent and Dan [Abraham, “Once Upon a Snowman” co-writer and director and lead story artist on “Frozen II”] had this story ready to go, we could build on that enthusiasm of having finished the first movie […] And I think it was a nice way almost to celebrate, to continue to celebrate the finish of the movie.”
Set in the mountains of Arendelle, “Once Upon a Snowman” drops Frozen fans back into some iconic scenes from the first film, revisiting them from a new perspective. Josh Gad returns to voice Olaf, delivering that signature combination of heartwarming naïveté and laugh-out-loud shenanigans.
There’s a psychological undercurrent to Olaf’s childlike innocence that adds depth to his character. A sort of undercover existentialist, “He can really hit on some profound, emotional things,” said Del Vecho. “You can zero in on things that maybe, as adults, we miss.”
Between the laughs and the thoughtful moments, there’s plenty of fodder to keep franchise devotees and avid Easter egg hunters busy. Scenes and dialogue from the original film are happening just as we remember them throughout the background of the short, this time appearing a new light. “What if?” moments make viewers question how changing just one thing might have shifted the course of this beloved story.
And, of course, Easter eggs abound. See how much Anna’s coronation dress is going for in Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post and spot a Motunui beach through stereoscope viewer as Olaf’s discovers his love of summer for the first time, giving original “Frozen” song “In Summer” its own backstory.
Classic “Frozen” melodies running throughout the background add to the instant familiarity of the short. But, unlike the 2015 short “Frozen Fever,” which added the catchy song “Making Today a Perfect Day” to the franchise’s musical canon, the creators couldn’t find a way to make an original song work here.
“Really early on, we toyed with the idea of having a song and the story just didn’t guide us to where a song would go,” said head of animation, Becky Bresee. “And instead of force it, we’re songless.”
At just shy of 8 minutes, “Once Upon a Snowman” moves swiftly and delivers plenty of smiles. More well-versed in series-binging than I should probably admit, my 4- and 7-year-old sons demanded I “put on the next one” as soon as we finished watching it.
So could there be a next one? When the filmmakers were asked whether they’d like to work on any future projects centered around Olaf, Bresee didn’t hesitate. “If I could work with Olaf for the rest of my life, I’d be quite okay with that.”
“Once Upon a Snowman” debuts exclusively on Disney+ on Oct. 23, 2020. Watch the trailer here: