Director Megan Harding leads an unprecedented look at the workings of the secretive Walt Disney Animation Studios
Premiering on Disney+ in June 2020, “Into the Unknown: Making Frozen II” is exactly what Disney’s streaming platform should be used for. Providing an unexpectedly thorough and honest look behind the scenes of the making of Disney’s most anticipated animated sequel in history, director Megan Harding’s docuseries is a true love letter to the amount of detail and attention that goes into animating a Disney classic.
Back in 2013, nobody quite expected the spectacular success of Frozen. With two Academy Award wins to its name, and title of highest-grossing film of all time, the pressure was on to deliver something equally as spectacular in Frozen II. As a result, instead of a typical behind-the-scenes fare consigned to an unseen portion of DVD extras, the six-episode docuseries follows the production of Frozen II from about 11 months before the worldwide premiere in November 2019, with only about 20% of the film already completed at that point.
What’s immediately striking about the series is how unwavering it is in its commitment to honesty. It never shies away from the fact that projects like Frozen II are a monumental collaborative effort which require substantial work in order for them to properly flourish. Directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, as well as songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez struggle personally and creatively, and the series refuses to shy away from that. Yet what is constant throughout is the commitment on all fronts to make the project as impactful and high quality as it can be.
We follow the creative team as they investigate and unpick areas of the film that are not working and the steps they take to rework them and to fix them, as well as how screening audiences, both internally at Disney and with test audiences to adapt and change as they progress. One particular storyline that flourishes is the struggle that the team have with “Show Yourself”. It’s truly fascinating to watch the group riddle over this sequence at such length, and how everything falls into place when they realise that the voice that Elsa has been hearing during the film has been her mother all along. It’s further incredible just how late this realisation comes, considering how anchoring and central this concept is to the entire narrative of Frozen II and to Elsa’s arc over the two films.
Another success of the series is how much it draws attention to the individual animators, of which there are hundreds. It elucidates just how painstaking and arduous animation work really is, showing many workers putting countless hours and effort into mere seconds of the finished film. The animators are shown using reference shots and recordings just to get every single moment to complete perfection, without even knowing if it will make the final cut. In fact, the series makes quite a point as to just how much is changed and altered throughout the process which often results in many animators being disappointed when their material is out of the picture.
We are also treated to more typical behind-the-scenes footage. In contrast to “recording sessions” you may have seen in the past, however, where a painfully made-up celebrity lip syncs to their own vocal and talks about how great it was to work with [insert musician name here], adequate time is given over to the actual process of continually bringing in the cast over multiple months to cobble together the film in some sort of erratic patchwork. Seeing Kristen Bell recording “The Next Right Thing” and reflecting upon how it resonates with her own depression and anxiety is incredibly moving, and it’s almost impossible not to hear the song differently and even more powerfully afterwards.
Just as much love and attention is given to the orchestrations again. Seeing Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez bombilate as they come up with ideas for how All Is Found can serve as an introduction to the title sequence of the film, their creative genius is already unmatched. Watching the entire creative time, along with Idina Menzel hearing an entire orchestra play “Into the Unknown” for the first time sends shivers down the spine, and far more focus is given to the soaring strings than is perhaps noticeable in the cinema.
“Into the Unknown: The Making of Frozen II” goes significantly further beyond the scope of a DVD extra here, to give a comprehensive, emotional and inspiring look at the mind boggling hard work that goes into creating Disney’s hits. Far from stripping Walt Disney Animation Studios of any of its well crafted mystery, it merely further peaks excitement at its inner workings. Hopefully, this project becomes the norm for all of Disney’s future animated hits.
Into the Unknown: The Making of Frozen II is streaming now on Disney+