Disney directors knew they had their work cut out bringing Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Snow Queen to animated life.
For more than 70 years it’s apparently been a challenge many at Mickey Mouse HQ have determinedly tried and subsequently failed to meet.
Frozen, the latest Disney movie based on the classic Danish tale, finally gives the dark character her on-screen debut.
Smashing box-office records worldwide – it’s taken almost US$120 million (Dh441m) so far – it features the usual collection of A-listers voicing the main characters, including Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff and Josh Gad.
The Disney pack even managed to get Demi Lovato, who sings the official soundtrack song Let it Go, to dye her hair blue on the occasion of the film’s release.
It comes to the big screen in the UAE today, just in time for Christmas and the triumphant directorial partnership of Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee are soaking up the glory at festivals around the world.
The duo, who were at the Dubai International Film Festival, said the reception had astonished them.
“It’s such a cliché, but you really understand there are no borders animation can’t cross,” said Lee, who had just left a sold-out cinema of eager youngsters.
Lee, who was in the Middle East for the first time, said that while they didn’t know what to expect, they knew the faces of the children wouldn’t disappoint.
“Children are children wherever you go in the world,” she said. “We watched them arrive with their parents. They goof around with friends and see how much popcorn they can physically take in one sitting.”
The tale is the 53rd animated feature in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series. Disney is also the studio behind 2010’s Tangled and 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph.
Over a five-day Thanksgiving weekend in the US, Frozen was the second highest grossing movie behind The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
“Obviously we are thrilled,” said Buck. “It’s good to know there is still a hunger for animated classics. It’s not always about the modern tales.”
Disney’s interest in The Snow Queen can be traced back as far as 1943 when Walt Disney and Samuel Goldwyn considered the possibility of collaborating to produce a biography film about Andersen. The film would feature animated sequences from his classic tales including The Little Mermaid, The Little Match Girl, The Snow Queen, Thumbelina, The Ugly Duckling, The Red Shoes and The Emperor’s New Clothes.
Disney, together with his animators, struggled with The Snow Queen, as they couldn’t find a way to adapt and relate the Snow Queen character to modern audiences.
Over the years, Disney’s animation department has regularly expressed the cinematic possibilities, but always come unstuck with the Snow Queen character herself, who proves to be problematic.
“There was a great deal of pressure on this one,” said Buck, now graciously accepting that he managed to make it happen. “It had been explored so many times. I wasn’t willing to let it go.”
The pair hashed out the possibilities, eventually making the film’s protagonist Anna, based on Gerda from The Snow Queen, the younger sibling of Elsa, the darker queen herself.
“It established a family dynamic between the characters, which means parents, but especially children, can relate to her.”
Frozen begins when a prophecy traps a kingdom in eternal winter. Anna (Kristen Bell), a fearless optimist, teams up with the extreme mountain man Kristoff and his sidekick reindeer Sven on an epic journey to find Anna’s sister Elsa (Idina Menzel), the Snow Queen, and put an end to her icy spell. Encountering mystical trolls, a funny snowman named Olaf, Everest-like extremes and magic at every turn, Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom from destruction.
• Frozen is out now in UAE cinemas