A version of this story about Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez and “Frozen II” first appeared in The Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.
Obviously, if you’re a Lopez and you’re writing songs for “Frozen II,” you can’t think about the fact that when you wrote songs for the first “Frozen” movie in 2013, you came up with “Let It Go,” which won you the Oscar and became this generation’s gigantic Disney anthem.
But, um, how do you not think about that? “There’s drinking involved,” said Kristen Anderson-Lopez, one half of the married songwriting duo, with a laugh. “How you don’t think about it is that you are answering questions that are meaningful to you. As long as it taps into something that you care about, you can be free of the external pressure.”
“It’s a process, and the process is always full of discovery and disappointment,” Robert Lopez added.
“The first movie was working at expanding the definition of true love beyond the handsome prince who kisses you and everything is cured,” Kristen said. “I wanted to expand that even further to the fact that sometimes true love comes in the form of finding where you belong and what your purpose is.”
“Let It Go,” sung by Idina Menzel’s Elsa, was the only song from “Frozen” that was submitted in the Oscar song category, and “Into the Unknown” is likely the only submission from its sequel. “It’s really what we call an ‘I want’ song,” Robert Lopez said. “In ‘The Little Mermaid,’ the ‘I want’ song was ‘Part of Your World,’ This is much more haunted. At the end of ‘Frozen,’ there’s a happy ever after. But it turns out that Elsa doesn’t feel fully fulfilled by being the queen of Arendelle.”
Kristen added, “There’s an unanswered question from her past calling out to her, a voice inside her. From the very beginning, Bobby said, ‘I want to see Elsa talking to someone, I want to do a duet.’ I think that really inspired us to look at Elsa’s ‘I want’ as a duet. She doesn’t know who’s calling to her and she doesn’t know what it means, but she knows that something is calling. And once we knew there was this voice and put ourselves into those shoes, the song started to come.”
And from the start, Robert said he knew certain things about the sound of the song. “‘Frozen II’ is really a mystery, and we wanted the song to have a mysterious, haunting tone,” he said. “The voice inside Elsa is very high and atmospheric and mysterious, so she’s never really sure if what’s calling to her is good for her or is going to lead her into trouble.”
To get that high, haunting sound, he turned to an unusual source. “The sound of the call is based on kulning, which is a Norwegian form of shepherdess song,” he said. “It’s a beautiful, high and clear style of singing and calling that they would use to call to the cows, and it has a cool sound that we always wanted to use.”
But, of course, the song builds to a huge climax. “Originally it ended more quietly and mysteriously,” Kristen said. “It was (director) Chris Buck who said, ‘You know what? Go big.'”
This is one in a series of interviews with songwriters in this year’s Oscar race. To read more from The Race Begins, click here.