Preceding that film is a brand new, 22-minute "Frozen" short film entitled "Olaf's Frozen Adventure." In the new film, everyone's favorite snowman (once again voiced by Josh Gad) goes out hunting for seasonal traditions for Anna and Elsa (Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel). And, of course, things go awry, lessons are learned, and some very catchy songs are sung (they're by Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson and they're fantastic).
Ahead of "Olaf's" release with "Coco," we attended a special presentation at Walt Disney Animation Studios and sat down with directors Stevie Wermers and Kevin Deters, who fans of holiday cheer will know from their work on the "Prep & Landing" specials.
During our chat, we talked about the weight of expectations entering this franchise, what makes them the de facto Christmas filmmakers, and the one character that they couldn't fit into the featurette -- a goat named Mr. Jingles.
MOVIEFONE: You've done so many Christmas things. What makes you the holiday experts?
Stevie Wermers: We don't know.
Kevin Deters: We're the most joyful people you'll ever meet.
Wermers: I think it just started with "Prep & Landing." Then we got the second one. Then we got the short. And I guess John [Lasseter] just figured, "Well they're good at holiday stuff."
Deters: But it's cool. Christmas is my favorite time of year. So we've been living Christmas 24/7 for a while.
Does it get any easier?
Deters: They're all different. The "Prep & Landing" stuff was a little bit of a different animal altogether because it was more of a modern family. But, with this, we knew the world of "Frozen" and the characters and that was really helpful. And I think it was like: "What is the natural story to tell with this character of Olaf?" We wanted to say something with it that would resonate.
Wermers: When you're given the holiday, there are parameters that narrows down what something can be about, which is a huge help. There are only so many things that you can do when you think about the holidays. And tradition is a huge part of that. It was easier in that regard.
Did you ever hit a wall and think: "Why can't this be a Halloween special?"
Deters: [laughs] Every day.
Wermers: Oh yeah.
You guys were brought on in 2015. What were the initial discussions? Was it always going to be a theatrically exhibited film?
Deters: The two of us met with John in January 2015, right after the holidays. So. we were fresh from Christmas.
Wermers: It was perfect timing.
Deters: The idea was, originally, that it'd be a television special like "Prep & Landing." And as it got into development, John got wind of what we were doing and recognized that it could be more special playing on the big screen. In a nutshell, that's what happened. As far as our initial meeting with John, he was excited to have a story that was centered around Olaf. That was his only ask of us -- to have a story centered around Olaf. Obviously, the other characters would be involved, too. But that was it.
Well, I imagine that could present some unique challenges, too. You don't want it to be like the later seasons of "Happy Days" where it's just all about the Fonz.
Deters: I agree with you. And Chachi was long in the tooth.
Wermers: That was one of the challenges, too, when you're doing something with sidekick characters. If they're on the screen for too long, because they're the sidekick character, they have a tendency to wear out their welcome. We were really conscious of that. Hopefully, we struck the right balance.
Deters: Being a supporting character, he's designed with that in mind. So, to put him center stage is risky because he's a guileless character -- he doesn't get mad at anybody -- so, dramatically, you have to have conflict. That was a unique challenge. We just realized that he was a child and it's the holidays and he's wide-eyed with wonder.
Wermers: Josh Gad said it, too -- he sees Olaf as a child and he's going to be growing. In the first "Frozen," and in this one, we agreed that he would have to hit an emotional low. He's never been all that low. We want to push him. I think it's going to be a lot of fun to see the character grow.
The other challenge has got to be that this is part of a huge ecosystem. Did you feel pressure taking that on?
Wermers: Yeah, for sure. We had fun while we're making it and had all the help of everyone at the studio who made the original movie. So, they were there to help guide and support us and let us know that we were on the right track.
Deters: And we've been there for the development of the feature and we had a lot of insight in that respect. Even if you're not directing a project, all of the directors are pretty involved in the development of all the features.
It must have also been fun to expand that world.
Wermers: Absolutely. I wish we had more time! There was another character that we tried to introduce but we ran out of time. Maybe in the sequel!
Deters: One of the things that was cool was that, because it takes place after the feature and Anna and Elsa are reunited and together and everyone is happy, it afford us the opportunity to have Elsa be funny. Obviously, in the feature, she's much more angst ridden. It was fun to see Elsa laugh a little bit.
Did we ever cut away to Marshmallow and the Snowgies?
Deters: In various versions, we tried.
Wermers: I remember doing a drawing of Marshmallow and Olaf in a local pub, drinking root beer floats. I thought that'd be a funny little moment.
Deters: We knew, from "Prep & Landing," how much story we could tell in 21-ish minutes.
Wermers: It's not a lot.
Deters: We knew it was Olaf doing something for Anna and Elsa. And we figured Olaf and Sven were the dynamic duo. We thought that if we could squeeze them in there, then great -- but if it's just tangential to the narrative spine, then we can't get sidelined.
Can we talk about this deleted character?
Wermers: We did a bunch of research and in Scandinavia, at Christmastime, one of their traditions is to make a goat. I forget where it comes from but it goes back thousands of years.
Deters: It goes back to the Festival of Yule, which would celebrate Thor; his sleigh was pulled by two goats.
Wermers: And you probably saw on Anna's dress that she's got a little motif of goats. They're peppered throughout. And we had an actual live goat. I forget how he entered the picture, but he was going to go on the adventure with Olaf and Sven. His name was Mr. Jingles. He didn't have any lines.
Deters: But he swallowed a jingle bell. Olaf called him "Mr. Jingles."
"Olaf's Frozen Christmas" plays in front of "Coco," in theaters Nov. 22.