[Interview] DisneyPlus’ ‘ONCE UPON A SNOWMAN’ showcases Olaf’s genesis

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Courtney Howard // Film Critic

As the FROZEN franchise continues to snowball, gaining momentum in popularity since its release in 2013, new layers behind the beloved characters are revealed. In the DisneyPlus short, ONCE UPON A SNOWMAN, we learn a bit more how Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad) became the snowman who loves warm hugs. It could really be called, OLAF: GENISUS.

This short posits that there’s a significant amount of time lapse in between when Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) magically summons him during her “Let It Go” power ballad, and when he first appears to Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) and Kristoff (voiced by Jonathan Groff). Writers-directors Trent Correy and Dan Abraham thought they could create a prequel journey for the perky protagonist to take before really coming into his own in the feature-length film. Correy explained, on the recent virtual press conference, that this idea began germinating back in 2012.

“Elsa meets Olaf and it’s beautiful – and then she just walks away. She creates life and she walks away and I was like, there’s got to be a story there. I want to see what Olaf’s first steps are like and we don’t see them for another 20 minutes in the film.”

Abraham was equally curious about Olaf’s love of summer.

“[It was] what little things can we weave in there that makes sense or that would answer questions or whatever? And, one of them I always had was like, ‘Well, he is obsessed with summer, yet he doesn’t know he would melt. How does that work? How does he know what summer is?’ So, there was a very logical explanation for that. And we see it in this little short. It kind of wrote itself.”

Gad, of course, was eager to return and further explore his character. Correy said he stuck to the script, but was the magic that, once again, brought his trials and travails to life.

“He came in right after FROZEN 2 to record this with us. He gives you so much as an actor and a comedian. Dan and I were in the recording booth with him, not behind glass. And I think the hardest part about that was just trying not laugh so we didn’t mess up the take. I was covering my mouth most the time, just spitting while Josh just having a blast.”

Olaf looks on in ONCE UPON A SNOWMAN. Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

Since this short shows some of the first film’s familiar moments, some of those needed to be re-animated. One of those sequences referenced was where Olaf walks into Oaken’s cabin as Anna walks out. Head of story Becky Bresee elucidated,

“The whole project was neat in that we know who animated the first moments and then seeing those moments from a totally different angle. I have it in my head who animated the shot, the movements they did, the acting and you have insight to what’s happening next and before and all that. So it’s just really fun to see it all connect. Anna and Olaf narrowly miss each other. Except that all that gets smashed by the door, so she didn’t miss him. She got him. It’s just neat to see these moments play out in a different way.”

You also wouldn’t think there would be any ideas these filmmakers left on the cutting room floor, as it were. But there are. Correy shared a few, saying,

“In an early version, actually, instead of Elsa’s cape coming off, it was her glove and it kind of slapped Olaf to life.”

Abraham explained why there’s no new songs in it.

“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. And instead of force it, we’re songless.”

There’s also quite a few Easter Eggs inserted into this 7-minute-long short. Correy and Abraham spilled a few of them. Corey began, stating,

“There’s a lot of little fun tidbits throughout the short, because we’re showing it from a different perspective, obviously. One of the ones I love is Oaken selling Anna’s coronation dress.”

Abraham added,

“We see a MOANA [reference] – a shot – in there. I think there might be a TANGLED image.”

ONCE UPON A SNOWMAN hits DisneyPlus on October 23.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.