[Interview] How Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” got FROZEN greenlit

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Courtney Howard // Film Critic

Before there was a power ballad in FROZEN to belt out to the universe, stars Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell had to prove their vocal chemistry to Disney studio executives. Those in power had gathered together to decide whether or not to give directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee’s pitch a green light to go into production. However, since the animated project was still in its infancy stages, they hadn’t yet hired anyone to write the original music.

Enter Bette Midler’s chart-topping, tear-inducing ode to female friendship, “Wind Beneath My Wings,” to make the filmmakers’ idea soar. Bell, at FROZEN 2’s Los Angeles press conference, said,

It was very cool and terrifying to be called by Disney, ‘Go to Idina’s house before this table read. Prepare a song so we can hear what you guys sound like together.’ I was like[gulps], Okay.’

Their connection was instantly forged over Menzel’s piano. She continued,

It was this almost immediate sisterly bond. I remember she put her hands on my shoulders and said, ‘You’re so beautiful. This is going to be great.’ I melted.

There was a lot of pressure to find the right song. The selection was of the utmost importance, hinging on its ability to not only show off both actresses’ vocal ranges, but also communicate the deeper tones of the narrative. Considering the fact that the Grammy-winning song wasn’t originally conceived as a duet provided yet another challenge. Songwriter Kristen Anderson-Lopez explained how the dynamic duo structured the new arrangement for the first read-through.

They sang it in harmony.

Lee added,

There was a loose script. But the whole thing was greenlit and moved up a year based on the two of them singing together.

Bell spoke to the awkwardness of the experience, stating,

We were in this tight, little board room, looking at each other like, ‘This is the weirdest thing.’

Menzel credited the musical’s songwriters creative input in guiding Elsa’s creation during that crucial stage of the script’s development.

As a testament to Bobby [Lopez] and Kristen [Anderson-Lopez], at that time, Elsa was written more as the quintessential Disney nemesis. It was these guys who wrote this complicated, beautiful, passionate song called, “Let It Go,” that informed you that there was a complicated young woman here that we didn’t have to stereotype her and paint her into a corner.

Anderson-Lopez was quick to credit Lee and Buck in their collaboration.

There would be no complicated villain-turned-into-Elsa/ “Let It Go” song if we had not had Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck in the story room inspiring us. We were talking so deeply in a way I had never really talked about songs and characters before. It was this story of the emotion between these two sisters that made us think that Elsa’s not a villain and we need to go deeper than that.

FROZEN 2 opens on November 22.

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Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, 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.