Before Baby Yoda, there was Olaf. Sometimes a character is so unique and so lovable that it immediately captures the hearts of countless fans, and before Baby Yoda set Disney+ on fire last year, Walt Disney Animation Studios caught its own lightning in a bottle when Olaf stole the show in the 2013 smash hit film Frozen. Voiced by the relentlessly joyful Josh Gad, Olaf was so popular that he appeared in various stories after Frozen, inspiring a holiday special, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, and even showing up in an episode of the popular Disney Junior animated series Sofia the First. Olaf is a character who is beloved not only by fans of all ages, but by his own creators as well. So much so, that after Frozen II, the creative team decided to keep the warm hugs going by immediately turning their attention to telling the story of Olaf’s origin. That origin story will be told in Once Upon a Snowman, premiering on Disney+ on October 23rd.
I had the opportunity to attend the virtual press conference for Once Upon a Snowman, where the Olaf brain trust of Trent Correy (Director / Writer), Dan Abraham (Director / Writer), Peter Del Vecho (Creative Consultant) and Becky Bresee (Head of Animation) spoke about their love of the character, as well as working with each other. From the beginning, it was clear that the team enjoys what they do and who they do it with.
After his introduction, Trent Correy’s first comment was to express his excitement at working with the team again. “[I]t’s good to have the Olaf team back together. Look at this group!” Correy said. He went on to explain that the genesis of this story occurred way back in 2012, during the production of the original Frozen film. “I very clearly remember seeing Chad Sellers animate a shot during ‘Let It Go,’ while I was a trainee, and 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,” said Correy, who was then a member of the training program.
Dan Abraham, who was a lead story artist on Frozen II, credited his experience working on Olaf on that film for his involvement in Once Upon a Snowman. “Working with Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck and Peter [Del Vecho], and I guess they liked what I had done with the Olaf song and they’re like, ‘oh, this guy has a handle on who Olaf is,’ and Jennifer asked if I would partner with Trent and direct this great idea that he had all these years ago. And so the two of us just kind of went arm-in-arm from there. We had a ball,” Abraham said.
For Peter Del Vecho, who produced both Frozen films, Once Upon a Snowman is a celebration of the work the group had done, and reflects their collective love of the character. “You get to know these characters really well. It becomes a family. And as hard as the movies are to finish, it’s also hard to step away,” Del Vecho said. “So I think the fact that Trent and Dan had this story ready to go. We could build on that enthusiasm of having finished the first movie and bring all that skill and the momentum that we had as you finish a movie, bring that right into the short, and I think it was a nice way almost to celebrate, to continue to celebrate, the finish of the movie.”
The Frozen world that this team has played a critical role in creating and developing over the last 8 years is personally meaningful to Becky Bresee, who has supervised all of those films as the Head of Animation. Bresee talked about how the evolution of the overall Frozen story has resonated with her on multiple levels; first, as someone who loves fairytales and princesses, then as someone who has sisters and connects with the story of Anna and Elsa, and finally, as a mother to daughters. “I have daughters, and they’re my little Anna and Elsa. So I was more invested now, even more so than before,” Bresee said. “So that’s what drew me to the project. And what’s wonderful about Olaf is, he’s a reflection of the love between these two sisters.” Bresee’s genuine affection for Olaf and the Frozen franchise really shined through as she talked about the characters.
Of course, the group collectively praised the voice of Olaf, Josh Gad, who Correy described as being extremely generous with his time. Del Vecho mentioned how much Gad appreciates the work that goes into animating these films, saying that the relationship is a “true partnership.”
In describing what makes Olaf so special, Abraham perfectly summarized Olaf’s personality, explaining that “Olaf has this overwhelming optimism and sincerity about him. And that just never gets old. It’s something that we all sort of aspire to and sometimes fall short.” It struck me as Abraham was describing Olaf that 2020 is truly a time when we all could use some entertainment that’s based around optimism and sincerity.
Once Upon a Snowman premieres on Disney+ this Friday, October 23rd!
Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture. He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.