A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Walt Disney Animation in Burbank to take an early look at some footage from Frozen II, the highly-anticipated sequel to the 2013 mega-hit. Returning directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck and their team spent the last four years making this film, which is only the fourth sequel in Disney Animation history not counting direct-to-video movies. Read on to discover what we learned about the film's story, its new characters, the changes to Arendelle since the original movie, and much, much more.
As producer Peter Del Vecho was traveling the world, he kept hearing the same question over and over: Where did Elsa get her icy powers? In an early morning presentation, Buck told us that he and the other filmmakers realized there were many other questions left unanswered by the first film: How have Elsa's powers grown? Why was Anna born the way she was? Where were their parents going when their ship went down? Is there really such a thing as happily ever after?
On the first Frozen, Lee, Buck, and Del Vecho were so busy breaking the story that they didn't have time to go on the artist research trip to Norway. But for this film, they and several artists visited Norway, Finland, and Iceland and were inspired by the natural beauty of those places. Not only did the trip result in more distinct details being worked into the locations in this movie, but it inspired a key story element as well: providing a stark difference between Anna and Elsa. “Anna felt at home in Norway with its fairy tale settings, but Elsa felt strangely at home in the stark, mythic Iceland,” Buck explained.
“I think that concept for us, of the fairy tale and the myth, became very strong. Anna is the perfect fairy tale character: she is non-magical, human in a non-magical world. She's very optimistic and courageous. Whereas Elsa is the perfect mythic character. Mythic characters are often magical in a world they are different from, and they take on the weight of the world on their own shoulders and they do what others can't. But in fact, mythic characters' fates are often tragic...But there's something for Anna that she will always fear and always want to do, to protect her sister from that mythic side of herself.”
The filmmakers again collaborated with Oscar-winning songwriters Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who crafted seven new songs for this movie, and while the core voice cast from the first film is also back, they brought in some new talent as well. Evan Rachel Wood plays Queen Iduna, the girls' parents, taking over the role from Jennifer Lee herself, who performed that character's single line in the first movie. “She's ice cold.” And Sterling K. Brown is also on board as Lt. Mattias, “a soldier who's been trapped in an enchanted forest since a fierce battle broke out over thirty years ago when Anna and Elsa's grandfather was actually king.”
The footage presentation began with the opening scene of the movie, in which Young Anna and Elsa are being told a true tale by their father, King Agnarr. He tells them about a real enchanted forest that he got to visit once as a boy, a forest ruled by the magical spirits of nature: air, fire, water, and earth. On that visit, something went very wrong and enraged the spirits, and Agnarr barely survived. He's not sure who saved his life, but a haunting voice called out and a magical mist enveloped the forest, blocking everyone out. So he warns the girls that the forest may one day wake again, and they must be prepared for whatever danger it may bring. In lieu of answering the daughters' myriad questions, their mother sings them a lullaby about a place that has all of the answers.
Then the film jumps ahead to present day in Arendelle. About three years have elapsed since the ending of the first movie, the gates of the kingdom are open wide, the whole gang is together, and Anna has never been happier. Thanks to Elsa, Olaf now has a permafrost, which lets him enjoy the summer that he loves so much without melting. He also has a new passion in this movie: reading. Kristoff is deeply in love with Anna, and early in the movie, after he's alone with Anna following a very funny game of charades with the whole group, he tries to propose — but she doesn't notice, because she's distracted by Elsa's behavior.
“As you got a hint of with Kristoff, it may not be so easy to get the relationship to the next step,” Lee told us. “I can't say more [about that character's arc] without giving more away, but it may end up involving a really fantastic song by Jonathan Groff finally getting to sing.”And for fans who were hoping to see Elsa in a gay relationship in this sequel, Lee has some disappointing news. “In terms of Elsa, she's not going to have a romantic relationship in this like she didn't in the first one. This is a woman carrying the weight of the kingdom on her shoulders. The heart of it is about her family, her sister, and her having to wrestle with her power as it grows.”
So what exactly distracted Anna from Kristoff's proposal? Well, she's noticed that something's up with her sister. Elsa has started to hear that same haunted voice her father heard long ago, leading into the song “Into the Unknown” which appears to be this movie's version of a belting, “Let It Go”-style song for her. But Elsa's burst of ice powers at the end of the song unwittingly awakens the spirits, and the four elements are unleashed upon the kingdom, causing residents to flee their homes. Elsa knows that to save the kingdom, she must go to the enchanted forest and find the voice calling out to her. The trolls tell her that she'll be challenged every step of the way, but Anna is determined not to let anything happen to her sister — not now, not after all they've been through. So they all set out on a journey across Arendelle, far past any place they've ever been.
They finally arrive at the edge of a forest, where a wall of mist parts and they find themselves sucked inside. Olaf is separated from the group and encounters mysterious forces in the forest, where he sings a funny song about how all of the dangerous and scary things he's witnessing will probably make sense one day he still has the comprehension of a child, but he's familiar with the phrase “everything will make sense when you're older”. Elsa realizes that she has to traverse the most dangerous part of this journey alone, so she leaves Anna behind and visits the Dark Sea, where she meets a water spirit called the Nokk, which practically kicks her ass in an intense underwater sequence.
During small group presentations with some of the film's animation supervisors, they revealed several new characters who will be added into this sequel. The one most people are going to be super excited about is Bruni, a salamander who was specifically made to be “as adorable as possible.” If you've seen Tangled and you should, because it's very good and remember her chameleon pal Pascal, Bruni has a similar kind of vibe — although he seems to be way speedier. The filmmakers were all very tight-lipped about the role Bruni plays in the movie, but you can see him briefly in the latest trailer.
Then there are the Earth Giants, a massive race made of rock who live in the enchanted forest. They're huge creatures who kind of look like a cross between the trolls from the first movie and the massive Rockbiter from The NeverEnding Story, and the animators showed us how the rocks that make up the characters' bodies slide on top of one another to simulate breathing. You can see a good example of them in action atthe 1:29 mark of the trailer.
There's also Gale, an invisible wind spirit who provided quite the challenge for the animators. After all, how do you draw something that isn't actually there? The solution was to use debris and the surrounding environment to indicate how Gale was moving, and by controlling the speed and direction of her movements, they could imbue her with a sense of personality. At one point in the movie, this invisible wind spirit gives Elsa a hug. The animation team had to collaborate with colleagues across multiple departments — effects, tech animation, lighting, etc. — many of which normally pick up the baton much later in the process, to ensure that there were enough leaves and pieces of environment for Gale to traverse, making it clear where she was at all times. Gale's ultimate role in the story wasn't shared with us, so it's unclear if Gale might actually be a spirit of one of Elsa's loved ones or a wholly separate character.
We also heard a bit about the Nokk. In Nordic mythology and folklore, the Nokk is a shapeshifter, but in this movie, the directors decided to keep it in the shape of a horse made of water who inhabits the Dark Sea, where Elsa jumps into the waves in that first teaser trailer. “Our horse, our Nokk, is actually a warrior and protector of the Dark Sea,” said animation supervisor Svetla Radivoeva. “We thought of it as a wild stallion that just hasn't been yet tamed.” As you might expect, the team had to figure out how much definition needed to be visible for audiences to be able to track a character who is completely made of water, so noticeable parts like the tail and mane became especially important in drawing the eye and crafting the design. Plus, they had to make sure that its emotions could translate properly, so they keyed in on its ear movements to hint at the creature's mood.
Effects Supervisor Erin Ramos also explained the big differences between how the water worked in Disney Animation's Moana versus how it's being used here:
“We had to make these huge, breaking waves that are fully simulated. So, it was definitely a step above where we were with Moana. I think Moana, the challenge was just getting the water to feel very gentle. It's actually pretty hard to tame simulations. But then for [ Frozen II], just getting the right size of these waves, getting the scale actually, nailing that was the big challenge here. And also, honestly, the interaction with [the] animation [department], just the back and forth that we had to do that was the biggest challenge for this movie...like, when a boat's cutting through the water, it's one thing. But when [Elsa's] feet have to register on the surface of the water, on a surface that's simulated...you don't know what you're gonna get. You run a simulation, and it comes out like, 'All right, that looks cool.' And you run it again, you might get something completely different. Her footstep could've worked with one time, and then the next time it didn't work.”
So as you can see, we learned about the spirits of Earth the giants, air Gale, and water the Nokk, but the filmmakers were quiet about whether or not there is a spirit of fire that we might see in the movie, which seems like a distinct possibility.
New Locations And Some Touch-Ups to Familiar Ones
This movie's color palette is completely different from the cool, icy blues of the original movie. This film takes place during the fall, a season that represents change and is a reflection of the maturation of the film's protagonists. That idea extended to the village in Arendelle, where the designers actually repainted all of its buildings to match the new autumnal color scheme. As head of environments Sean Jenkins explained:
“Early on, we knew that we were going to have a song in the village. And we knew that the song was going to be the characters traveling through the village. So where a lot of the original movie took place in isolation. This was a point where we were really going to have to fill in all of the rest of Arendelle. And make sense of some of the icons that we had seen before, say like the clock tower and the port but really give it an overall consistency, a sense of history, a sense of place.”
They showed us how they used the bird's eye view of a virtual drone flying over the village to get an idea of how it should be properly laid out as a functioning village, connecting all of the disparate pieces into one fluid location. They used the VR version of Arendelle not only to scout potential camera angles, but also to get a better sense themselves of just how towering the fjords are that surround the castle, which gave them a better perspective on the kingdom overall. I asked if there were any plans to release the VR version of Arendelle for consumers to be able to explore on their own, and while the production designers seemed in favor of it, there aren't any official plans along those lines yet.
As the characters move away from the castle and out into the forests, the designers were inspired by the work of Eyvind Earle, best known for the distinctive aesthetic of Sleeping Beauty. Forests can be difficult to create in a film like this because of their size and density, and the filmmakers wanted to make sure that the audience didn't get lost in an overwhelming, unfamiliar environment. So the designers built between a dozen and twenty unique mini-islands, grouping combinations of trees, bushes, boulders, and hills together to form a small piece that could be slotted into a larger landscape. Accuracy was important, too —the plants and trees and moss you see all actually grow in those parts of the world. They brought in a botanist from Norway, and added tens of thousands of hand-placed trees into the world of the film, using mist to form a sort of back wall in several of the shots so the image doesn't seem to continue on forever. The result is a stylized naturalism that makes the forest feel like a real place while simultaneously giving it a touch of Frozen-esque otherworldliness.
As someone who was so put off by the trailers for the first movie that I almost skipped the movie entirely, I'm very impressed with what Frozen II seems to be offering. It looks incredible from a technical perspective, and the story seems like an organic continuation of the first movie instead of a forced return to these characters. Now we just have to wait until the movie actually arrives to see if the rest of the film lives up to the potential of what we saw in this early look.
Frozen II hits theaters on November 22, 2019. Keep an eye out later next month for our entire exclusive interview with director Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck, and Peter Del Vecho.
The Irishman drew largely upbeat reactions after screening for the press before Friday night's premiere at the New York Film Festival.
While official reviews remained under embargo, many critics took to Twitter to share positive initial impressions of Martin Scorsese's film, which stars Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino and Harvey Keitel.
Eric Kohn at Deadline sister site IndieWire compared it to “a greatest hits album from a master of the medium. Yes, that's a positive.” Glenn Kenny of The New York Times tweeted that the 209-minute film is “ GoodFellas strained through Silence, but even that assessment is [too] pat. [Three hours] of All American Banality of Evil capped by emotionally devastating acknowledgement of My Life as a Cipher.”
Vanity Faircritic K. Austin Collins said the film is “good. I laughed a lot.” While the GoodFellas comparisons are inevitable, given the terrain of the story and the re-teaming of Scorsese, De Niro and Pesci, Collins added, “this is ultimately a movie about the mortality of everyone in it, to say nothing of everyone they're playing, to say nothing—nothing of the mortality of the guy who made it. Suffice it to say, it hits differently.”
Onstage at Lincoln Center, Scorsese, producer Jane Rosenthal, De Niro, Pacino and Pesci discussed the film's winding journey to the screen during a press conference. Scorsese said the film struggled for years to get financial backing after studios passed on the pricey epic drama. “Ultimately, it was Ted Sarandos,” content chief at Netflix, along with his executive team, who proved to be “creatively attuned to us.”
Netflix's involvement, Scorsese said, makes the project “an interesting hybrid.” The task for the filmmakers, he elaborated, was to discover “how you balance between what a film is and what is viewed at home and in a theater or both. We're in an extraordinary time of change.”
After its New York Film Festival unspooling, The Irishman will open in select theaters on November 1 for a brief Oscar qualifying run before hitting Netflix on November 27.
Netflix held talks over the summer with major theater chains like AMC, Regal and Cinemark to explore whether The Irishman could play in a theatrical window shorter than the conventional 90 days, but no deal was reached. That means a more limited theatrical run for the film, which is part of the latest wave of features from the streaming giant that are disrupting movie models after the service upended television. Oscar attention and considerable financial resources have kept Netflix in the center of the awards conversation with films like last year's Roma even though they have riled up many stakeholders partial to the status quo.
With a reported budget of $160 million, The Irishman is also noteworthy for its use of “de-aging” effects. Scorsese said the process, which enables the film to show De Niro's character at ages from his 30s to his 80s, required particular attention during the shoot. He would remind his star — who hasn't appeared in one of his films since Casino in 1995 — that he had to rise from a chair as a man of 49 years old, for example. “It isn't just about noses and computer imagery, it's about posture, it's about movement, it's about clouding the eyes,” he said.
Rosenthal and producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff laid out some numbers for the shoot, which they said took 108 days to complete. In all, its 309 scenes used 117 locations and nine cameras, including a special one that effects house ILM used for the de-ageing process.
Pacino, amazingly, has never before appeared in a Scorsese film. He said he fell into a groove with his castmates despite the fact that formal rehearsals were not in the offing. “I don't like reading scripts,” he said. “It is the gamut these days that you don't rehearse. But it's alright with these guys. You just throw things around.”
Below is a brief clip of one portion of the press conference, featuring a non-take from Pesci reminiscent of his two-second Oscar acceptance speech “It's my privilege” for My Cousin Vinny. Check back on Deadline throughout the evening for additional reports from the premiere.
Walt Disney Animation Studios' Frozen 2 revealed a new trailer this morning that journeys into the enchanted forest, revealing more of Anna & Elsa's adventure in the highly anticipated feature film, coming to U.S theaters Nov. 22, 2019.
The trailer and images introduce plenty of all-new characters and voice cast that is bringing them to vivid life in this sure to be new animated Disney classic. King Agnarris the son of King Runeard, King Agnarr is married to Queen Iduna, and is Anna and Elsa's father. King Agnarr loves his family, and would do anything to ensure his daughters' wellbeing and safety. Alfred Molina lends his voice to King Agnarr.
Related: Frozen 2 Shatters Incredibles 2 Animated Trailer Views Record
Yelana is the unspoken leader of the nomadic Northuldra. She is fiercely protective of her family and community but is known to soften when people show an understanding of nature and their environment. Martha Plimpton was called on to bring Yelana to life.
Honeymaren is a member of the Northuldra, Honeymaren is a true free spirit and wants nothing more than to bring peace to the enchanted forest. She is bold and brave, with a reverence for the magic of nature. Rachel Matthews provides the voice of Honeymaren.
Eager and fun, Honeymaren's brother Ryder embraces life with optimism. Ryder's love of reindeer might just rival Kristoff's, but unlike Kristoff, Ryder has never roamed the great plains outside of the Enchanted Forest. He longs to embrace the world and venture beyond the magical mist. Jason Ritter lends his voice to Ryder.
Curious and cute, Bruni the salamander inhabits the Enchanted Forest. Though shy at first, Bruni can't help but be drawn to Elsa's icy magic and enjoys the cool snowflake treats she creates.
Beginning at 9am PT today, @DisneyStudios on Twitter will continue the fall celebration with a live stream loop of the new trailer with all-new interstitial content all day - you can check it out here.
Why was Elsa born with magical powers? What truths about the past await Elsa as she ventures into the unknown to the enchanted forests and dark seas beyond Arendelle? The answers are calling her but also threatening her kingdom. Together with Anna, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven, she'll face a dangerous but remarkable journey.
In Frozen, Elsa feared her powers were too much for the world. In Frozen 2, she must hope they are enough. From the Academy Award-winning team-directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, producer Peter Del Vecho and songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez-and featuring the voices of Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff and Josh Gad, Walt Disney Animation Studios' Frozen 2 opens in U.S. theaters on Nov. 22, 2019.
Frozen, which opened in 2013, is the highest grossing animated film of all time. Frozen won an Academy Award for best animated feature film of the year. The film's iconic song, "Let It Go," with music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, also won an Oscar® for best achievement in music written for motion picture, original song. You can check out the all-new trailer and new images courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.
Filmmakers, actors, and producers have come to expect largely set-rate paychecks for projects at Netflix. But now the streamer is exploring paying bonuses for films that win awards or pull in a large number of viewers as a way to lure good projects away from competitors.
The plan, reported by Bloomberg this week, is a new take on traditional deals that have studios giving filmmakers and actors a cut of a film’s box-office grosses once the movie crosses a certain profit threshold.
But returns on investment at Netflix don’t come in the form of movie tickets. For the streamer, the best investments in original movies are ones that win awards or entertain a large number of its subscribers — reminding them why they’re paying a monthly bill.
The idea of Netflix finding a new model for compensating talent that’s used in lieu of box-office bonuses came up during the company’s Q2 earnings call in July.
“We have to figure out a model that, in success, how would they be compensated?” Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said. “The fact that it’s guaranteed, there’s some discount applied for that. And in fact, if it’s paid out over a quicker period, there will be discounts applied for that. But ultimately, we want the economics to be pretty neutral or at least are similar to what they would be if they had a big hit film in the theaters. And that’s what we negotiate film-by-film, talent with — actor-by-actor.”
Bloomberg, citing people familiar with the strategy, reported the bonuses would depend on the project and that Scott Stuber, head of Netflix original film, hasn’t yet settled on the details.
Netflix, heretofore the undisputed leader in original streaming content, is set to face increased competition in the coming months. Apple, Disney, NBCUniversal, and WarnerMedia are all readying to release their own streaming services, which will launch with generous — and very expensive — slates of in-demand library content plus high-end exclusive movies and series.
“While we've been competing with many people in the last decade, it's a whole new world starting in November... between Apple launching and Disney launching, and of course Amazon's ramping up,” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said in an interview with Variety Friday. “It'll be tough competition. Direct-to-consumer [customers] will have a lot of choice.”
And Netflix is already bracing for production costs getting more expensive in the face of that competition. Hastings said one day “The Crown” — the $130 million Netflix series said to be the most expensive show ever — “will look like a bargain.”
Apple TV+ will launch later this year with the Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, and Steve Carell-starring series “The Morning Show,” which reportedly cost $300 million for two seasons about $20 million per season less than “The Crown.
Meantime, HBO earned the title of possibly spending the most on a festival movie ever when it bought the Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney-starring “Bad Education,” for $20 million.
Like many Netflix films, that well-reviewed Cory Finley movie won’t be shown in theaters, despite it’s hefty price tag.
Ladj Ly's politically-charged feature debut, “Les Miserables,” which won the Jury Prize at Cannes, has been selected by France's Oscar committee as the country’s submission to the international feature film competition. While much has been made about the decision to submit the film over “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” the decision by the committee is a historical one for the country, as it marks the first time that France has chosen a film from a black filmmaker to represent the country at the Academy Awards.
Based on his powerful 2017 short film of the same name, “Les Misérables” is inspired by the violent 2005 Paris riots, which primarily involved youth of African descent. The three-week uprising was rooted in rising unemployment among the youth, who were mostly confined to poor housing estates, and the harassment they routinely experienced at the hands of the police. At the center of the film are three members of an anti-crime brigade who are overrun while trying to make an arrest.
The film beat out two other frontrunners for the submission, both of which were directed by women — Celine Sciamma’s “Portrait” and Alice Winocour’s “Proxima.” However, “Les Misérables” is the timeliest of that trio, grounded in the realities of the country’s current socio-political climate; France, and Europe as a whole, continues to struggle with a migrant crisis rippling throughout its society.
“Les Misérables” director Ladj Ly
“Les Misérables,” which was bought by Amazon for U.S. distribution earlier this year, earned mostly positive reviews at Cannes. IndieWire’s David Ehrlich’s wrote that it was “a gripping and grounded procedural that probes the tensions between Paris' anti-crime police and the poor Muslim population they torment and suppress.”
Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti and Djibril Zonga lead the film’s cast. France has submitted films for the Best International Feature Film Oscar since the award’s inception in 1956, and has seen more than half of their entries end up with nominations. As of September 2019, France has submitted 64 films for consideration. Of these, 39 went on to be nominated, and nine have won the Oscar.
Notably, while Ly is the first black filmmaker to see his film selected to represent the country, he isn’t the first of African descent. “The Intouchables,” which was France’s submission for the 2012 Oscars, was directed by Olivier Nakache who is of Algeria descent and Éric Toledano who is of Moroccan descent.
The French submission is decided annually by the Centre national de la cinématographie, affiliated with the French Ministry of Culture.
The streaming world is changing fast and, while Netflix is the king of the game right now, they're having to adapt to maintain the dominance as an onslaught of competition makes its way to the marketplace. In this new streaming world, content is king and that makes top-notch creators a valuable currently. Netflix, in order to ensure those creators want to continue to work with them, is planning to possibly offer financial incentives to help make that prospect just a bit more tantalizing.
According to a new report, Netflix plans to start paying bonuses to filmmakers, which extends to directors, actors and producers, when a movie performs well on the streaming service. The measure of success is said to vary from project to project. Prestige titles, such as Martin Scorsese's The Irishman or Alfonso Cuaron's Roma, could depend more on awards. On the flipside, something like Triple Frontier or Michael Bay's upcoming 6 Underground would likely depend more on pure viewership to determine the level of success. While full details haven't been revealed, it sounds like this will be a fluid system that could change on a case by case basis. It's not a one size fits all situation.
Netflix does shell out big bucks for certain projects, but this bonus system does make sense. Creators may get a nice payday up front, but up till now, that was pretty much it. With a traditional, theatrical release, studios built-in bonuses for box office success, and big-name stars will often get points on the back end, meaning they will see a percentage of additional money. That's how Roberty Downey Jr. made the lion's share of his money while working in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Iron Man, for example. At Netflix, he simply wouldn't have that same earnings potential. That could all change now.
Related: Scorsese's The Irishman Poster Unites Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci & Al Pacino
Other major companies are looking to get in on the streaming service business. Disney+, Apple TV+, HBO Max and NBC's Peacock are all going to be here by early 2020. Each of these services is locking down creative talent in exclusive deals. As such, it's going to be key for Netflix to attract talent in any way they can. They're not the only game in town anymore. Offering extra money beyond the initial payout is one way to stand out from the crowd. Then again, nothing is prevented Disney from doing the exact same thing.
Netflix is notoriously quiet when it comes to revealing any sort of streaming numbers. On occasion, they've boasted when a movie does particularly well, but it's rare. So it's a little tough to say which movies in the past would have benefited from this bonus system. Either way, they're already out-spending every other studio in Hollywood and these new incentives will force them to reach even deeper into those already very deep pockets in an attempt to stay on top. The streaming wars are here and things are going to get ugly. Whether or not that ultimately benefits the consumer remains to be seen. This news comes to us via Bloomberg.