Once Upon a Snowman is now streaming on Disney+ and ahead of its release, we had the chance to sit down with Trent Correy (Director), Dan Abraham (Director), Becky Bresee (Head of Animation) and Peter Del Vecho (Creative Consultant).
When he first appeared in Frozen, Olaf was the mascot, the BB-8, the comic relief. But, like Star Wars’ droids, something about Olaf’s childlike innocence and anthropomorphism drew audiences to him. He became a star and a much-loved fixture of Frozen.
I asked Once Upon a Snowman’s creators about Olaf and why they think he’s so popular. All four gave similar responses, mentioning his innocence and sincerity but more than that, they mentioned Olaf’s ability to switch between cartoony, silly and sincere while not losing the heart of the character.
Once Upon a Snowman
Director Trent Correy told me a story about growing up, watching Aladdin and loving the genie. “I grew up on Disney movies in the 90s. I loved Aladdin it was by far my favourite movie and the Genie was my favourite character. What I loved about the genie was that he could be hilarious and change shapes but he could also be sincere, like Olaf. Olaf’s innocence as a child and slightly naive look at the world means he can really hit on some profound emotional things, he can zero in on things that maybe as adults we miss.”
Which, like the Genie in Aladdin, makes Olaf the heart of Frozen. Frozen may be Anna and Elsa’s story but Olaf is the character that holds it together and is the audiences window into this fantastical world.
In Once Upon a Snowman, Olaf is the star, it’s his story, however it fits around the already established narrative of Frozen, expands upon storybeats in that film and does so without feeling forced or unnatural. Asking the creators about this, I assumed there would have been some difficulty in getting everything ti line up nicely, without affecting either story but I was way off.
Correy and Abraham explained that once Correy pitched the idea, the plot just worked. Everything seemed to line up and creating Olaf’s story around Anna’s was simple. The team watched the section from Frozen they wanted to expand upon over and over to pick the moments to highlight and as long as Olaf’s origin didn’t step on Frozen, they went to town with plotting and story ideas.
It was a fun challenge and I think Dan did a great job of saying we don’t want to focus on a love story.
his identity, him searching for who he is But when we can have these gags fall in, it’s really fun for the fans AnD the viewers and it’s fun for us to think of these ideas.
Whether it’s Olaf inadvertently causing the Wolf chase or his character being smashed by the sleigh or getting hit by the door by ANNA, I think that’s fun stuff for us.
Correy and Abraham also told me how they played around with Olaf’s nose during Once Upon a Snowman. The centrepiece of the short focuses on Olaf trying a range of noses at Wandering Oaken’s as Anna had just purchased the last few carrots. While in the film they eventually settle on a summer sausage (a nod to Olaf’s summer obsession) they nearly used the fish seen briefly during the montage.
Correy’s original pitch had the fish nose for the duration, but Abraham thought it was better suited to a short gag. “When he’s running around with a fish on his face for several minutes, it’s too much,” Abraham explained. “When he’s being chased by wolves, to me, a fish is better suited to cats, so the story math adds up better if his nose is meat.”
Speaking of story math, the use of the summer sausage also just fit because of Olaf’s love of summer. So for Correy and Abraham, the story always worked and inserting Olaf in and around the plot of Frozen was a fun challenge.
As the beating heart of the Frozen films and now his own short, I asked if it was important for Disney to release feel-good films, especially during these unprecedented times both due to COVID and political unrest.
“It’s super important messaging for us,” Abraham said. “For people out there who are struggling, watching our 7-minute shorts and forgetting about everything going on and getting a warm hug, that’s the power of Disney.”
The mention of a warm hug references Olaf’s final line in the film (which is a real tearjerker) and when I mention it to Bresee, she tells me just hearing me recite the line gave her goosebumps. Del Vecho added, “I think all our films are meant to give hope in one way or another and that’s certainly needed in the world today.”
Abraham added, “Big thanks to Josh Gad for being able to deliver that line in just the right way. It all hinged on that and thay guy, man, he can bring the funny and he can also make you cry and man, what a pleasure to work with.”
All four of the creators of Once Upon a Snowman echoed that sentiment. They all agreed, Josh Gad was an absolutely stellar performer and a great person to work with. “Josh is exactly as he seems,” Correy said. “He’s loving and when he enters a room he gives everyone a hug and asks them how they’re doing. He’s a friend of the studios and he’s genuinely interested in the process.
He came to our wrap party and brought his family and kids and they all got to enjoy it.”
When it comes to Olaf, it’s impossible to separate the actor from the character and when I ask whether Olaf can carry an entire film, even a short, on his own, the creators point to Gad’s ability to bring Olaf to life. “The way Josh Gad gives Olaf fun and sincerity makes him a well-rounded sidekick. If he were silly and goofy for seven minutes I don’t think the short would be as good as it is.”
While nobody would tell me anything about a potential return to the universe of Frozen, Correy told me he would jump at any opportunity to work with Josh Gad. After watching Once Upon a Snowman it’s clear that Olaf is a character who’s able to hold his own and tell his own stories and Josh Gad is an actor capable of bringing him to life with boy joy, silliness, sincerity and heart.
Once Upon a Snowman is streaming now on Disney+.
Thanks to Trent Correy, Dan Abraham, Becky Bresee and Peter Del Vecho for their time.