Why 'Frozen' was a Disney classic 70 years in the making

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"Frozen" completed Walt Disney's quest of bringing "The Snow Queen" to the big screen. (Images via Getty Images/DisneyStudios)
"Frozen" completed Walt Disney's quest of bringing "The Snow Queen" to the big screen. (Images via Getty Images/DisneyStudios)

This article is part of Yahoo's 'On This Day' series

From “Snow White” to “Cinderella,” some of Disney’s greatest films have drawn inspiration from beloved fairy tales.

And on this day in 2013, the cinema release of “Frozen” fulfilled one of Walt Disney’s greatest hopes of bringing another, lesser-known fairy tale to the big screen.

The film would go on to become the most successful animated film of all time and earn more than $1.2 billion at the box office worldwide—however not many know that plans to bring the magical world of ice and snow to the big screen began more than 70 years before the film's years release.

In 1936, Walt Disney began his quest to adapt Hans Christian Andersen’s story, “The Snow Queen,” into an animated film along with other stories by the Danish author.

Andersen's fairy tale follows the adventures of two friends, Gerda and Kai, as well as the titular Snow Queen, a villainous but beautiful woman with magical powers made entirely of ice.

Walt Disney began working on the concept for
Walt Disney began working on the concept for "The Snow Queen" as early as the '30s. (Image via Getty Images)

In the late '30s, Disney was approached by producer Samuel Goldwyn, who was also attempting to bring live-action versions of Andersen’s stories to the screen.

The pair reportedly discussed plans to collaborate on a film that would contain both live-action sequences with animated scenes.

The collaborative film began development in 1940, however the United States’s entry into World War II in late 1941 caused production of the film to be shelved.

Disney and Goldwyn’s film never came to fruition, and the hope of a Disney version of “The Snow Queen” was put on pause indefinitely. Disney himself died in 1966, however Walt Disney Studios would find success with another of Andersen’s stories, “The Little Mermaid,” in 1989.

"The Snow Queen" illustrations by Elena Ringo, (The Snow Queen, 1998, illustration. Wikimedia Commons.)
"The Snow Queen" illustrations by Elena Ringo, (The Snow Queen, 1998, illustration. Wikimedia Commons.)
"The Snow Queen" was re-established in 2011 as "Frozen." (Image via Disney+)
"The Snow Queen" was re-established in 2011 as "Frozen." (Image via Disney+)

Although talks of “The Snow Queen” continued throughout the ’70s as a theme park attraction and as a possible movie in the ‘90s, a treatment for the film could never get its bearings. In 2003, Disney’s then-studio head Michael Eisner reportedly toyed with giving the “Snow Queen” to Pixar, who were looking to develop a “princess story.”

During a pitch meeting, creative vice president Mary Jane Ruggels, told Eisner that the story would be about a “terrible bitch” made of ice who uses her powers to freeze her suitors only, to have a “regular guy” melt her heart.

At the time, Disney and Pixar were working as co-producers on hit films like “Finding Nemo.” Although Disney would later go on to buy Pixar in 2006 for $7.8 billion, the companies seized their professional relationship in 2004— once again halting any production on “The Snow Queen.”

In 2011, “The Snow Queen” project was officially renamed “Frozen” under the leadership of co-directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee. The central plot was adapted to include sisters Anna and “Snow Queen” Elsa, which was established during a group brainstorming session.

“With Elsa, we were still going on the villain journey,” Lee said of the storyline’s dilemma. “It was killing me to try to figure out how to make that work, and then redeem her. And have a love story. I was dying!”

Co-directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee adapted
Co-directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee adapted "The Snow Queen" to focus on Queen Elsa, a young woman learning to embrace her magical powers. ("Frozen"/ Image via Disney Studios).

Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez were tasked with developing music for the film and eventually gave Buck and Lee the breakthrough they needed to complete their “Frozen” story. The duo played an early rendition of the now Oscar-winning song “Let It Go” (formerly called Elsa’s Badass Song”) for Lee. The impactful song compelled Lee to “rewrite” the entire movie to suit the new narrative of a young Elsa learning to embrace her magical powers.

This left the production team one year to create and complete the film before its slated release in 2013. The film acquired a power-house cast of Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Josh Gad and Jonathan Groff to voice the characters in their now fully realized state.

“Frozen” was released on Nov. 27, 2013 to critical and commercial success. The film would go on to earn two Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song and mark a new era for Disney animation.

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