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Josh Reviews Into the Unknown: The Making of Frozen II

Not long after I finished watching Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian, my entire family and I watched and enjoyed another Disney+ “making-of” series: the six-episode Into the Unknown: The Making of Frozen II.

This six-episode series, directed by Megan Harding, is an incredibly in-depth look at the last year of production on Frozen II.  (The film itself took many years to make.  This documentary only chronicles the last year, but believe me, there is more than enough material here for a fascinating look into the production of that film.)  This making-of series rivals the very best “making-of” documentaries that I used to love seeing on DVD/blu-ray special features.  (Sadly, those sorts of great special features on discs are all but extinct.  I bought Frozen II on blu-ray for my kids, and it came with a paltry array of short featurettes.  Clearly they were saving the goods for this series.)

I’m a film and animation nerd and I loved watching this, and my daughters who love both Frozen movies also were fascinated by it.  (I’d thought they might be bored, but this very slickly-produced series kept them captivated.)

I’m decently familiar with the process behind the making of Disney films from documentaries such as The Sweat Box (a fascinating, unreleased documentary about the tumultuous process of creating the film that started as Kingdom of the Sun and wound up as The Emperor’s New Groove; Disney tried to prevent the doc’s release but it’s floating around the internet and can be found if you look), Waking Sleeping Beauty, and the great in-depth making of documentaries that, as noted above, used to be on Disney special edition DVDs.  If you’re not, I expect there will be a lot about the process as detailed in this series that will be quite a revelation for you.  Even for me, someone who is decently familiar with this stuff, I loved following this very detailed, step-by-step look at the long, hard process of bringing an animated film to life.

Additionally, I was surprised and impressed by how much of the behind-the-scenes stress and struggle that went into shaping Frozen II into its final form was present in this Disney-approved documentary series.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a very polished version of events in which pretty much everyone looks good.  I’d expect nothing less from an official Disney creation.  But despite that, the documentary manages to nevertheless spend a lot of time exploring the challenged faced by the filmmakers and the stress of living up to the incredible success of the first Frozen film.  It’s fascinating to see the hard work spent on entire sequences and songs that wind up getting dropped entirely.  (We get to see the directors worry in the minutes before making a phone call in which they think they have to tell songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez that they’re going to have to drop one of their songs… and we also see Sterling K. Brown try to put on his best face after learning that his main song was cut from the film.)  Additionally, the series spends a great deal of time investigating the very hard time that the team had in making the big Elsa song “Show Yourself” to work.  I loved this stuff.

(I was also intrigued to see the many scenes in which the filmmakers worked to address concerns that the story in Frozen II was too complicated and too hard to follow.  I felt that way about the finished film, so I’m not sure they ever completely solved those issues.  On the other hand, if I still thought things were a bit convoluted even after they’d done all this work to simplify and clarify the story then, wow, I can only imagine what it was like before!!)

The series is a mix of extensive behind-the-scenes footage as well as interviews with a wide array of the men and women involved in Frozen II at all levels of production.  We spend a tremendous amount of time with Frozen II co-directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee.  (Ms. Lee was also the screenwriter, as well as serving as the chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios at the same time.)  We also get to see a ton of footage of all of the voice-actors at work: Kristen Bell, Adina Menzel, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, Sterling K. Brown, Evan Rachel Woods, and more.  We see lots of song-writers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.  We also get to meet and learn about the work off a diverse array of animators, story-board artists, effects people, designers, technicians, and so much more.  I loved getting to see all of these people, to learn about them and each of their small but important contributions to the film.  It’s incredible how many people work on a movie like this.  For every person spotlighted by the series, there are many not included.

I’m impressed by the access Disney granted to director Megan Harding and her team, and to their incredible work in editing together hundreds and hundreds of hours of footage into this coherent, easy to follow documentary series.  I’m also impressed with how well-produced this doc is.  On the one hand it feels very intimate; on the other hand, the footage all looks beautifully smooth and well-planned out.  This isn’t shaky-cam, pixellated stuff.  The film has the polish of the most slickly-produced piece of Disney propaganda fluff, and yet, at the same time as the over-all series is clearly intended to make Disney look good, it feels like a wonderfully personal, honest look at the making of the film.  I’m impressed with that Ms. Harding and her team found this tricky balance so seemingly effortlessly.

Into The Unknown: The Making off Frozen II is a deep, deep dive into the making of this Disney animated feature.  I had a great time watching it.

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