Queen Elsa and Princess Anna accomplish several impressive feats in "Frozen 2" _ outrunning giant rock monsters, freezing the sea, uncovering mysterious family history.
But, perhaps most impressive of all, they do it while wearing pants. What might seem like an insignificant quick change actually marks a major shift in the Disney princess canon, which almost never lets its heroines swap skirts for pants _ with the exceptions of Jasmine's billowy turquoise bottoms and Mulan's army uniform (though she isn't technically royalty).
At Thursday night's premiere of the highly anticipated sequel, the film's cast and creative team discussed the cultural impact of the sister duo's new looks and how they transform the traditional Disney princess image.
"The princesses are all things; they're all times; they're all outfits," said co-director Jennifer Lee on the red carpet at Hollywood's Dolby Theatre. "Everyone sort of represents when the film was made and what the film's trying to show. These two women I'm proud of, they are carrying the weight of the kingdom on their shoulders ... so they're going to wear what's right for that, and I love that you can wear anything."
"Frozen 2" follows Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) as she sets off on a journey to discover how she came to possess her icy powers, accompanied by her fearless sister Anna (Kristen Bell), ice vendor Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and their trusty sidekicks Olaf the snowman (Josh Gad) and Sven the reindeer. Along the way, the gang must depend on one another as they encounter dark forces at play in the enchanted forests and seas beyond Arendelle.
"This time, they didn't have to flee their kingdom in the wrong dress very fast," said Lee, who's also chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios. "They had a chance to choose, and, of course, you're going to wear pants when you hear the words 'enchanted forest.'"
"They're going on a big adventure," added producer Peter Del Vecho. "It's going to be very physical, so it makes sense."
Evan Rachel Wood, who voices the sisters' mother, Queen Iduna, in flashbacks and has been known to defy red carpet expectations with pant ensembles of her own, sees the updated costumes as a natural evolution informed by changing societal norms. "They've done a really amazing job of still keeping the Disney feeling that we love, but just with a more modern feel," Wood said. "The girls are still beautiful and still women, but they're just able to do a lot more now that they're in pants." Their modernized outfits are part of a growing trend for Disney, which has also dressed Elsa in pants on Broadway and recently debuted a new and improved Bo Peep, no longer encumbered by a stiff crinoline skirt, in "Toy Story 4."
According to Clark Spencer, president of Walt Disney Animation Studios, keeping up with the times continues to be a key goal for the company, whether that means turning a kids movie about talking animals into a commentary on race relations ("Zootopia") or putting its heroines in pants.
"We always have to think to ourselves, whatever we're putting into our films is representing the world today, as much as it may be set in different times," Spencer said on the red carpet. "So I think for (co-directors Lee and Chris Buck), it was the exciting thing of saying there is more than one way to be a princess."
Pants are just the beginning
Another timely topic featured in the fairy tale is the role of the environment, which practically plays its own character by helping the friends on their adventure when it feels respected _ and hurting them when threatened or trespassed.
The ecosystem and its crucial purpose was a theme that came up often when plotting the narrative beats of the film, according to songwriter Kristen Anderson-Lopez. The "Let It Go" hitmaker returned to write the sequel's tunes _ including Elsa's new power ballad, "Into the Unknown" _ along with her husband, Robert Lopez.
"It's something that the filmmakers and the storytellers all really talked about, that climate change in particular is a big serious issue," Anderson-Lopez said. "Climate change and nature out of balance is something that might give Elsa real purpose. Could that be why she has this power? That was something that we talk about, and it could be maybe something else we talk about in the future, I hope."
Nature has always been vital to Groff's Kristoff, who works in the ice business and depends on seasonal changes to make a living. But this time around, the Broadway and "Mindhunter" star said the earth and its precious resources impact everyone.
"A huge theme of the movie is that water has memory, and the idea of not trying to force the environment into your world, but try to respect the environment around you, which we have the ability to do every day," he said. "Every sort of character ... is connected to this idea of taking care of the world around you and not taking things for granted, and also respecting the power of the environment."
Also among the premiere's attendees were "Lose You to Love Me" singer Selena Gomez and additional cast members Sterling K. Brown, Martha Plimpton, Jason Ritter, Rachel Matthews, Jeremy Sisto, Hadley Gannawa and Mattea Conforti. Plus, appearances from Panic! At the Disco's Brendon Urie and Weezer's Brian Bell and Rivers Cuomo, who all contributed to the sequel's soundtrack.
The night was a festive affair, complete with lots of autumn leaves, snowman cupcakes, snowflake chandeliers and photo ops with Anna, Elsa and Olaf _ which Urie and his wife took advantage of at the after party, as did many little Elsas and Annas who got the chance to meet their heroes in pants.
"Frozen 2" skates into theaters Nov. 22.
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