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‘Once Upon a Snowman’: A 'Frozen' Delight

The previously untold origins of Olaf are revealed in 'Once Upon a Snowman.'
The previously untold origins of Olaf are revealed in 'Once Upon a Snowman.' By Courtesy of Disney
By Kalos K. Chu, Crimson Staff Writer

The “Frozen” franchise, it seems, has become an unexpected companion throughout these several months of the pandemic. On Mar. 13, the day Donald Trump finally declared COVID-19 a national emergency, Disney released “Frozen 2” on Disney+ — months ahead of schedule and a welcome relief to fans and families entering quarantine. Throughout April and May, Disney produced a made-from-home series of absolutely adorable animated shorts called “Home with Olaf,” culminating in an original tear-jerking quarantine ballad written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. And on Jun. 26, Disney released “Into the Unknown: Making Frozen 2,” an immersive and uplifting docu-series about the making of the animated sequel: a bittersweet reminder of the magic of coming together in-person.

And now, as we enter our ninth (!) month of quarantine, Olaf returns in an eight-minute animated short, titled “Once Upon a Snowman.” Written and directed by Dan Abraham and Trent Correy, the short tells Olaf’s origin story — that is, the brief time between when he is magicked up by Elsa in her “Let it Go” sequence and when he first meets Anna and Kristoff. In these eight minutes, we finally get answers to the questions no one ever asked about Olaf: why he’s obsessed with summer, why he doesn’t come with a nose, and — most iconically — why he loves warm hugs.

Olaf is, of course, adorable. In the same way that puppies are cuter than adult dogs, newly sentient, slightly uncertain Olaf is somehow even more lovable than his more assuredly wise-cracking future self. “I appear to be some sort of snowman,” Olaf says, followed by an iconic Josh Gad chuckle, and then, “What am I even saying? Who am I?”

The short, with Olaf at its center, gives the animators ample opportunity to show off their chops. His appendages and body segments detach freely, making for a never-ending supply of visual gags and mechanical creativity: “Have you seen our butt?”, his head says to his torso in perhaps the most whimsical chase scene of the “Frozen” franchise. This — plus the masterful lighting, vivid backdrops, and flawless production design — once again cements Walt Disney Animation Studios’ place at the forefront of animation.

The short also contains plenty of callbacks to the original film. Kristoff, Anna, and Elsa make brief appearances, as do Oaken the shopkeeper and a pack of hungry wolves. Die-hard “Frozen” fans will also recognize Anna’s coronation dress being sold at Oaken’s, as well as the picnic blanket from “Some Things Never Change” flashing by for (quite literally) a single frame.

Deviating from “Frozen Fever” and “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure,” this short sadly lacks its own original songs, but motifs from the original film surface in the score: Most obviously, themes from “In Summer” and “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”, but also a lighter, bouncier version of “Sorcery” (the haunting leitmotif that plays when Elsa initially flees Arendelle in the original film). In the short, this theme plays as Olaf begins his journey — a musical parallel that emphasizes Olaf’s creation as the manifestation of Elsa’s repressed childhood joy, a physical embodiment of the happiness and fun she yearned for after being locked away.

One could argue that, of all the characters in the “Frozen” franchise, Olaf has had the most on-screen character development — becoming sentient in “Frozen”; learning the true meaning of Christmas in “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure”; grappling with anger, accepting change, and literally dying in “Frozen 2.” Ultimately, however, he’s still the same lovable, goofy, relentlessly optimistic snowman we met almost a decade ago: a reminder that, even in these uncertain times, (to use a line from “Frozen 2”), some things never change.

—Staff writer Kalos K. Chu can be reached at kalos.chu@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @kaloschu.

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