“Once Upon a Snowman,” an animated short film from Walt Disney Animation Studios set during the continuity of the first Frozen, is now on Disney+ and is a total delight. Following the events immediately following the creation of Olaf (Josh Gad), it’s a lively, thoroughly entertaining short film that is beautifully animated and deeply felt. And it is a work by two of the most exciting animators at Disney Animation – writer/directors Trent Correy and Dan Abraham. Abraham is a veteran of Disney ToonStudio, the former companion studio to WDAS responsible for some of the direct-to-home-video titles (at the time of their closure, they were doing some really cool stuff) and Correy was a trainee on the first Frozen and has worked himself up in the ranks since, releasing his very own short film “Drip” as part of the Short Circuit program that debuted on Disney+ (it’s very cute).
We got to chat with Correy and Abraham about the making of the movie, how it all came together, and why, if you see a wolf out in the wild, you should definitely hug it. We refer to an earlier interview we did with producer Peter del Vecho, which you can read here.
COLLIDER: Trent, producer Peter Del Vecho just told me that you have been thinking about where Olaf was in this missing span of time for the last several years. Why it has sort of consumed your life to the point where you had to make this short?
TRENT CORREY: Decades. Decades, Drew. Yeah. I came up with this idea when I was nine. No, so yeah, it’s true that I came up with it during the first Frozen in 2012 and I was a trainee at the studio. And then I was a crowds animator on Frozen 2 and later kind of got to animate Olaf. But it was all about seeing that shot during “Let It Go,” with Elsa building Olaf. And then just walking away and singing her song and she created life. And just as a fan of the movie I was like, what happens with Olaf? I want to know how he takes his first steps and figures out who he is and how we eventually get to meet him when he comes across on Anna, Kristoff, and Sven. It all started there.
And then Peter’s right. I just obsessed over it for seven years until finally, generally he’s like, “Okay, just make it. Stop calling me.” And it really was Disney+… When Disney+, the partnership with them came along, it actually seemed like a perfect fit to make this short after all this time.
And Dan, how did he rope you into his weird obsession?
DAN ABRAHAM: Well, Jennifer Lee asked me if I’d be interested in partnering with Trent on the short and when I heard the premise of it, I’m like, “I want to see that. I want to know what happens during that time.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I’m in. That sounds like so much fun to be able to show parts of the first movie from different perspectives and sort of go in and out of different scenes and stuff. And where do I sign?” Yeah, I was excited.
What was the sort of biggest storytelling hurdle that you had to overcome?
ABRAHAM: You know what? I think that probably the biggest turn was initially… It was just all off trying to find a nose. And when we kind of dug a little deeper and decided that it was going to be more about Olaf trying to figure out who he is and the nose being part of it, I think that that really clicked and that felt like a lot more substantial. But until that moment, it felt like there was just a little something missing.
Can you guys talk about the chase sequence in this movie?
CORREY: I love talking about this chase sequence because it was always part of it. We had the beats of Olaf getting his sausage nose and then he inadvertently starts the wolf chase and eventually the wagon will crush and blow up on his carrot. But very basic beats. Dan and I had done a couple of Sharpies scribbles, but really we gave it to our board artist named Seth Boyden, who’s been with the studio for a couple of years and just said, “Run with it. Just go to town.”
And I remember so well, Dan does too I’m sure, the first day his sets pitched us to it at this sequence because he does the music soundtrack with his… He does it verbally as he pitches. He’s pitching a score and the pace. And it must have been like… He pitched us like a five-minute chase that was unbelievable. And the hardest part for Dan and I was trying to figure out how to pare that down to fit into the story.
Was that process just about eliminating gags?
ABRAHAM: It was. We knew that even as fun and entertaining as all of it was, it can overstay its welcome. You want the audience wanting more and that type of thing. We knew we had to dwindle it down to the best eight to 10 moments within the chase. And we had to also have it build and escalate to a climax. We had to sort of do the thing that you have to do in movies and just kind of kill your babies and take this one out and take that one out. But man, there was some fun stuff in there… I mean we kept the best stuff. That’s for sure, I think.
But yeah, Seth was amazing because in your description, Trent, I think it was like one sentence and then the wolves chased him to get his sausage, and then it’s like, we have a whole chase sequence that we weren’t even fully realized until we saw Seth’s boards. And then we’re like, “Oh, man this is going to be fantastic.”
Well, Olaf does some crazy things in that chase. Were there any guardrails set up about sort of what he could or couldn’t do or what was canonically Frozen or not?
CORREY: Not really. We haven’t really seen Olaf in that scenario, in a chase sequence, in the Frozen franchise where he has the room and the ability to break apart like that. So that scene where his head goes on his arms and it’s like, he’s got flamingo legs, the animator that did that, Alex Snow, based off Seth’s boards… And it was kind of like anything goes, like “Make us laugh and we’ll approve it” sort of thing.
ABRAHAM: We didn’t have his eyes come off of his head. We didn’t do that.
CORREY: That’s true.
This is going out via Disney+, which is so exciting. You said that Disney+ gave you the opportunity to get this out. Was it a Disney+ short from the very beginning?
CORREY: Yes. Yes. This was always intended… It was actually the excitement over a studio saying like, here’s this new platform for us, what types of shorts are going to make for it? And it came along during Frozen 2. I was supervising Olaf already and Jen kind of just said, “Remember that little Olaf short?” And that started the conversation. So this was fully intended for Disney+ the entire time.
Peter said that you guys got to remake some of the scenes from Frozen with the new rigs. Right? Was that exciting, inheriting those iconic moments?
CORREY: Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know if the animators found it exciting. I hope though. No, I think they did. It was like a unique challenge of… I love the one of Anna opening the door because in the movie we see her buy the carrots and then the next time we see her, she’s just poking her head into Kristoff’s barn. So we never actually see that interstitial moment. I do love that. And there were creative liberties taken. When Kristoff is looking around for the wolves in his sleigh, that’s actually kind of like two or three scenes that are meant to feel like one together. I think the animators found that as a fun problem-solving exercise.
You guys have been in quarantine this whole time. How has that been? And also getting this short ready, has there have been any complications there?
ABRAHAM: Working with the short now, I mean, we’re just talking with the press and that, which is really fun, but we both had the opportunity to direct on some of those “At Home with Olaf” shorts that came out at the beginning of the pandemic. And to get to work with Josh Gad over everybody, when we decided that we wanted to get something out there to the people, to just sort of give them some comfort and some familiarity and stuff, especially at the beginning of the pandemic when everything was so horrible and uncertain and all that, Disney wanted to get something out there as quickly as possible and just give people comfort.
So Josh Gad and the rest of us just were like, “Where do I sign? Let’s do this.” And I got to say, to be able to read the comments and stuff on YouTube and just see how so many people were like, “Man, I needed this right now.” That was such a good feeling to know we were able to do something to help a little bit. For me, that was the best thing to come out of the pandemic is just to know you could give some people some comfort, some happiness for just a few seconds, a couple of minutes.
CORREY: And I’ll just add to that Drew, that we actually got lucky and finished the short right before quarantine. So we had our wrap party in mid-February. Josh Gad came, and he brought his family. The whole crew was there. We finished right before quarantine. In fact, we’re probably the last production to finish before the stay-at-home measures. So we’ve been wrapped for a little while now.
There’s a very nice wolf at the end of the short. Does the wolf have a name? What’s the backstory there? Tell me everything about that wolf.
ABRAHAM: I think that that wolf was one of the wolves that was trying to get Olaf during the chase, and it was only until Olaf sort of sacrificed his nose for the wolf that the wolf had an appreciation. I think that he sort of turned a corner because of Olaf’s good action. Because yeah, he was one of the wolves on the chase. He was after that sausage. He didn’t care about anything else, but to get him some food. And Olaf being Olaf, man, he brings the heart and he makes people feel it.
CORREY: Yeah, if there’s one thing that can come out of this it’s we hope that we can teach everyone that it’s okay to hug a wolf if you see them.
Frozen‘s “Once Upon a Snowman” is streaming now on Disney+.