Robert Lopez, a three-time Tony Award-winning composer and lyricist, and his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez are no strangers to Disney music. The duo worked on the 2011 film Winnie The Pooh and the stage production of Finding Nemo – The Musical at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
Now they’ve penned the tunes on Disney’s Frozen, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale, The Snow Queen starring Kirsten Bell, Idina Menzel and Josh Gad,. In fact, the film’s emotional lynchpin is the power ballad “Let It Go,” sung by Elsa the Snow Queen (Menzel) when she is cast out of her kingdom and builds her own ice castle.
SSN spoke with Lopez and Anderson-Lopez about creating the song, and what it is like to mix work and marriage.
SSN: How did “Let It Go” originate?
Anderson-Lopez: We always knew that we had a character, Elsa, whose powers were going come out because of something her sister Anna did. We knew that when her powers came out, the whole town would turn on her, and she would had to leave everything she ever knew behind. So she had to let go of everything, and yet at the same time, she finally had the opportunity to let go of holding back her powers.
SSN: How deeply were you involved in the storytelling process with director Chris Buck and co-director/screenwriter Jennifer Lee?
Lopez: Most songwriting teams aren’t as involved in the storytelling process as we got to be. Jen and Chris really wanted our involvement in the development of the story so the songs would feel natural. Before “Let It Go,” everybody thought of Elsa as the villainous Snow Queen who was redeemed at the end, but after this song, she started to become one of the heroes of the story.
SSN: What was your approach to the song?
Anderson-Lopez: We both found our way into this song through different things. Bobby related to it as someone who was a straight-A student his whole high school. He kept saying, “This is that person who has worked so hard her whole life, and then she flunks a test. Everything she ever dreamed is not going to happen now. Sort of like, she can’t get into college because she’s flunked the SATs.”
SSN: And you?
Anderson-Lopez: As a female, there are so many times that you squelch your own power so people will like you. You worry so much about being liked and being nice. I really related to it on that level.
SSN: Idina Menzel does a terrific job singing “Let It Go.” Did you know she would be performing it when you wrote it?
Lopez: Yes. Idina is one of those glorious voices that you just dream about getting the chance to write for. We really tried to tailor the song to her specific talents. The beginning of the song starts low in her voice when she’s the most vulnerable and fragile. As it builds, it gets higher into her belt range where the real power lies. Her voice gave us a great palette to work on for that moment.
Anderson-Lopez: I think anyone who’s writing for Idina is probably going to write small to big. Idina’s voice really captures the duality of Elsa because she can be so fragile and vulnerable, and then so powerful. Idina really does capture this kind of vulnerable outcast quality that is ber than you could ever imagine.
SSN: Pop star and former Disney teen star Demi Lovato sings the song over the end credits. Was she chosen because she is already in the Disney fold? (Lovato is signed to the Disney Music Group’s Hollywood Records)
Anderson-Lopez: Because she is so damn talented. The Disney family thing was very convenient, but honestly, she would have been at the top of the list if she hadn’t been in the Disney family. “Heart Attack” is one of my favorite songs of all time. Not everyone can sing “Let It Go.” It’s not easy. She has the kind of voice that can.
SSN: What’s the difference between the two versions?
Lopez: The bridge. There’s a slight difference between the choruses. It’s slightly rewritten for Demi Lovato. But the real change is the part where Elsa is building the palace in the movie. It’s a totally different section from the equivalent spot on the pop track.
Anderson-Lopez: But both versions tell a story of transformation from fear of letting your power go to letting it come out. Idina will always be our Elsa, and she tells Elsa’s story so well, but it’s very story based. Demi’s is a little more metaphorical where the beat starts driving and driving, but you still get the same feeling of releasing all of this pent-up energy.
SSN: Were there songs you wrote that never made it into the film?
Anderson-Lopez: We wrote 25 songs for this movie. There are eight and a reprise in the actual movie. Many songs we loved fell on the floor simply because the story changed or the main character got tweaked and would never sing in that way at that time. There was a song when Elsa was a villain that we loved, but it ended up on the floor because when we found “Let It Go,” there was no way she could possibly sing with that kind of sneer.
SSN: What do you do with those songs?
Anderson-Lopez: Hopefully we get to use them again. One cool thing is that the Frozen soundtrack will have a companion disc that has a lot of cut material. They’re all performed by Bobby and me though. Sadly, they aren’t Kristen [Bell] and Idina singing so you have to sort of look past the “Lopez Demo Talent.” [Laughs]
SSN: So those songs on the disc will be the actual demos?
Lopez: Every song went through that process. We’d write the song, and then we’d record it together, and then we’d email the recording to Disney.
SSN: You both come from the stage. Do you see Frozen ever going the stage musical route?
Lopez: We don’t know anything about what the official plans will be. But we’d love to be a part of it if it did happen.
Anderson-Lopez: It was hard to [let go] of this [project] once we fell in love with Anna and Elsa. We have our own Anna and Elsa, our own daughters are four years apart. We’ve got an 8-year-old and a 4-year-old, so we have a lot to say about this sister dynamic. I would love to keep going with this. I’d love to write a song for Jonathan Groff’s character Kristoff, the mountain man [whose character] wasn’t quite right for him to sing out in the movie. My computer holds a bunch of drafts of songs we worked on for him.
SSN: As a husband and wife collaborating team, how do you resolve arguments?
Anderson-Lopez: In the middle of Frozen … things definitely got rough. But we learned how to make sure we never went to bed angry. Otherwise, it would fill up in the room as we were writing the next day.
Lopez: We often say collaboration is like a marriage. We have both, which means we have the skills you need for both. We try and set boundaries as much as we can, but we end up doing both at once.
Awards Spotlight: ‘Frozen’ Director Chris Buck on Crafting Well-Rounded Female Characters
Trapped in Ice: Inside the 70-Year Journey Frozen Took to Get to the Big Screen
Oscar Analysis Part Two: Which Disney Films Will Be Nominated?