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The Fresh Air Interview
Thu April 10, 2014
Songwriters Behind 'Frozen' Let Go Of The Princess Mythology
Originally published on Fri April 11, 2014 6:29 am
If you have young children, you may know by heart the songs from the Disney animated musical Frozen, including its massively ubiquitous "Let It Go." The songwriting team behind the Oscar-winning hit is Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, a married couple with two children who each sing on the soundtrack.
Robert Lopez co-wrote the satirical Broadway musicals Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon, which is now touring. He is now an EGOT, the acronym for the select few who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony. Together, the two also wrote the songs for the 2011 Disney animated musical Winnie the Pooh. They tell Fresh Air's Terry Gross about the inspiration for the songs from Frozen, including "Let It Go" and a "very strong strike across the bow at all princess-myth things" song that didn't make the film.
On writing 'Let It Go'
Robert Lopez: When this song came to us, we were on a little stroll through Prospect Park in Brooklyn near our house, and we both started to improv what Elsa might be feeling. So we stood up on picnic tables.
Kristen Anderson-Lopez: We got very emo. We decided we didn't want this song to be a traditional Disney princess song, so we were listening to singer-songwriters like Aimee Mann and Tori Amos and Sara Bareilles, and we just wanted to approach this song in a different way. Actually, it was Bobby who kept saying, "I feel like if I were a high-school student, that this would be that moment that you had worked and you had studied and you hadn't gone out and then you just failed a test miserably, and what would that feel like?" And he came up with the line. All of the lines that sound like a drag queen are the lines Bobby wrote. ... I did more of the feminist [lines].
Sometimes you write something for a character and you think you're just writing for a character, but when you have to musicalize it or turn it into lyrics, little things from your own gut start to ooze in there. I joked, I was like, "I think with 'Let It Go,' Bobby and I had feelings we needed to express." Because I imagine, who doesn't have some fear or shame in their life?
On wanting to write a different kind of princess movie
Kristen Anderson-Lopez: If you have the deluxe CD, you will see my very strong strike across the bow at all princess-myth things in the form of a song called "We Know Better," which was a song that was cut. But it basically was these two princesses bonding over all of the things that the world expects and thinks of them. [The world thinks] that they're perfect and sweet and sugar and spice and all things nice, and it was the two of them misbehaving and being fully well-rounded children with all the good and bad and imagination and mischief that I really feel that it's important for our girls to be allowed to be.
It got cut, but you can tell the whole movie is full of this point of view — as much as [screenwriter and co-director] Jennifer Lee and I could put in it, because we're both Park Slope moms, we both went through the '90s, we took the women's-studies courses, and I knew I wouldn't be able to push my kids on the swing at the playground if I had written a movie where the girl wore the puffy dress and was saved not by anything active she did, but by being beautiful enough to be kissed by a prince.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. If you have young children, you may know by heart the songs from the Disney animated musical "Frozen." A lot of kids are playing those songs over and over and over. One of the songs, "Let It Go," won the Oscar this year for Best Original Song.
My guests wrote the songs for "Frozen." Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez are married and have two children, who each sing on the soundtrack. The movie just came out on DVD and Blu-Ray. Robert Lopez also co-wrote the satirical Broadway musicals "Avenue Q" and "The Book of Mormon," which is now touring. He's an EGOT, and that's the acronym for the select few who have won the four major awards: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.
Kristen and Robert wrote the songs for the 2011 Disney animated musical "Winnie the Pooh." "Frozen" is about two sisters, a princess, Anna, and her older sister Elsa, who becomes the young queen. The older sister has a magical power: the ability to turn things and even people into ice. As a child, that power got out of control and hurt her younger sister. Ever since, Elsa has isolated herself to prevent her magic from causing harm.
After she runs away from her kingdom to protect it from her magic and is completely alone in her ice castle, she feels safe to unleash her powers, and that's where she sings "Let It Go," the song that won the Oscar. The character is voiced by Idina Menzel.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "FROZEN")
IDINA MENZEL: (As Elsa) (Singing) The snow glows white on the mountain tonight, not a footprint to be seen. A kingdom of isolation, and it looks like I'm the queen. The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside. Couldn't keep it in, heaven knows I tried.
(As Elsa) (Singing) Don't let them in, don't let them see. Be the good girl you always have to be. Conceal, don't feel, don't let them know. Well, now they know. Let it go, let it go, can't hold it back anymore. Let it go, let it go, turn away and slam the door.
(As Elsa) (Singing) I don't care what they're going to say. Let the storm rage on, the cold never bothered me anyway.
GROSS: That's "Let It Go," from the soundtrack of "Frozen," written by my guests Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Welcome to both of you. Congratulations on the Oscar, and thank you so much for being here. That song is a real turning point in the movie, when the older sister feels safe to unleash her power. Would you tell us the story of writing the song?
KRISTEN ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Well, we wrote "Let It Go" knowing that we had this moment where Elsa's powers that she'd been keeping secret came out and that she was going to head - be chased out of a village, head up a mountain and transform into the Snow Queen. At the time she was mostly a villain still.
ROBERT LOPEZ: She was the villain at that point, yeah. She was blue-skinned, and she had spiky hair, and at the end of the movie, she came down the mountain with an army of evil snowmen to ransack, the town, which is very different from the way the movie now ends, but it took a long time to get there.
And one of the focal moments of when that started to change was when we wrote "Let It Go," and we wrote "Let It Go" so that she still might be the villain. That line...
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Let the storm rage on.
LOPEZ: Let the storm rage on, the cold never bothered me anyway, was meant to, if we were going down that villain path, it would fall in line with that lyric. But basically when this song came to us, we were on a little stroll through Prospect Park in Brooklyn near our house, and we both started to sort of improv what Elsa might be feeling like. So we stood up on picnic tables and...
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: We got very emo. You know, we had been listening - we decided we didn't want this song to be a traditional Disney princess song. So we were listening to singer-songwriters like Amy Mann and Tori Amos and Sara Bareilles. And we just wanted to approach this song in a different way.
And actually it was Bobby who kept saying I feel like if I were a high school student, that this would be that moment that you had worked, and you'd studied, and you hadn't gone out, and then you just failed a test miserably. And what would that feel like? And he came up with the line.
And all the lines that sound like a drag queen are the lines Bobby wrote.
GROSS: I didn't notice that line sounded like a drag queen.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: There's one...
LOPEZ: Well, they sound like one when I sing them.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Yeah, when he sings it, it sounds like a drag queen. (Singing) The kingdom of isolation, and it looks like I'm the queen. That was Bobby's line. I did more of the feminist, you know, the...
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Be the good girl you always have to be. I did - my lines tend to be more from a female perspective. And...
LOPEZ: Once we had the idea for the song, it came quite quickly. It took about, you know, a day and a half.
GROSS: So this is a song of, like, girl power or female empowerment. Did you know that, like, OK, this musical is going to need the empowerment ballad, the power ballad?
LOPEZ: No, we didn't think of it in terms of, you know, a prescriptive list of songs we needed to check off. We were really looking at it from a point of view of what's happening in the story. And at that moment in the story, we did have a moment of transformation from a shy, repressed girl who was worried about all the time about being herself, and at the end of the song not only has she transformed into someone who has accepted her power and letting it out but also has physically transformed herself and has built her own palace, her own metaphorical palace in the mountains.
So we thought OK, well, that is a perfect place for a song. That is a song that won't get cut if we write it.
GROSS: Part of me thinks parents would probably prefer that their children sing (singing) hold it in, hold it in.
GROSS: Like hold it back because, like, sometimes you don't want kids to, like, let it go because they're just going to be like - they're so crazy as it is. Do you know what I mean? Like you want them to have a little bit of inhibition.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: That's true, but I think at the end of the day, letting - getting the message of don't allow fear or shame to keep you from being the person you should be, I imagine on a global level that's a good lesson for them to have before teenager-hood. If they've been living with fear and shame, and then it's really going to hit the fan.
GROSS: You kind of said that in fewer words when you accepted the Oscar because you thanked your two children, and you said something to the effect that you didn't want fear or shame to inhibit them from being, like, the special people that they are. And I was wondering if you were thinking of yourself when you said that, if you had dealt with fear and shame as a child.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Well, sometimes you write something for a character, and you think you're just writing for a character, but when you have to musicalize it or turn it into lyrics, little things from your own gut start to ooze in there. And I think that, you know, it's like I think with "Let It Go," Bobby and I had feelings we needed to express because I imagine who doesn't have some fear or shame in their life.
You know, there's the shame that you get when you're in middle school, and you're not the popular girl, and you just, all you're thinking is, like, please let me not mess up today, please let me not end up the whatever the talking point is of making fun of someone of the week.
And even now as a female writer and a mom and a wife, you just spend so much time, at least I spend so much time, trying to be good at all those things, trying to be good at relationships and a good mom and a good citizen of the world and also try and fit into the jeans and look good on the red carpet. And sometimes you just have to go you know what, something's got to slide here. I need some French fries.
GROSS: So Bobby, you've mostly parodied inspirational songs in shows like "Avenue Q" and "The Book of Mormon," and in fact why don't we play one of the kind of satirical inspirational songs, and this is from "The Book of Mormon," and the song is "I Believe." And just say a few words about the song before we hear it and what you had in mind.
LOPEZ: We were - this song was also brought about by story concerns, really. We were looking at this character from a very unironic place when we figured out that he needed a song in this moment. He was the main character in the story, and before we wrote it, he was - this was an inactive spot. He had just bailed on his mission and was kind of just hanging out in the mission house waiting for inspiration to strike.
We realized that we needed him to find something to latch onto, to double down on his faith for Mormonism and then take action. Now when we went about writing the song, I suggested oh, let's take a look at that song "I Have Confidence In Me" from the movie of "The Sound of Music." And I guess as a result we kind of got into the spirit of, you know, his actual inspirational spirit as we wrote it. But it's really more from a point of view of mocking his inspiration at the same time as feeling it.
GROSS: So here's a kind of satirical inspirational ballad from "The Book of Mormon," sung by the great Andrew Rannells.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I BELIEVE")
ANDREW RANNELLS: (As Elder Price) Ever since I was a child I tried to be the best. So, what happened? My family and friends all said I was blessed. So what happened? It was supposed to be all so exciting to be teaching of Christ across the sea, but I allowed my faith to be shaken. Oh what's the matter with me?
(As Elder Price) I've always longed to help the needy, to do the things I never dared. This was the time for me to step up, so then why was I so scared? A warlord who shoots people in the face. What's so scary about that? I must trust that my Lord is mightier and always has my back. Now I must be completely devout. I can't have even one shred of doubt.
(As Elder Price) I believe that the Lord, God, created the universe. I believe that He sent His only Son to die for my sins. And I believe that ancient Jews built boats and sailed to America. I am a Mormon, and a Mormon just believes.
GROSS: That's a song from "The Book of Mormon," which was co-written by my guest Robert Lopez, who also co-wrote, with Kristen Anderson-Lopez, all the songs from the Disney animated musical "Frozen." The DVD just came out. They are also married and have two children.
So did you think back to inspirational songs from your childhood and which ones worked and which ones didn't?
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: You know, we didn't for this song, but for the first time in forever we did. For the first time in forever we were very clearly calling on that princess tradition of, you know, the girl pulls up a little stool and tells the audience what is in her heart, the (singing) look at this stuff, isn't it neat? Wouldn't you think - like we were hoping to get that feeling.
LOPEZ: Yeah, we didn't think of this as an inspirational song flat out. We thought of it as half-inspiration and half-a little bit charismatic, like I don't need any of you kind of song.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: We did write a version of "Let It Go" that was very Avril Lavigne, sort of like (singing) I don't like your girlfriend, I think you need a new one.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: We had sort of that kind of version when she really was a villain.
LOPEZ: Right, but this one, that line (singing) the cold never bothered me anyway...
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Was a holdover from that, and we still do with the Avril Lavigne move.
LOPEZ: And we insisted that Elsa slam the doors of the palace into the - right in our faces at the end of the song, that there be that element of oh, this character doesn't need us anymore.
GROSS: That's very Sweeny Todd at the end of the show.
GROSS: Were you thinking about that at all?
LOPEZ: I always love that feeling, when a character just kind of malevolently looks at you and slams a door in your face, although she gives us kind of a sly smile in the movie.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Yeah, and when are we not thinking of Sweeny Todd? Sweeny Todd is with us swimming in our head all the time.
GROSS: If you are just joining us, my guests are Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. They wrote the song for the Disney animated film "Frozen," which just came out on DVD. Robert Lopez also co-wrote the Broadway musicals "The Book of Mormon" and "Avenue Q." Let's take a short break, and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guests are Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. They wrote the songs for the Disney animated film "Frozen," which just came out on DVD. Robert also co-wrote the Broadway musicals "The Book of Mormon" and "Avenue Q."
So, you know, "Frozen," there's like two princesses, and one of them becomes the queen. And I know like a lot of mothers, and probably fathers, too, are kind of disturbed when their children get into princess fantasies because it can be a very retro way of being female, of, you know, just being like, you know, so - everything's about being beautiful and being, you know, kissed and saved by the handsome prince and everything.
So Kristen, here you are writing a princess musical. Were there certain things that you knew you had to avoid?
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Absolutely. In fact, if you have the deluxe CD, you will see my very strong strike across the bow at all princess myths, things in the form of a song called "We Know Better," which was a song that was cut, but it basically was these two princesses bonding over all of the things that the world expects and thinks of them.
You know, they think that they are perfect and sweet and sugar and spice and all things nice, and it was the two of them misbehaving and being fully well-rounded children with all the good and bad and imagination and mischief that I really feel it's important for our girls to be allowed to be. So - and it got cut, but you can tell the whole movie is full of this point of view as much as Jennifer Lee and I could put in it because we're both Park Slope moms.
We both went through the '90s. We took the women's studies courses, and I knew I wouldn't be able to push my kids on the swing at the playground if I had written a movie where the girl wore the puffy dress and was saved not by anything active she did but by being beautiful enough to be kissed by a prince.
GROSS: So can you sing some of that lyric of the song that was cut?
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Let's see. It was like (singing) they say a princess is full of charm and grace. They say she always knows her place. They say a princess is...
LOPEZ: (Singing) Wears pink and frilly clothes.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: (Singing) Frilly clothes. They say she never laughs and snorts milk out her nose - she snorts milk out of her nose. (Singing) They say she's calm; they say she's kind. She never really speaks her mind or freezes nanny's big behind. And then Elsa freezes the butt.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: (Singing) But you and me, we, we know better.
GROSS: Nice. So you have two daughters. Did they go through a princess phase?
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Oh my gosh, Terry. We have a rack, we literally have a costume rack with maybe 50 princess dresses. But our princesses, you know, they shoot arrows, and they do math. And I was always like we can be like Snow White, the doctor to the African orphans.
GROSS: That's funny, you know, because obviously you don't want your daughters to adopt the traditional princess stories too deeply, but here you are writing all these songs about princesses, and you cast your children in the movie, and one of them plays one of the princesses when she's a young child, which she does the voice.
So are you sending your daughters mixed messages?
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: I hope not. I mean, who doesn't send their daughters mixed messages in this world?
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: You do your best not to send them mixed messages, but every time you look in the mirror and say oh, I've got to put on Spanx under this dress, you're sending a mixed message. That said, I think that there are things about the princess tradition that we can celebrate in terms of a female being the main character of a story, which is in itself very subversive in this day and age in Hollywood.
This time we had two females as a main character in the story, and in this case we were talking about their relationship. At its heart, we were talking about the relationship between two females, which only one percent of all stories in Hollywood actually pass that test.
GROSS: Yeah, so were the Disney people worried, like, what about the boys, what's in it for the boys?
LOPEZ: Yes. We wanted to make sure that there was - that the boys in the audience knew that there was something in it for them from the very beginning of the movie. We didn't want to hit them over the head with princess girl musical, which led to the way we ended up opening the film, which is almost an homage to the roustabout sequence in "Dumbo," with the railway workers.
And what we're trying to communicate to the audience is: A, what the story is about, the beauty and danger of power and ice; but on the other hand, you know, there's going to be singing, there's going to be adventure.
GROSS: Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez will be back in the second half of the show. They co-wrote the songs for the Disney animated musical "Frozen," which is now out on DVD. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interviews with songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. They wrote the songs for the Disney animated musical "Frozen," which just came out on DVD. It's the highest grossing animated film of all time and the soundtrack is still at the top of the Billboard 200 music chart. The film was co-directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee.
Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez are married with two young daughters. They've ridden together and separately. Robert's credits include co-creating the Broadway musicals "Avenue Q," and "The Book of Mormon," which is now touring.
So let's play another song from "Frozen." And this is called "For the First Time in Forever." And just to give the context of the song briefly, the Castle - is that the right word - that these two princesses have grown up in has basically been shut down because the older sister is afraid of unleashing her magical powers and hurting people. So she can't allow anybody in. But now that she's getting coroneted as Queen, she's going to open up the doors and let people come in and celebrate. So the younger sister Anna, who doesn't understand why things have been, gotten so isolated in the first place, she's so excited that the first time in forever she's going to be exposed to the world and to other people. So here is the song. And singing, we'll hear Kristen Bell.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FOR THE FIRST TIME IN FOREVER")
KRISTEN BELL: (Singing) The window is open, so's that door I didn't know they did that anymore. Who knew we owned 8,000 salad plates? For years I've roamed these empty halls. Why have a ballroom with no balls? Finally they're opening up the gates.
(Singing) There'll be actual real live people. It'll be totally strange. But wow, am I so ready for this change. 'Cause for the first time in forever, there'll be music, there'll be light. For the first time in forever, I'll be dancing through the night.
(Singing) Don't know if I'm elated or gassy. But I'm somewhere in that zone. 'Cause for the first time in forever I won't be alone.
I can't wait...
GROSS: That's "For the First Time in Forever" from the soundtrack of "Frozen," which has just come out on DVD. And the songs for this animated movie were written by my guests Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.
So, you know, it's a fun song. There's a line in it that is definitely I think not for children but for adults.
GROSS: And the line is, don't know if I'm elated or gassy. But I'm somewhere in that zone.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: I didn't think you were going to bring up that line. I thought you were going to say, why have a ballroom with no balls?
GROSS: Oh. You know, that never - the double entendre nature of that didn't occur to me. But, anyway, so talk about the line I did mention.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Sorry. Don't know if I'm elated or gassy. But I'm somewhere in that zone. Again, we were trying to say this is a Disney Princess who gets gas. This is a Disney princess who is human with a human body and we're going to spend some time with a real girl.
GROSS: And when you were writing that song, did it come easy or were there obstacles you had to overcome in order to get there?
LOPEZ: This song came very late in the writing process and we had to write it very quickly as a result. We were scrambling to rewrite the film a couple of months before we had to be done. And this song, once we got the idea, kind of wrote itself pretty quickly.
GROSS: So many children are obsessed with these songs from "Frozen" and listen over and over. And for some of them, it might be the first music that they know really well. And, you know, I think it's just like scientifically true that the things that really make a big impression on you when you're young, that you're imprinted by that, that that stuff stays with you for the rest of your life, it shapes you in indelible way. That's like a huge responsibility, like you are shaping the minds of so many children with these songs.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Luckily, at the time, we could not think of it that way. At the time, we were just trying to tell a story that resonated.
LOPEZ: That didn't suck.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: That didn't suck.
LOPEZ: Quite honestly, you don't spend all this time worrying about the impact. You just hope that it has any.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Right. There was no way we could know that this was going to somehow be the thing that it has become. There's just no way.
GROSS: So I want to play another song here. And this is called "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" And it's from the point of view of the younger sister who's trying to get her older sister to play with her. And it goes through various different stages of their life in this. But it starts with your daughter singing it. And let's start with writing the song. Robert, you've said that, you know, Stephen Sondheim is one of your heroes. Is this song like, of all the songs on this cast recording, is this the one that's closest to like Sondheim for children?
LOPEZ: You know, that's absolutely true, that's well observed. We wanted to show the development of this character over many years by focusing on three moments when she reached out to her sister. And each verse of the song is a different stage in the girl's life and it made me think of the song "A Bowler Hat" from "Pacific Overtures." So we put that on and listened to how he used lyrics kind of repeating the same images but slanting them in different ways every time that character comes back. We used the same kind of technique. We limited it very tightly to one subject and every time we see her she's singing about it and you notice the differences.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: I just kept saying, this is like that really sad song from "Sesame Street" in the '70s that was (Singing) somebody come and play. Somebody come and play today. Which always made me cry.
GROSS: This question actually comes from the six-year-old daughter, Amelia, the daughter of our producer Ann Marie, Ann Marie Baldonado. And Ann Marie's daughter, Amelia, wants to know why you cast your daughter to sing this part?
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Well, here's why Katie was always coming in to do our demos when we needed children. At the time our office was two blocks from our house, now it's in our basement and Katie has a beautiful simple voice. And that's what we wanted. We wanted it to sound like a kid, not a kid professional actor, but an actual kid. And it was just a fun way to spend time with our daughter doing what we love.
GROSS: OK. Well, let's hear it. And this is "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" from the soundtrack of "Frozen." The song is written by my guest Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DO YOU WANT TO BUILD A SNOWMAN")
KATIE LOPEZ: Elsa? (Singing) Do you want to build a snowman? Come on let's go and play. I never see you anymore. Come out the door, It's like you've gone away. We used to be best buddies, and now we're not. I wish you would tell me why. Do you want to build a snowman? It doesn't have to be a snowman?
AGATHA LEE MONN: Go away, Anna.
LOPEZ: (Singing) OK. Bye.
MONN: (Singing) Do you want to build a snowman or ride our bike around the halls? I think some company is overdue. I've started talking to the pictures on the walls. Hang in there, Joan. It gets a little lonely, all these empty rooms, just watching the hours tick by tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock.
GROSS: So that's "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?," one of the songs from the soundtrack of "Frozen." The movie's just come out on DVD. My guests wrote the songs. Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez and it's their older daughter Katie who sang the first part of that song. She was followed by the director's daughter, Agatha Lee Monn.
So how did you both meet?
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: At BMI workshop.
LOPEZ: Yeah. We were both classmates in the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop, which is a class for budding young songwriters for musical theater.
GROSS: And what happened first? Like dating each other or collaborating with each other?
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Dating. We were dating a while. And actually, the night we met was the first night he presented in a little cabaret smoker setting his first song from "Avenue Q" or three songs, two of which were cut, right? And the first one...
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: And he was wearing a red yarn wig so, of course, that's the man of your dreams writing a puppet musical living with his parents.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: But, you know, he was a bit of the fixer-upper. And...
GROSS: Like the song says in "Frozen."
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: And something in me knew he was the real deal and that we just both needed to grow up a little bit. And we were dating for a year and a half, maybe two years and he needed some help on a song for another Disney property, "Bear in the Big Blue House," and invited me over to his house to come collaborate, because I was working on other shows with other people. And I took the bus from Astoria where I lived at the time to Greenpoint, where he lived, and I wrote a whole lyric on the bus and I showed up at his door and he promptly said, we're not doing this.
LOPEZ: No, we're not doing her lyric.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: We're not doing that. We're not doing that.
LOPEZ: We're going to collaborate together.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: And that's how it's gone ever since.
LOPEZ: It's been a little awkward ever since. No. We, you know, we've evolved this process over the years that is very easy. And we, you know, we have a lot of communication skills from being married and working through our problems that come in real handy when you're writing a song and you hit problems. You're always going to hit problems. You're always going to hit, you know, those little relationship, human problems like oh, are you just hungry or do you really hate what I just said?
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Or this mood you're in right now, this is about your mother, it's not about the song.
LOPEZ: She means herself. (Unintelligible)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. They're songwriters and they co-wrote the songs for the Disney animated film "Frozen," which just came out on DVD. Robert also co-wrote the Broadway musicals "The Book of Mormon" and "Avenue Q."
Let's take a short break and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guests are songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. They co-wrote the songs for the Disney animated film "Frozen," which just came out on DVD. Robert also co-wrote the Broadway musicals "The Book of Mormon," which is now touring, and "Avenue Q." They're married and they have two children.
So let's hear another song from "Frozen." And this is one of the comic songs from it and it's a song from the perspective of a snowman, and it's sung by Josh Gad, who is also in "The Book of Mormon." Why don't you briefly tell us about the song?
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Well, Olaf is a wonderful naive snowman just born maybe a day; he's only been alive a day. He has all the knowledge that Elsa kind of infused with, including a love of summer.
GROSS: But he's a snowman and...
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: But he's a snowman.
GROSS: Yes. And so there is a line in it, winter's a good time to stay in and cuddle. But put me in summer and I'll be a - and he looks down on the ground and he sees a puddle. But what he says is, I'll be happy snowman.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Happy snowman.
GROSS: And I imagine when you were writing that you were thinking that, you were giving like the children an opportunity to say that word for themselves, like puddle, he means puddle.
LOPEZ: You got it.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: You did it.
LOPEZ: They, as they were blocking that scene in the animation, I think they expanded that pause even longer than we originally intended.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: And drew a puddle.
LOPEZ: And they drew a puddle if you didn't imagine.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: They couldn't have spelled it out anymore.
GROSS: So this is Josh Gad singing "In Summer" from the soundtrack of "Frozen." The song was written by my guests Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "FROZEN")
JONATHAN GROFF: (as Kristoff) I'm guessing you don't have much experience with heat.
JOSH GAD: (as Olaf) Nope.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FROZEN IN SUMMER")
GAD: (Singing) But sometimes I like to close my eyes, and imagine what it'd be like when summer does come. Ah. Bees a-buzzin', kissable dandelion fuzz. And I'll be doin' whatever snow does in summerrrrrr. A drink in my hand, my snow up against the burning sand. Probably getting gorgeously tanned in summerrrrr
I'll finally see a summer breeze blow away a winter storm. I found out what happened to solid water warm. And I can't wait to see what my buddies all think of me. Just imagine how much cooler I'll be in summer. Da-da da a-bub-bub-bub-bub-ooh. A-hum. The hot and the cold are both so intense. Put them together, it just makes sense.
(singing) Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-dat-dat-dat-da-da-doo. Winter's a good time to stay in and cuddle but put me in summer and I'll be happy snowman. When life gets rough I like to...
GROSS: That's Josh Gad singing a song from the Disney animated film "Frozen." The DVD of the film has just been released. The song is written by my guests Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez who wrote all of the songs for the film. I'm wondering how you both got involved with Disney because I don't know about your early career, Kristen, but, you know, Robert Lopez, your early career - "Avenue Q," your first Broadway musical, it's a parody of kid stuff.
It's a parody of "The Muppets." I mean, ""The Muppets" were already, you know, comic but...
GROSS: ...it's as if "The Muppets" were, like, you know, 30-somethings whose lives were turning out to be great disappointments.
GROSS: And they all had, like, low self-esteem. You know, so that's not exactly what I think, you know, Disney would be looking for. So how did you connect with Disney?
LOPEZ: Our first project, real project, with Disney that was me and Kristen writing the score was a version of "Finding Nemo" for the parks. And this - we wrote it over a number of years and then it premiered at Animal Kingdom and still running there five or six times a day.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: With some of the original cast members. They've been doing it - people have bought houses and raised kids playing Fish Number Seven. I just love that.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: It's funny how "Finding Nemo" is about raising, you know, that first - raising one child and we were writing "Finding Nemo" as we were pregnant with our first child. "Frozen" is about two girls. We're very much in the middle of that battleground with our four-year-old and our nine-year-old girls.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: So, you know, I don't know if our next - our next movie is going to have to be about, like...
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: ...becoming 40.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: I will also just say our first project was "Finding Nemo" where they actually came to me because I had written a version of "Oedipus A Capella," a 15 minute retelling of Oedipus with an a capella group. And so it found its way to a Disney desk and they saw, oh, this girl knows how to condense things into short versions. And they said just try this "Finding Nemo" thing.
I did a pitch and a treatment that got approved and they said is there someone you want to write with? And I said well, I've got this guy. I'm married to him. He just won a Tony for "Avenue Q." Would that be a good idea? And so they hired us for "Finding Nemo."
GROSS: That's makes sense. Oh, I want to hear one of the songs from your musical version of "Oedipus."
LOPEZ: Oh, yeah.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Oh, well. Let's see. It was something like...
LOPEZ: (singing) Who's the dad and who's the daddy?
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: That was from - I also...
LOPEZ: Oh, that was from "Scarlet Letter."
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: That was from "Scarlet Letter." I did an a capella version of "Scarlet Letter" in the same vein too which had a song called "Who's the Daddy? Who's the daddy? Who? Who? Who?"
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Oedipus - it had, like, (singing) Oedipus a capella. That king was just the bomb. Oedipus a capella got married to his mom. But that's later. Oedipus, Oedipus, Oedipus. Here we go.
GROSS: That's hysterical.
LOPEZ: I forgot about that one.
GROSS: Oh. So it's interesting, I've - you know, that's the story of incest. So that Disney would approach you after having done the musical version of it is kind of not what you'd expect. But that's great.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Well, I will say out of many experiences I've had Disney - the people who we have been lucky enough to work with at Disney - there's a lot of theatrical tradition behind all of the creative choices up at the higher levels of Disney.
LOPEZ: Yeah. Disney is not this sanitized place that you might imagine it to be. I mean, they hired Ashman and Menken after they did "Little Shop of Horrors" which was sort of the "Avenue Q" of its day. It was very campy and very kind of...
LOPEZ: ...a little off color and racy. And I don't think Disney has any problem with employing people who have, you know, done off color stuff in the past.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: It's funny. One of the only places you have to draw the line at Disney is with religious things, the word God.
LOPEZ: Yeah. You just can't...
GROSS: You can't say the word God?
LOPEZ: There was even a - well, you can say it in Disney but you can't put it in the movie.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: You can't put it in the movies.
GROSS: Well, OK. I'll point out, Robert Lopez you co-wrote "The Book of Mormon" which is a satire about the Mormon faith.
LOPEZ: And it's as equally a satire of Disney as it is of the Mormon faith.
GROSS: Yes. Right. Yes, strike two. Yeah.
LOPEZ: I mean, it really is.
LOPEZ: And there was absolutely...
GROSS: No problem, huh?
LOPEZ: I mean, first of all, no one gives me credit for writing "The Book of Mormon" anyway, so...
GROSS: Oh, because the "South Park" guys.
LOPEZ: ...it doesn't matter at all.
GROSS: Everybody assumed it was just them.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: We get to sit through those commercials every night as we're watching "The Daily Show" like "Book of Mormon," written by the "South Park" guys.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Like, here. Have another glass of wine, honey.
GROSS: My guests are Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez who wrote the songs for "Frozen." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: My guests are Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. They wrote the songs for the Disney animated musical "Frozen" which is now out on DVD. So before we go I want to put you on the spot. My apologies. But I want to know what it was like for you when you were sitting at the Oscars and John Travolta introduced the performance of "Let it Go," your song from "Frozen" which ended up winning the Oscar for Best Original Song and he said this.
(SOUNDBITE OF TELECAST, "THE ACADEMY AWARDS")
JOHN TRAVOLTA: There will always be a special place in my heart for the movie musical. And for the songs that create their most memorable moments. Here to perform the Oscar-nominated gorgeously empowering song "Let it Go" from the Oscar winning animated movie "Frozen," please welcome the wickedly talented one and only Adele Dizime.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Let us set the scene for you.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: That day...
GROSS: And, as everybody knows, I'm sure now, Idina Menzel is her name.
GROSS: Yes. So go ahead. So please set the scene.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: So that day we were up - I was up at 3:00 a.m. because I had to sign my oldest up for softball. And I couldn't get back to sleep and we had spent the day, you know, getting the hair done, putting on the dress, getting in the thing. Then you walk the red carpet, which is, if you're a writer, is like your own version of hell because it is...
LOPEZ: Very humbling.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: It is the most humbling experience to walk a red carpet as an unknown writer, especially if you have the luck to get behind someone like Sandra Bullock where all the cameras just start following her and yet you still have to walk. They still make you do stand on the X and wait for someone to take your picture. And there's always one nice guy who goes click as everyone else is going Sandra. Sandra. Sandra.
So you do that for about 400 yards of hell and then you get in and then you are with a group of people who look so beautiful and are all so, so nervous. And no one has eaten carbs for three weeks.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: And everyone is just cranky. Anyway, so then we got to sit. It was really thrilling but terrifying. Everyone just gave amazing performances, and at this point we now know it's Idina's turn. And we know she can do it but we know the weight of the world is on her, that she's in the middle of opening another show on Broadway and rehearsing 10 hours a day.
And we know, you know, all of the people who have reached out to her and said do you know how much this song means to my daughter? So she's got all of those voices in her head. And we just knew...
LOPEZ: Plus the two of us trying to be cool about it, like don't worry about it, Idina.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Don't worry. Whatever.
LOPEZ: You're going to be fine.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: It's fine.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: But at 30 minutes till, the president of music had smuggled in a plastic flask which he passed to us.
LOPEZ: Kristen is like I don't like scotch but then...
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: I know. I'm not going to drink scotch. I want to remember this. I want to stay clear-headed.
LOPEZ: As soon as he said Adele Dizime - give me that!
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Give me that flask.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: We grabbed each other's hands. My heart just sank for Idina.
LOPEZ: And Tom, the head of music, went, oh.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: And, I mean, if you can imagine - I can't even imagine how strongly I was holding your hand. Like, the sweatiest hand ever. But I felt like she did such an amazingly wonderful version of that, in spite of all of that stuff she was dealing with.
LOPEZ: She had nerves of steel and pipes of gold.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Nice soundbite there, honey.
GROSS: Thank you so much for talking with us. It's really been great fun. And congratulations on all the success you've been having.
LOPEZ: Thank you so much.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Thank you, Terry. I'm going to do my best not to send my daughter mixed messages for the rest of the day.
LOPEZ: We've learned our lesson.
GROSS: Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez wrote the songs for the Disney animated film "Frozen" which is now out on DVD. Robert also co-created the Broadway musicals "Avenue Q" and "The Book of Mormon." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.