By the time Beck finished work on Frozen and it was unleashed like a galloping reindeer into the world in November 2013, he found himself in the midst of unprecedented success. Frozen became not only the highest grossing movie of the year worldwide but the highest grossing animated film of all time (until 2019's The Lion King took the spot) and an Oscar winner for best animated feature. Its soundtrack, which won two Grammys, became Billboard's No. 1 album of 2014 (the first for a Disney film since Mary Poppins in 1965) and an oft-played staple of family car rides the world over.
"I was so proud about how the film ended up and of my work in it," says Beck, who had built his career scoring a range of comedy films, including Pitch Perfect and Hot Tub Time Machine. "It meant so much not only to me, but to so many fans of the film all over the world. I could really trace my career to before and after Frozen with just how different it is."
As a result of its success, a sequel became as obvious as snowflakes in the kingdom of Arendelle, and on Nov. 22, Frozen 2 will skate into theaters, with its soundtrack already out. The initial process of crafting a follow-up, much like the first movie, started with a simple conversation. "I was not privy to a script for either the first or second Frozen, but that's just due to the nature of the process of animated films," explains Beck. "To my knowledge, there's not a finished script before they start animating." According to Beck, while the filmmakers do know what the basic story will be, how it evolves is rooted in organic storytelling.
"One of the beauties of animation is that no matter where you are in the process, if you have an idea for a new scene, you can have a quick conversation with one of the animators and have a very rough animatic to put into the movie, record some voices and watch the movie with the scene in it the next day," says Beck of the subtle tinkering. "That's why a company like Disney has such a great track record of making movies that are so successful. They really have it down when it comes to developing the story and giving themselves the luxury of time to make sure it's really working on all of these levels."
Beck had some key thoughts in mind when it came to tackling the sequel, which takes place three years after the first film and involves a quest for (what else?) Elsa to save her kingdom. "My first step is that I knew that I wanted to introduce new themes for some of the characters and situations," he says of the delicate process of creating a new musical world while also staying true to the style and spirit of the first film. "The reason why we make and like sequels as audience members is because we want to continue telling a story in the same universe, and that translates to the music as well," he says. "You want to continue the template that's been established, but you don't want it to feel repetitive. Adding to that tricky puzzle to solve is the idea of wanting to top yourself, and that applies across all departments. When I approach a sequel, I want to do better. I want it to be more awesome, more spectacular, more moving and more emotional than the first score."
Having said that, both the evolution of the characters and the audience was front of mind. "The same audience that enjoyed the first Frozen is now six years older," Beck points out. "As a result, compared to the first film, this one is a little bit darker, a little bit deeper, a little bit more epic and a little bit less… I don't want to say the first film is juvenile, but this sequel feels more mature. At the same time, you don't want to go too far in that direction because you also want to appeal to a new generation of kids." In fact, Beck's initial score for the sequel was a bit too dark. "I ended up writing some very serious music at the expense of not accentuating or highlighting some of the more comedic moments enough. I think that as we worked on it, we realized we had to dial it back."
Much like the first film, the musical elements in Frozen 2 conjure brisk temperatures and icy terrain. "I'm grateful that this film had hooks I could hang my hat on," Beck says. "Alongside the magical aspects, we played with the wintry setting that calls to mind certain kinds of textures." According to Beck, the score contains "your standard tinkly stuff," but there are added elements that led him to get creative and think outside the ice box. "If you drag your cello or bass bow across a glockenspiel instead of striking it with a mallet, it gives off a very pure, high, icy tone." In addition, Beck also made sure to include woodwind instruments. "We used them in ways I haven't really on any of my previous scores," he explains. "I think they're underused in today's blockbuster score climate."
Beck also drew on early research for the first film, which included Disney sending a scout team to Norway. "They took a ton of pictures and video, and also brought back a lot of CDs," he says, noting they included a choral group from Trondheim dubbed Cantus on the original score. Beck also did his own research, leading him to dabble in everything from Scandinavian yodeling (specifically kulning) as well as an ancient herding call played on a traditional instrument called the bukkehorn. "It was all an easy and rewarding way to give the score a unique feel, and sense of place and time," he explains. "There has to be a certain expectation that there's going to be a big traditional orchestra, so you mash that up together and hopefully the result is something that's familiar but also unique," he says. "It is a Disney princess movie after all, so I can't go in there with 12 tubas."
Right off the bat, Beck and the filmmakers included a musical nod that can be heard as the highly anticipated film opens. "Without giving anything away, we decided to put a piece of music over the Disney logo that's going to be very familiar for fans," he teases. "It's not just a retread but a new presentation of a very iconic music moment from the original. Which is to say, it's not going to be a crazy new movie, this is still the Frozen you love with Anna and Elsa and Olaf. It's to welcome them back into the world before we take them into a new direction."