Meet Olaf the snowman. You may not know him yet, but your kids soon will. Olaf is the latest claimant to the title of Adorable Disney Sidekick, whose colorful and lunch-box-ready antecedents include The Little Mermaid’s Sebastian, The Lion King’s Timon and Pumbaa, and Beauty and the Beast’s Lumière and Cogsworth.
The studio’s new animated film Frozen (rated PG), inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Snow Queen,” follows two princesses, Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel), whose peaceful rule over a Nordic kingdom is disrupted when Elsa accidentally triggers an eternal winter with her powers over ice and snow. But the real star is their wide-eyed, bucktoothed companion Olaf, who has an affinity for…sunshine. “We thought, ‘How innocent is a snowman?’” says Chris Buck, who directs with Jennifer Lee. “That set us off on creating this childlike character who didn’t know much about the world but was excited about everything, especially summer.”
To bring Olaf to life, Buck tapped Tony-nominated Book of Mormon star Josh Gad, who reteamed with the Broadway musical’s cosongwriter Robert Lopez for Olaf’s big tune, “In Summer.” “Having done The Book of Mormon for so long, I wanted my character to drop a couple of F-bombs,” Gad jokes. “But they said it wasn’t appropriate for this particular film.”
Because Olaf is the creation of the two young sisters in the film, he was designed to look primitive, with a misshapen head and a handful of sticks representing hair. He can also dismantle himself at will, which offered, perhaps, too many options for the more than 375 artists toiling on the character. “They all wanted to do something fun with him,” says Buck. “We had to say, ‘Look, guys, we’ve got an emotional scene here, let’s keep his head on.’”
As with most Disney sidekicks, Olaf will probably live on long after the credits roll. “It hits me even harder when I see it through my daughter’s eyes,” says Gad, who has a 2-year-old, Ava, with wife Ida Darvish. “We saw the preview, and she looked at me with these big, googly eyes and said, ‘That’s Dada!’ And that melted my heart. No pun intended.”