When it comes to having strong opinions — or the words used express them — there seems to be no shortage for Kristen Bell. The co-star and voice of Princess Anna in Disney’s Frozen (November 27, 2013), Bell had a lot to say about the state of the realms of Disney Princesses, both now and in decades past — and pulled no punches.
‘There’s nothing funny about perfection,’ said Bell in regards to Anna versus her royal predecessors. ‘I wanted to be a Disney heroine since I was a very little girl but I never wanted to play a girl with good posture, I was so [makes a gagging noise] — I was just so over it. They all have the hand and they all have the spine and I was [not like this at all] and I talked to myself a lot growing up and I was weird but I never felt ashamed of that. I had a family that kind of embraced individual characteristics and when I signed on to this movie, I met with [co-director] Chris Buck and I found it so ironic that he told me “I’m working on a more traditional type Disney movie” and I think what he meant was maybe the look or the visuals and I think he was also pitching because he knew I had a very traditional musical theatre voice — I’m not a belter like Idina [Menzel], like I don’t have that umph behind it, but I can carry a tune — and I find this to be the most untraditional Disney movie that they’ve ever made because it’s about sibling love, it’s not about this sort-of get-out-of-the-house-and-get-married 1950’s notion of what girls should want and they allowed me to bring so many of my own characteristics to Anna in that we would watch little sections or on the page I would say ‘I really feel she should trip here’ or ‘she should snort when she wakes up’ or ‘can her hair be in her mouth, can I gag a little bit when I wake up?’ because I wake up like that. That stuff is funny and it’s real and I love it.’ She added, ‘I wanted her to talk too much — like some people I know [points to herself] — or talk faster than she thinks, you know, and get herself busted often because she’s said too much, which I do all the time and I currently think I’m doing it right at this moment, so it couldn’t be more poignant.’ Perhaps she was, but no one in the room was complaining.
‘The reality of an actor’s career is often you do what’s available and I don’t mean that as a slam, but you don’t always do movies that you would want to see. This is the kind of movie i would want to see ‘cuz I wanted to make a Disney heroine that I could look up to as a little girl and I didn’t see any of those. I mean I really liked Ariel because she was the first one that wanted something more than just a husband — she wanted the whole new world. But other than that, I really gravitated towards Aladdin ‘cuz he was an adventurer and I hadn’t really seen anyone that was like me and I wanted someone goofy and awkward and like a bumblebee.’ In fact, Bell was — according to co-director Jennifer Lee — the first of about a hundred to read for the part of Anna, but it was her dedication to the role and the shared vision of Anna’s faults that essentially won her the part.
On the message of Disney’s Frozen, Bell said: ‘I remember listening so much to Marlo Thomas’ “Free to be You and Me” when I was growing up. The inception was she read a book to her seven year old niece that was like, “Suzy loves to bake pies in the kitchen,” and Marlo Thomas was like, “Excuse me? Suzy can do a variety of other things, Guys” and I think that I’m honored and very proud of the fact that I was a part of bringing these types of jazzy characteristics to a female heroine that girls that hadn’t identified with one previously can now have their idol; they can now have someone they feel in tune with. And I really, really like that the story is also about the love of the siblings and the love of family and that’s not just true love ‘cuz I feel like people are living not just longer lives, but bigger lives — people would get married at 18 in previous decades and now they don’t get married ’til 35 and there’s all that span of life and there’s all these blurred lines between adolescence and adulthood and what are you supposed to do and maybe you’re just supposed to live life and have fun and be nice to people and that’s pretty cool. So it’s not really just about graduating high school and finding your one true love anymore and it’s really filling that gap.’
Bell also has strong opinions on the film’s music, written by the songwriting team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez: ‘They, in my opinion, re-infused musical theatre with life because it had gotten a bit stagnant and as a musical theatre junkie, I feel like I can say that. They brought this weird kind of edgy, pervy sensibility with “Avenue Q” and “Book of Mormon” and kind-of got people in the audience going, “we were all thinking it.” They brought kind of that that catchy edginess to this movie. Even “Love is an Open Door,” there’s a lot of comedy behind that that’s not just a regular duet. We talked a lot about that being those embarrassing moments in the early 1990s where everyone was singing their power ballad, you know — that’s what we were doing. So you watch it and you’re like, “Oh, I don’t know why I like this so much, why is this unique?” It’s because Bobby and Kristen put that kind of thought into it and when Santino [Fontana] and I recorded it, we really tried to give it that sarcastic gusto, that I think reads.’
Moviegoers may be surprised to hear the ‘Veronica Mars’ and ‘House of Lies’ star actually singing herself on the film’s soundtrack, often with very strong and emotional performances. According to Kristen Anderson-Lopez, there was a table read for an early version of the film and John Lasseter had asked both Bell and Medina to duet together on the spot. They performed ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ and that’s when Lasseter decided the film must absolutely be a musical.
Bell in fact has not only starred on Broadway in ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,’ for which she left the music program at NYU after three years, but actually started out singing competitively at a young age. ‘I studied opera when I was little,’ she explained. ‘I was too small to play sports and I competed in solo and ensemble competitions which is where you pick an Italian aria and go sing it in front of a bunch of judges and you travel around the state — it’s very “Glee” — and it was like my sport. I had sang only in Italian up to a certain point and then by the voice teacher I was given “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” from “Sweeney Todd” and I was amazed that I understood the words and what the character perspective was and I thought, “Oh my gosh, give me more of this musical theatre!”‘ Even today, Bell sometimes performs at charity benefits in the Los Angeles area, where she said she has performed with Menzel before.
But as catchy as Bell says the songs are for Frozen, you aren’t likely to catch her singing them in her personal moments today — that honor goes to hubby, Dax Shepard. But casting directors take note: ‘[He's] terrible, but no one is more passionate. He is all over the map key-wise, but he’s really invested in what he sings and that’s what makes it tolerable.’ According to Bell, even the dogs leave the room when her husband performs.
As for what you might catch Bell singing, she’s all about duets and the go-to one is ‘A Whole New World’ from Aladdin. ‘We sing that a lot on “House of Lies,” the boys and I. We’re usually changing the words to whatever the dialogue is that we’re doing in-between setups,’ she noted. After learning she shared an affinity for the 1992 film with Frozen co-star Jonathan Groff, she added: ‘If I do “A Whole New World” with [him], my head will explode.’
Disney’s Frozen debuts in theaters nationwide on November 27, 2013.