'You won’t be able to leave the theater without humming and singing it,' the actor says of one new song performed by Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell

By Maureen Lee Lenker
November 15, 2017 at 06:25 PM EST
Walt Disney Animation Studios; Inset: Rich Fury/Getty Images

For Frozen fans who just haven’t been able to let it go, they are about to receive the ultimate holiday treat in the form of a new entry in the Frozen franchise — the animated short Olaf’s Frozen Adventure.

The 21-minute featurette debuts on Nov. 22 as the short film preceding Pixar’s latest release Coco. It follows fan favorite snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) as he sets out on a quest to find suitably merry traditions for Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) during their first holiday season together as happily reunited sisters.

Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson took over songwriting duties from the Oscar-winning husband and wife team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, adding four new songs to the proceedings. The short film will be the first from Walt Disney Animation Studios to premiere before a Pixar movie.

EW talked to Josh Gad, the voice of Olaf the snowman, about the upcoming Frozen short and what it was like moving from a supporting to central role in the franchise, as well as why the new songs will be the bane of parents’ existence this holiday season and more.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We know that Olaf and Sven are on the hunt for new holiday traditions throughout Arendelle, but can you tease anything else about the featurette?
JOSH GAD: What makes this short so wonderful, entertaining, and surprising is that at its core it’s a really emotional journey. It’s a story that continues to evolve the tale of these two sisters and the journey that they’re on. It’s very much connected to what people know about this family from the movie Frozen, and it carries on and it’s sort of a part of the bigger puzzle where you’re learning about this idea that during their childhood, which was obviously filled with a lot of hardship, they missed out on certain things like creating traditions for themselves. … That’s where Olaf enters the fray and tries to solve that problem for them by bringing a collection of traditions back that they can then discover and own themselves.

The very essence of tradition is something you build over time and that often goes back generations. They mean the most when they come from our own families — is that something Olaf discovers along the way?
Without giving anything away, along the journey our characters discover that the tradition that’s probably most valuable is family itself. There’s a wrinkle to that; there’s obviously a twist of what that means to these particular girls. But this bond Anna and Elsa share and by extension Kristoff and Sven, and of course, Olaf, that is something that is, in and of itself, the most powerful element there is. It’s a bond that connects them and protects them. The joy and the memories that our characters have is tied to that bond. And it’s tied to that idea of family. Creating your own traditions as opposed to trying to take on other people’s traditions is very much a part of the journey of discovery that our characters go on in the film.

We can expect several fun new songs and “That Time of Year” is Olaf’s big song here. Would you say it’s like the winter version of “In Summer”?
I actually don’t think it’s a holiday version of “Summer.” “In Summer” was all about a character who believed one thing that was undeniably incorrect. Everybody else knew that summer would destroy this snowman. But his perception being new to this world was, Oh my god, if there’s one thing that I could do, it’s chill in summer. Like, that would be everything. And so that’s Olaf sort of having a perception that he shares with us. What’s different about “That Time of Year” and, by extension, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure is now he’s being taught new things. This is a journey of discovery and in the process of him discovering things, he’s being given information, being presented with all these things, these traditions, as it were, and when he sees these traditions, he’s reflecting them back at us, the audience, in a way where we go, “Oh yeah, that is strange.” Whether it’s a man who once a year comes down chimneys without permission — Olaf looks at that and says, “Okay, so breaking and entering is okay on Christmas,” or it’s the idea of the cutting down a living tree and putting lights on it. These are things we all take for granted, but in Olaf’s eyes learning about all of these new things, he’s going, “Oh wow, that’s fascinating,” and it’s making people take a step back. That, to me, is the fun of “That Time of Year.” It’s a completely different comedic engine than “In Summer.” And that’s the joy, in many ways, of this entire short. The hardest task going into this was, how do you follow up on the incredible iconography of the original songs from Frozen? And how do you not disappoint? And the girls, Kate [Anderson] and Elyssa [Samsel], did such an incredible job of not only delivering on that promise of creating iconic new songs, but I really do believe that these are, unfortunately, going to be earworms that parents are going to find as unforgivable as “Let it Go” in their households throughout the holiday season as their kids repeat these songs over and over.

John Lasseter previously said it’s a dream of his to produce a new Christmas standard with the songs in this. Do you think that bar has been met?
I think that bar has been exceeded. There is a number at the end of this short called “When We’re Together” that I really truly believe is going to become, knock on wood, the breakout song of the holiday season. As sung by Idina [Menzel] and Kristen [Bell], it’s a song that absolutely captures the essence of what Frozen is all about in terms of family. And it delivers on that message in a way that is so immediately refreshing and iconic and wonderful that I guarantee you won’t be able to leave the theater without humming and singing it.

That’s great!
Or that’s horrible depending on your point of view.

In the northern hemisphere, we very much associate the holidays with winter. Is this difficult for Olaf — is he still longing for summer?
It is funny because a lot of people don’t remember this, but we’ve never actually experienced winter in Arendelle. The world of Frozen has been actually limited to summer. There happens to be a tundra in the middle of summer in our first film, but now we’re actually getting to see this seasonal change happening in real time for these characters. For Olaf there isn’t any mention of summer because, again, the thing that makes Olaf a unique and special character is he’s driven by pure wonderment. His entire existence is coming from a place of just innocence. And when he discovers these things, whether they’re elements that stem from summer or now elements that stem from winter, it’s essentially his first time experiencing these things. And so the audience is seeing him go through this season for the first time in his life and they’re getting to see the joy of him discovering all of these wonderful elements including these traditions. For him, it’s about, “Woah, this is as cool as summer is.” It’s not about one or the other; it’s about, “Oh my god, things just keep getting cooler and cooler.”

At least according to the title, this is very much Olaf’s story. What was it like going from a supporting character to being at the center of the narrative?
The brilliance and the beauty of what these incredible artists and these creative geniuses at Disney, and by extension, at Pixar do is, they never tell a story that isn’t worth telling. And with Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, it’s not an opportunity to just exploit a bunch of characters that people fell in love with. It’s an opportunity to dig deeper and discover more about these character’s that we’ve all fallen in love with and in particular these two girls, Anna and Elsa. In many ways, even though it’s called Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, I would argue that it’s their story. Because really at the core of what this movie’s about is, it’s about an emptiness that they’re trying to fill that Olaf is sort of the vessel to fill. He’s the one going out and saying, let me solve this. In the process of him trying to solve it, everybody winds up learning a lesson that’s bigger than they ever anticipated. That’s the beauty, for me, of what this story and this world keep offering is, they keep offering us opportunities to tell a story that’s bigger than the sum of its parts, that’s bigger than Frozen, that’s bigger than the subsequent short that we did or now Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, and obviously Frozen 2. You’re seeing a mural and each piece is part of a bigger puzzle and  Olaf’s Frozen Adventure is just one piece of that larger puzzle.

This is the first Disney animation short to premiere before a Pixar film. What does it mean to you to be a part of that?
It’s an enormous honor, first and foremost. I am in awe of the incredible brain-trust at Pixar, and I’m in awe of the incredible brain-trust at Disney. Seeing them partner up in a way that we get to be a small part of this much bigger element, which is Coco, it’s a real privilege. These are movies that are thematically linked. Each one deals with their own sorts of traditions, and at its core, it doesn’t matter that one is Disney, one is Pixar. It’s about storytelling and these are two great stories that I think really complement each other. For me, the joy of being a sort of introduction into this incredible Pixar film is something so wonderful for me because I have sat in deep admiration for the people at Pixar for many years, and I feel like being a part of their process is so unbelievably rewarding coming from the perspective of a fan like myself.

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure and Coco hit theaters on Nov. 22.

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