“Frozen” Gives Lions A Shot at Oscar Credit

Nicole Hearon ’95 had a good idea that “Frozen” might do well at the box office after she invited her two young nieces to Disney Animation Studios for a peek at the 3D movie-musical that she was helping bring to the big screen.

The girls went completely gaga.

But the SFTV alumnus, who was Disney’s production manager on “Frozen,” did not know the half of it. No one could have.

The loose retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” has shattered box office records, taking in more than $960 million worldwide to become the highest grossing original animated feature of all time. The film also is melting moviegoers’ hearts and breathing new life into Disney’s animation unit.

The feature has won a slew of prestigious awards and spun off a wildly popular sing-a-long version with on-screen lyrics. The “Frozen” soundtrack album bounced Beyonce off the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200. A stage version is headed to Broadway.

And that’s not even to mention anything about gold-plated statuettes. “Frozen” is up for two Academy Awards on March 2: best animated feature, for which it is the widely regarded front runner, and best original song for the rousing anthem “Let It Go.”

“ ‘Frozen’ is a phenomenon beyond our wildest dreams. It’s been overwhelming,” said Aimee Scribner ’82, the movie’s associate producer.

You can hardly throw a stone in a Hollywood movie studio without hitting an LMU alumnus. But when it came to making “Frozen,” the university was particularly well represented, notably in several key roles.

Hearon and Scribner, who between them have 35 years at the House of Mouse and also collaborated on the 2010 Disney Animation hit “Tangled,” worked closely on “Frozen” with Bryan Davidson ’92, a Disney creative executive who was part of the development team that guided the film to fruition.

Lending a hand with the stunning visual effects — the mountaintop ice castle is a jaw-dropping feat of digital artistry — was Timothy Molinder ’92; Elise Scanlan ’12 came on board as production assistant.

“Frozen” is the story of the woebegone Princess Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) and her irrepressible younger sister, Anna (Kristen Bell). When Elsa’s magical powers plunge the kingdom of Arendelle into eternal winter, chaos and comedy ensue. Plot twists involve a duplicitous suitor, a mountain man and his fumble-footed reindeer, and a carrot-nosed snowman who steals every scene he’s in.

Moviegoers who are expecting a traditional story about a princess who meets her knight in shining armor are in for a surprise. “ ‘Frozen’ is really a film about family, and about the love between these two sisters,” Scribner says.

“From the very beginning,” adds Davidson, “[co-director] Chris Buck knew two things: that this was a tale about two sisters, one ruled by love, the other by fear; and that the movie’s climax was a moment of redemption.”

“As much as different story points may have changed throughout development, those ideas were two guiding stars that the filmmakers never lost sight of — and it’s great to see audiences embrace that.”

Where will the Lions be on Oscar night? Scribner was hoping to score a last-minute ticket. Davidson will be in front of the TV, as will Hearon, who will join her mom, Elinor, for the pair’s annual ritual — dinner, Academy Awards ballots and lots of yelling.

They’ll all be on the edge of their seats for “the envelope, please.” Strange as it sounds, Disney has never won for best animated feature.

“I’m really excited,” Hearon says. “Winning would mean bringing the Oscar to where it all began. We’d be so proud.”

Anne Burke is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. Her work has been published in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, UCLA Magazine, VIA Magazine and other publications. Read her story about Lisa Taylor ’11, a high school physics teacher at Huntington Beach High School.

(Image courtesy of Disney)