Magic, Myth and Science — Frozen II: Forest of Shadows Interview with Kamilla Benko

We love Frozen II but we couldn’t help but wonder… what happens between the events of Frozen and Frozen II? Three years separate Anna and Elsa’s adventures in these stories, surely there has been some eventfulness in Arendelle during that time.

Wonder no more. Forest of Shadows will fill you in.

Anna wants to be helpful to Elsa and to Arendelle. However, Elsa seems to be doing just fine without her. After all, she is now Queen Elsa and is busy preparing for a world tour; the royal ship scheduled to set sail in a few short days. When Arendelle falls victim to a mysterious sickness, Anna is given the perfect opportunity to help… and harm. Accompanied by Elsa, Olaf, Kristoff, Sven and others, Anna sets out to make amends and find answers.   

In the early chapters of Forest of Shadows, Anna acknowledges that the best part of having opened the gates of Arendelle is all the new people and new ideas that trickle in. This is also the best part of Disney recruiting best-selling author Kamilla Benko to introduce us to new people, new ideas and new challenges that befall our favorite Frozen characters. 

A thrilling adventure coupled with compelling character consistency and a deep dive into old and new themes, Forest of Shadows is one you’ll want to talk about. Lucky for us, we got to talk to the creative and gifted author herself, Kamilla Benko.

Hi Kamilla! Thanks for chatting with us here at The Disney Blog.

So happy to! I love chatting about all things Disney!

We are so excited about Frozen II and equally excited about Forest of Shadows. Congratulations on it becoming a USA Today bestselling book! How did you celebrate the news?

Thank you! I just so happened to be going out to a holiday party that night, so I bought ice cream sandwiches—you know, a frozen treat—for everyone to share! 

Have you always been a big fan of the Frozen stories?

I’ve been a huge fan since the first time I saw it in theaters in 2012! I loved seeing the sister dynamic depicted on screen, and watching Frozen made me think about my own relationship with my little sister. While we sometimes built snowmen, our bonding activity was making up stories together. Inspired by Frozen, a movie that proved the relationship between sisters is worthy of great epics, I started to piece together some of our favorite childhood stories that we made up together, and used them to write my first book: The Unicorn Quest, a story about sisters who discover a magical world (and unicorns!). Frozen holds am incredibly special place in my heart, because it gave me that push to start writing our sister stories down.   

What inspired you to write a novel based on the characters we know and love from Frozen

I was invited by Disney to come play in their world! It’s one of those funny things where art inspires art inspires more art. Frozen inspired me to write The Unicorn Quest, which then the editors at Disney read and based on that, reached out to see if I would be interested in crafting a bridge between the Frozen movies and my response was literally, “When can I start?!” It was such an honor to be trusted with these beloved characters. Sometimes, I still can’t believe it actually happened! 

How did you come up with the title?

I came up with a list of about thirty titles, and from that, the filmmakers selected Forest of Shadows, which was always one of my favorites. I love how it evokes a sense of things stirring and lurking just beyond eyesight, ready to tear through at any moment. It’s also a nod to the sickness that’s taking over Arendelle in the first pages, as well as to a key quote in the book: “Fear is the shadow of love.” 

Forest of Shadows is Anna-driven. Tell us about that.

I have a huge soft spot for Anna. She’s incredibly brave, clever, optimistic, curious, determined… and she’s also the little sister. Though three years pass for both sisters, there is a much bigger difference between 18 and 21 than there is between 21 and 24. Afterall, in the first movie, Anna is still a teenager! She had more growing up to do between the movies than Elsa. And so, knowing Anna’s ultimate role at the end of Frozen II, I thought it was important to show the steps Anna took to prepare for her destiny. (Elsa’s not the only one with a greater purpose!)  Forest of Shadows begins with Anna thinking of herself as a follower, but by the end of the book, she’s proven to the reader and to herself that she actually has all the qualities of a great leader. 

The story is also very much an exploration of Anna’s and Elsa’s relationship particularly from Anna’s perspective. In Frozen, we are introduced to key dynamics between the sisters in the Do You Want to Build A Snowman? sequence. Forest of Shadows digs deeper into the same sentiments we see played out in the song: Elsa’s preoccupation, or that she is too busy for Anna, and Anna waiting – for Elsa, for acknowledgement and, more broadly, for the sense that she is an asset to Arendelle. Tell us about the writing and brainstorming process that went into developing these dynamics for Forest of Shadows.  

I was really lucky to have a lot of guidance from the filmmakers, who spent years thinking about the emotional psyche of the sisters. Certain deleted scenes and character traits were shared with me when I first start brainstorming Forest of Shadows, including how much the sisters’ childhood affected their adult perception of the world. Though they had their reasons, every member of Anna’s family kept a huge, important secret from her, which ultimately impacted Anna’s view of herself. And then there is Elsa, who has spent a huge chunk of her life taking on burdens way too big for just one person and who never really had the opportunity to learn how to communicate openly. It’s as King Agnarr said, “The past has a way of returning.” And the sisters’ traumatic pasts are constantly with them. And so I grabbed onto that theme and married it with another big Frozen theme: Myth. And that—without giving too much away!—forms the core of Forest of Shadows

In fact, this is why Forest of Shadows is called a bridge between the movies— because it takes a major theme of Frozen (“Fear”) and then introduces the major themes of Frozen II (“Seeking answers” and “Myths.”) 

Despite Anna constantly vying for Elsa’s approval, Anna proves that she is resourceful and self-sufficient (despite being a little clumsy, like we all can be at the best of times). “Anna was her own source of light in a castle of darkness.” We love this line. Was it difficult balancing these aspects of Anna’s personality in order to drive the story forward or did it just sort of happen as the events of the story unfolded? 

I love that line, too! As for balancing Anna’s personality with the story, it wasn’t difficult because the events of the story could have only happened because of Anna’s personality. If she wasn’t so resourceful and self-sufficient, she never would have tried the spell in her mother’s book and called the wolf into Arendelle. Personality affects a character’s choice, and a choice affects the story’s outcome. I tried to make sure that every twist and turn in the story only happened because of a choice Anna (or Elsa or any of the other characters) made. Or at least, that was my goal!  

Speaking of potential difficulties, how do you ensure that the characters’ personalities are consistent with those we know from the films? You did such a perfect job with all the characters, but especially Olaf. His one liners and trinkets of information were spot on! We practically heard them in Josh Gad’s voice!

Interview continues on page 2

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