Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell are honoured with Stars on The Hollywood Walk of Fame on November 19, 2019 in Hollywood, California. Picture: Jerod Harris/Getty Images
Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell are honoured with Stars on The Hollywood Walk of Fame on November 19, 2019 in Hollywood, California. Picture: Jerod Harris/Getty Images

What Idina Menzel loves most about Elsa

Frozen star Idina Menzel has learned to let it go.

As a younger woman, the singer who shot to fame in the original Broadway production of Rent nearly 25 years ago and then won a Tony Award for originating the part of Elphaba in Wicked derived an enormous amount of self-worth from her extraordinary voice.

"When I was younger I had a great relationship with my voice," Mendel says over the phone from Los Angeles, where she is promoting Frozen 2, the sequel to the most successful animated movie of all time.

"I was proud of my talent as a singer and I knew that I had something special."

But she says that as she has matured and taken on new responsibilities she now puts less emphasis on vocal gymnastics and more on sharing her life experiences when she performs. She's also learned not to sweat the small stuff in what can be a very judgmental industry.

"As I have gotten older, I have felt like I have had to figure out my identity without my voice," she says.

"Who am I if I don't have my voice? Am I still appealing and impactful in this world? Am I still special if I am not hitting these high, acrobatic notes? The more shows you do and you don't feel well and maybe hit a bad note or you hear a bad review about yourself, that's when you have to dig deep and you realise as you become a mother or get other priorities in your life that I have life to give that isn't just about vocal acrobatics. It's who I am and what I have experienced in the world that I need to communicate. And that's part of being an artist - it's not just about the singing voice, it's about my voice inside."

Idina Menzel performing at the Disney Frozen 2 holiday windows unveiling in New York. Picture: Getty
Idina Menzel performing at the Disney Frozen 2 holiday windows unveiling in New York. Picture: Getty

Thanks to her role as the Snow Queen Elsa in the original Frozen, which became a cultural phenomenon when it was released in 2013, making $1.88 billion at the box office and winning the Best Animated Feature Oscar, Menzel became a role model to countless children around the world.

On hearing that this writer has seen Frozen literally dozens of times thanks to a household that contains three daughters, Menzel is gracious enough to apologise, but it's clearly not the first time she's heard that.

"Oh my," she says, with a slightly sheepish laugh. "Sorry about that."

But she adds that she's grown comfortable with the idea of being a role model, not least because her most famous characters - from Wicked and Frozen in particular - were outsiders, who "didn't necessarily fit the mould" and had to accept that the things that made them different were also the things that made them special.

"I am accustomed to having to navigate the idea of being a role model in that way especially for young people and also finding that in myself," she says.

"Because it's hard to wake up every day and sing Let It Go if you don't feel like letting it go.

"So what's quite beautiful about Elsa and some of the other roles I have played is that they stand as these little reminders of gratitude and also that even at my age on a day where I don't totally feel beautiful or powerful, that I have to reach down deep inside and remember who I am and what makes me special."

Idina Menzel says she’s happy that her Frozen character, Elsa, has become a role model to children around the world.
Idina Menzel says she’s happy that her Frozen character, Elsa, has become a role model to children around the world.

But surely, being held in such esteem must at least earn her some cred from Walker, her son with former husband Taye Diggs?

Alas, even singing superstars can be cringe worthy it would appear.

"He doesn't think I am very cool at all actually," Menzel says.

"He's trying to carve out a little lane for himself. He's at that age - he's 10 - so he has just started to drop my hand as we walk into school together and he sees his friends. He tells me to shut up when I am singing in the shower and elbows me as we walk into school if I am still singing something we were listening to in the car on the way to school."

But it would seem he is coming around.

Ahead of Frozen 2 opening around the world last week, when it smashed the record for the biggest opening weekend for an animated feature with a monster $515 million, Walker accompanied his mother to the world premiere, and gave the sequel the thumbs up.

"He looked at me after the premiere was over and said 'mum, that was bad-ass'," she says, proudly.

"One of his music teachers went around and asked all the kids to raise their hands and say who their favourite singer was and - he didn't tell me this, he's too cool to tell me this - his teachers told me he said it was his mother."

Having incorporated the songs from Frozen - including the Oscar and Grammy-winning instant classic Let It Go - into her concert repertoire, Menzel knows just how loved the first film was and how eagerly anticipated the sequel is.

Elsa was originally written as an out-and-out villain, but Menzel says she's most proud of the way the first film explored the bond between two sisters, and, in one of the great movie twists, well and truly overturned the old-fashioned, worn-out notion of a Disney princess being rescued by her handsome prince.

Menzel, who identifies as a feminist, says she enjoyed exploring that bond further in Frozen 2, as well as a plethora of other messages, as Elsa and her sister Anna (Kristen Bell) venture to a foreign kingdom to find the source of a mysterious power.

"There's an environmental message, a diversity message, a message about apologising for our history and our past, there's the idea of changing toxic masculinity and how the men are portrayed," Menzel says.

"But mostly I think the secret sauce is in the idea that it's about a fierce, loyal, unconditional love between these two sisters, who really believe in each other and want each other to succeed by being fulfilled and doing what they are most passionate about and love most in the world."

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Menzel has also just released a Christmas album, A Season Of Love, which she hopes also reflects the Frozen themes of inclusivity and family. She asked the writers of Let It Go, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, to come up with something for the album and they obliged with the "feminist holiday song", A Hand For Mrs Claus, on which Menzel duets with Ariana Grande.

Pop superstar Grande has been mentioned as a serious contender to play Elphaba in a long-awaited, big-budget screen version of Wicked. That's fine with Menzel - except that she has an even better idea.

"I think that would be amazing and I love her and she's now become a good friend of mine," she says. "But I am still lobbying for myself to be in it, just with a lot of CGI and good lighting. Whoever that director was from Benjamin Button can just take 20 years off me and I'll put the green make up on. Nobody else has got to play it."

Frozen 2 opens today.



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