Finding Frozen in Norway

By Nancy Schretter, Editor

Oscar-winning Frozen is the most popular animated motion picture of all time. This stunning Disney box office hit has achieved runaway success with its engaging story and stunningly beautiful visuals. Loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, “The Snow Queen,” it was a given that Frozen would be set somewhere in Scandinavia. After considering several locations, Disney’s filmmakers found their inspiration for the movie’s setting in Norway.

According to Michael Giaimo, Disney’s art director for Frozen, Disney’s team chose Norway because of the country’s striking scenery and its unique culture. The country’s spectacular fjords, in particular, played a major role in Norway’s selection. Travel to and interest in Norway has skyrocketed since the release of the movie, and it’s easy to understand why. Contemporary Norway has the stuff magical fairytales are made of – all in a real world setting.

A Blizzard of Scenic Beauty

Visual inspiration for Frozen can be found throughout Norway. Norway’s landscape is one of breathtaking extremes. In parts of the country, high snow–capped mountain ranges give way to deep fjords surrounding picturesque villages. Dazzling northern lights set the sky afire during the winter months. Norway is also home to vibrant cities filled with centuries–old castles, stave churches and bustling wharves.

Many aspects of Frozen’s fictional kingdom of Arendelle can be found in Bergen, a UNESCO World Heritage City located on Norway’s west coast. “Disney’s filmmakers stayed true to the architecture found throughout the country, including the charming Bryggen district of Bergen,” says Heather Killingbeck of Adventures by Disney, which leads a movie-inspired Norway trip. Bergen has been an important trading center for Norway since the Middle Ages. The historic wharf quarter of Bryggen contains narrow wooden buildings with peaked roofs facing the water, similar to those seen along Arendelle’s harbor.

Two of Norway’s most magnificent fjords, UNESCO World Heritage sites Geirangerfjord and Naeroyfjord, provided visual and story inspiration for the film. A branch of Sognefjord, scenic Naeroyfjord is the narrowest fjord in the world. Here, waterfalls can be seen cascading down snow-capped mountains towering as much as a mile high over the fjord’s deep waters.

Aspects of the kingdom of Arendelle can also be found in Balestrand, a charming village set along the shores of Sognefjord and surrounded by high snow-covered peaks. Easily reached via express boat from Bergen, visitors are likely to see many parallels to Frozen’s Arendelle in this town. These include its gorgeous fjord setting and key architectural details, including a chapel that appears to be similar to the one in which Elsa’s coronation took place in the film.

Trondheim and Oslo are two additional cities that resonated with Frozen’s filmmakers. Elements of Arendelle’s castle were derived from the Royal Residence Stiftsgaarden in Trondheim and Akershus Fortress in Oslo. The hand–painted rosemaling patterns on the interior walls of Arendelle’s royal castle are reminiscent of those found in Akershus Fortress. It’s this kind of attention to detail that makes the culture and heritage of Norway come to life in the film.

Reflecting Norway’s Traditions

Norway’s iconic culture provided the icing on the cake for Frozen. The country was chosen as the setting for the movie not just because of its awe–inspiring scenery, but also for the heritage reflected in its folk costumes, stave churches, decorations and customs. Disney filmmakers used these real-life elements to help build the fictional world of Arendelle and make it believable.

Disney art director Michael Giaimo wanted Frozen to feature memorable costumes, and Norway’s intricately embroidered bunad costumes and braided plait hairstyles provided him with the material he needed. Elaborate bunad costumes can be found in almost every Norwegian village and these types of signature patterns can be seen in the movie’s costumes. Traditional rosemaling folk art patterns are found in clothing, architectural details, and decorative furnishings throughout Norway, and they’re integral to the movie as well.

Norway’s distinctive timber stave churches also inspired Frozen’s visual art. Elements from Norway’s characteristic triple nave stave churches and Oslo’s signature medieval fortress were combined to come up with Arendelle’s castle. Built in about 1180, Borgund Stave Church is one of Norway’s best preserved stave churches. Tiny Undredal Stave Church, seating just forty people inside, is another.

In Roros, Disney’s filmmakers became familiar with Norway’s winter landscapes as well as the clothing and customs of the Sami people. Here, they got their ideas for the winter clothing worn by Frozen’s mountain man, Kristoff, and using reindeer for sleigh transportation. They also began to develop their imagery for Sven, the movie’s lovable reindeer character.

Additional elements of Norway’s culture are also reflected in Frozen, such as hiking, folk dancing, fjord horses, and enchanting trolls. Hunderfossen Family Park, a troll–themed amusement park about 2½ hours north of Oslo, is popular with families. It’s just one of the many ways that Frozen’s magic becomes reality in Norway.

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