News Column

10 things you need to know about Kristen Bell

November 24, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 24--From her teen sleuth in the cult TV hit "Veronica Mars" to her ambitious management consultant in Showtime's "House of Lies," Kristen Bell plays female characters who are strong and complicated.

The metro Detroit native stays true to that tendency as a voice star of "Frozen," a Disney animated musical that she calls "an anti-princess princess movie."

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," the movie features a spunky princess, Anna (Bell), who bravely goes on a wilderness adventure -- with some help from a rugged guy named Kristoff, his reindeer, Sven, and a scene-stealing sweetheart of a snowman, Olaf.

Anna is on a quest to reunite with her sister, Elsa (Idina Menzel), who's left her kingdom because of her trouble controlling her magic ability to put things into a deep freeze.

There's nothing prim or dainty about the women in "Frozen," which takes Disney traditions in a cool new direction. Here are 10 things you need to know about Bell and the new movie, which hits theaters Wednesday.

1. Anna is a lot like a younger Kristen: Growing up in Huntington Woods, Bell was a Disney fan who wanted to be a princess more like herself. "I was always talking faster than I thought and was clumsier and kind of adventurous," she says. "When I got this part, I brought all these ideas to the table. It is an adventure movie. There's a lot of action in it. I said, 'What if she matched this?' I didn't want to play a girl with good posture. What if she was really kind of a ballsy little heroine? And they were game."

2. Bell has plenty of musical chops: The 33-year-old actress is a talented singer who studied opera with voice teachers and competed in solo and ensemble contests while at Shrine High School in Royal Oak. "They pick various Italian arias and you travel around the state and they have singing competitions. It's just like basketball or volleyball for little music geeks," she says. Her vocal chops have led to roles on Broadway in "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and off-Broadway in "A Little Night Music" and a costarring part with Cher in "Burlesque."

3. As a tween, she was prepping for Disney duty: At an early age, Bell took it upon herself be be ready for an Ariel audition at a moment's notice. "I did audiocasette-record myself doing quite a few numbers from 'Little Mermaid' that I kept on file while growing up just in case I'd ever need them," she says. "I don't know what I thought I was doing, but when I was about 10 or 11, I thought I better get myself (singing) some Ariel and then just labeled the tapes."

4. Her first brush with "Frozen" had a Rapunzel connection: Bell's journey began when she auditioned for 2010's "Tangled" and the casting director pulled her aside to talk about introducing her to Chris Buck, who was working on the project that would become "Frozen." "The funny thing is his pitch was that this will be a much more traditional Disney movie, and it is anything but that," she recalls. "Frozen" ended up being directed by Buck and Jennifer Lee, who came on board first as a screenwriter and is the first woman to helm a Disney animated feature.

5. The sister storyline won out in the end: While there were many possible directions for Buck and Lee to take the "Snow Queen" fairy tale, the theme of siblings Anna and Elsa and their action-packed journey to accepting their individuality kept putting itself first, according to Bell. "So they said, 'You know what? Scrap what we know about normal Disney movies. This is what it wants to be. This is the story.' "

6. Singing with Idina Menzel rocked: Although voice actors often work alone, Bell and Menzel, who won a Tony as Elphaba in "Wicked," recorded their duet together. "She has such a range and such force behind her voice," Bell raves. " I can hold a tune -- don't get me wrong. But she is a different creature altogether. Being able to sing with her was really a dream come true." Husband-and-wife team Kristen Anderson-Lopez ("Winnie the Pooh") and Robert Lopez ("The Book of Mormon") wrote eight original songs for the film, including Bell and Menzel's power ballad "For the First Time in Forever."

7. Independent women like Princess Anna run in the family: Bell's 8-month-old daughter, Lincoln, has a bold name prompted at least partly by the Ford vehicle. "I mean, a little bit," says Bell (whose husband, Dax Shepard, put his treasured 1967 Lincoln Continental in their recent movie "Hit & Run"). "We're both fans of the president as well ... but I can't say it wasn't influenced by the car." And Bell is betting Lincoln will be less of a girly-girl and more of a gearhead when she's older. "If I had to take a guess ... I think she's going to be into off-roading, just like her dad."

8. Bell's happily-ever-after event was low-key: Engaged since 2009, Bell and Milford native Shepard vowed not to get married until California legalized same-sex marriage. Once that happened in June, they wed in October at the Beverly Hills county clerk's office. Because of their very public jobs, she explains, they wanted a simple, private ceremony. "Weddings have become less of a tradition and more of a, I don't even know, monstrosity where everybody has an opinion and it ends up not being really fun for the bride or the groom. We wanted to take as big a step away from that as possible."

9. She has another movie around the corner: Currently filming "House of Lies," Bell is waiting for the arrival of the crowd-funded film version of "Veronica Mars" to be finished. "We're in screenings right now. ... We're really just trying to put the final punctuations on all of the story lines." She expects it to come out in March.

10. She likes the new "Frozen" Anna doll: "There was a bust made of Veronica Mars, but it was really not a good bust. It was not flattering. This doll is much more flattering," she says.

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(c)2013 the Detroit Free Press

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