Recently, I had the opportunity to conduct an interview via e-mail with writer, Mari Mancusi. She is a published author that has written several books for Disney. She is also a self-proclaimed “lore nerd”, enjoying cosplaying, world building, and all things Haunted Mansion.
Last November, she published the young adult novel, Frozen 2: Dangerous Secrets. Serving as a prequel to the films, Dangerous Secrets tells the story of Iduna and Agnarr, the parents of Anna and Elsa as seen in Frozen 2.
It is available from Disney Editions and can be purchased wherever books are sold. The recently released audiobook, featuring the voice talents of Evan Rachel Wood and Alfred Molina, can be found on Audible.
Your book Frozen 2: Dangerous Secrets serves as a prequel story for Iduna and Agnarr. How much of the initial premise was given to you up front to work with?
Much of the premise of Iduna and Agnarr’s story was already set up in Frozen 2, with Iduna’s rescue of Agnarr when they were both children and their subsequent friendship turned to romance and marriage, and, of course, her secret of being Northuldra. So the framework was there—very much a Romeo and Juliet kind of trope—and my job was more about building up the characterization and love story and inviting readers behind the scenes of those brief icy moments we witness with Elsa in the Enchanted Forest and later Ahtohallan.
Had you seen the finished version of Frozen 2 when you began writing? And, if not, how much did you know about Frozen 2 at that time?
I was offered the assignment before Frozen 2 came out and at first, I was a little taken aback. In the original film, the parents barely had any lines and died soon after—who would want an entire book about them? But then I read the script for Frozen 2 and fell in love with their backstory, realizing it would absolutely capture an audience’s imagination. Sure enough, when the film was released there was an instant micro-fandom of “Agduna” who shipped the couple passionately. And now with Dangerous Secrets, more and more people are falling in love with them and their story. Even if I do get accused of making them cry!
I know that to keep Star Wars canon consistent, Lucasfilm has their story group. Does Disney have something in this vein that you worked with to keep everything consistent?
My editor is a Frozen loremaster, I swear! And if I had any questions she couldn’t answer, she’d go back to the film team to ask. They were extremely generous with their time and in answering all my questions.
Of course, I’m a bit of lore nerd myself, and was able to do quite a bit of my own research through the films, shorts, books, comics, etc. I had a lot of fun slipping in Easter eggs throughout the book for the fans—something they really appreciated. From the beginning, my goal was to make a true Frozen book, not just a book set in the world of Frozen—if that makes any sense. I wanted each page to give readers the same feels they got from the movies. A sense that all of this was connected in seamless world. I didn’t want anything to pull the reader out of the story. And the Disney team was so helpful with that.
Did you collaborate at all with Jennifer Lee for your story?
Everything in the book was approved and vetted by the film team, however, I, personally, worked one-on-one with my editor and she was my liaison with them. But they were always available to answer any of my random questions and it was kind of thrilling to have that kind of access. Also, from the beginning, they were always so open to my ideas, which was great. I was really made to feel like part of the team.
What was your favorite character to write?
Definitely Iduna. She’s such a great Disney heroine and while she’ll likely never be considered an official Disney princess, I think she easily fits the bill. She’s smart, passionate, hard-working, creative. She doesn’t wait around to be saved by the prince—she saves him! And though she’s hopelessly in love with him, she doesn’t allow that love to overwhelm her entire life. She becomes an engineer and an entrepreneur and a business owner.
She’s not perfect—far from it. But that’s what makes her interesting to write about. Both she and Agnarr are flawed people who suffered great personal trauma and loss in their childhoods, and they don’t always make the best decisions. But they are always motivated by love—for each other and later their children, as well as the people of Arendelle. And that’s what makes them wonderful character to write.
For the audiobook, can you talk about what was it like having Evan Rachel Wood and Alfred Molina reprise their roles for your story?
It was a dream come true as I’ve always been a big fan of Evan’s. I’ve even cosplayed her Westworld character Delores several times at conventions. When I began writing Dangerous Secrets, I had the thought, “Maybe she’ll read this someday!” I never dreamed she’d not only read it, but read it professionally and we’d all get to hear her do it! And to get Alfred, too, who is such an amazing, respected actor and has such a great voice. I get chills listening to the both of them.
I know you are an ardent cosplayer. What Frozen characters have you cosplayed over the years?
When my friend and I started cosplaying Frozen, back when the first film came out, I never dreamed I’d someday be connected professionally with the franchise. But from the beginning, I was always Elsa and she was Anna. However, we never went for screen accurate—we were always about the mash-ups. We’ve done Elsa and Anna “In Summer” for example, where we dressed up in certainly Olaf approved Frozen beachwear. We also did a Star Wars style mashup where I was “Reylsa” and she was “Hanna Solo.” We had the best prop for that one—a stuffed “Kylo-Sven!” He was the hit of DragonCon that year!
Did you have a favorite Disney film or character as a child?
As a kid, I was a big fan of the animal animated films like Fox and the Hound, Lady and the Tramp, and 101 Dalmatians. But my favorite Disney film of that time wasn’t animated at all. It was actually a pretty scary horror film called The Watcher in the Woods. It was about a family who moves into a haunted house and starts seeing a creepy, blindfolded ghost girl in the mirror. I actually watched it again recently with my daughter and thankfully it still holds up!
This wasn’t your first outing as a writer for Disney. What was the process like becoming a writer for Disney for your earlier books?
About five years ago, Disney put out a call for mythology stories and my agent and I thought perhaps The Camelot Code, my Arthurian middle grade adventure story, might be a good fit. I was so thrilled when they acquired that and its sequel, along with a trapped-in-a-videogame series called Dragon Ops.
As a lifelong Disney fan, it was thrilling to see the official castle logo on the spine of my book. Little did I know that a couple years later I’d actually be asked to write for their top animated franchise. But as they used to say in my favorite retired Disney attraction, Horizons, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” And now I’m living that dream.
What writer or writers inspire you and your writing?
I really admire Christie Golden, author of a number of World of Warcraft tie-in novels. I love how she’s able to write the behind the scenes of my favorite WoW game storylines, something I’ve always been thirsty for. She makes the characters come to life off the computer screen which enhances the gameplaying experience and probably why, even with all the newer games out there, I still remain a dedicated player and subscriber to a now fifteen-year-old franchise.
When I set out to write Dangerous Secrets, I wanted to do the same thing for Frozen fans. Give them more content, more crumbs, than you can fit in a film. Luckily, with a book, you have pages and pages to explore a scene that might be just a blip or a line of dialog and a film or game.
Lastly, when things are back to normal and Disneyland is open back, what is the first ride you are going to go on?
Haunted Mansion! We always rope-drop it, if we can, so we can try to get the very first Doom Buggy of the day! It’s my family’s favorite ride of all time and our house is decked out in Haunted Mansion memorabilia.
I’d also love to go visit Anna and Elsa and see their new outfits. I was at Disney World about a month before it shut down and almost stopped by, but there was a line, and we were meeting a friend and I knew I’d be back soon—or so I thought! So that’s definitely on the list, too!