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Actor's latest role a total snow job, and he's happy about it

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Curiously, "Anthropomorphic snowmen" is actually a subject category on the Internet Movie Database.

More curiously, Josh Gad is not yet mentioned on it.

That will likely change once everyone connects the coal-button dots between Gad, the 32-year-old breakout star of the Broadway smash The Book of Mormon, and Olaf, the goofy living snowman to whom Gad gives voice in the animated Disney musical Frozen.

In the past, making a snowman come alive vocally has been the task of diverse talents such as Burl Ives (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer), deadpan comic Jackie Vernon (Frosty the Snowman) and John Goodman (Frosty Returns).

"There aren't many of us, which is actually very strange because it's such a great character dynamic, you would think it would have been explored more," Gad says during a phone interview from Toronto, where he is promoting the Disney film. "Frosty really monopolized that world for a long time. But there's a new sheriff in town."

In pinning on that particular badge, Gad did not pay homage to any of those predecessors, building the character of Olaf -- one snowball at a time -- from the contents of the script by Jennifer Lee, which was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's tale The Snow Queen.

"Burl Ives was the snowman that I grew up with, and he was a very sage, wise snowman, and this is a complete opposite," Gad says of Olaf, the magical creation of the film's sorceress-princess Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) as a playmate for herself and her sister Anna (Kristen Bell).

"I wanted to go as innocent and youthful and childlike as possible," he says. "This is a snowman who was created as a childhood plaything at a time when these girls had nothing but the future to look forward to, nothing but pure innocence and optimism in their lives. And while they both grew out of that and had to deal with major adversity, he remained exactly in that form."

That is not to say Olaf doesn't have a perverse side -- or as perverse as one can get in a Disney film. This is a snowman who dreams of frolicking in the warmth of the sun, a fatal attraction expressed in Olaf's comic song In Summer.

"He's a snowman with a death wish and that's why I think this movie works so well, because it works on so many levels," Gad says. "The kids are laughing at what they're laughing at but the adults get it on a completely different level. Movies like Aladdin and The Lion King, the reason we still watch them today is that adults found something in them that kids didn't. And when kids become adults, they discover that as well."

The Broadway-bound Aladdin is the latest Disney movie to get the Broadway stage debut, an event likely to stir a few complaints about the ongoing "Disneyfication" of the Great White Way. And while Gad may be a veteran of the raw, raucous, very adult musical comedy Book of Mormon (which makes rude reference to the Disney standard Hakuna Matata), don't expect him to join that chorus.

"Without the 'Disneyfication' of Broadway, there would be no Book of Mormon," Gad says. "I think the 'Disneyfication' of Broadway is something that should be celebrated. It made Broadway relevant again for families.

"To share in a theatrical experience like Mary Poppins and see the magic of The Lion King come to life for the first time, I think everybody should thank Disney and not fault them, because in many ways, it's made Broadway a family event."

In the event Book of Mormon makes the leap from stage to screen, Gad would be the likely contender to reprise his celebrated role of Elder Cunningham, the Mormon missionary with a penchant for misquoting scripture. But he has not been privy to any plans to make the movie in the immediate future.

"I certainly anticipate it happening, although I don't know when or in what form," he says. "But I know that (creators Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez) are going to wait until they're very inspired to bring it to screen.

"In other words, I think it will have to be worthy of telling in that form and not just a replica of the show itself," Gad says. "The second they figure that out, that's when they'll endeavour to make it."

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 28, 2013 C9

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