When Frozen hit theaters in 2013, it seemed like you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing someone belt out the soon-to-be-Oscar-winning “Let It Go.” From toddlers to grandparents, no one could resist the earworm. Even people who hadn’t seen the movie ended up getting the song stuck in their heads.
So when Disney dropped another Frozen film, it was inevitable that it would also have a signature song. Personally, I really appreciate Kristoff’s goofily theatrical 80s-ballad-esque number “Into the Woods.” The hair flip, the singing into a pine cone… but I digress.
We’re here to talk about “Into the Unknown” and the surprising reason why it may have sounded familiar.
The Mysterious Call in “Into the Unknown”
When Frozen II came out in 2019, there was a new song stuck in everyone’s heads. This time, Queen Elsa belts out “Into the Unknown.”
The queen is communicating with a mysterious voice, not unlike a siren calling her, well, “into the unknown.” It’s a call that no one else can hear besides Elsa (and us viewers, of course).
That mysterious call haunting the queen encourages her to enter the enchanted forest, alongside the rest of the gang. And we hear it again throughout much of the movie, including in Elsa’s second big number of the film, “Show Yourself.”
But if the 4-note siren’s call sounds a little familiar, you’re not wrong.
Award-winning songwriting power couple Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez are responsible for the musical numbers in Frozen II. They also did the songs for the original. But this time around, they brought something a little extra to make that mysterious siren call haunting, and it’s why it sounds familiar to so many people.
Why the Siren Call Sounds So Familiar
“We made the voice sing the ‘Dies Irae,’ which is a Gregorian chant from the 11th century,” Lopez explained.
Even if you’re not jamming to Gregorian chants on the reg, you’ve absolutely heard it before.
“Composers from Sondheim to Berlioz to John Williams, it’s in Home Alone, it’s in Star Wars, it’s in everything,” he continued.
Gregorian chants are A cappella melodies, traditionally sung by monks. “Dies Irae” specifically was used in Catholic requiems or funeral masses. It translates to “Day of Wrath,” and it’s easy to see why. There’s no clear answer on who originally wrote the chant or hymn. It’s commonly credited to Thomas of Celano, but some credit Malabranca Orsini as the author.
Regardless, it’s managed to keep popping up for centuries. From Mozart to the orchestra pits of silent films, it’s been called upon time and time again. And now, these days, it’s popular with film score composers.
Movies That Have Used “Dies Irae”
So, if the 4-note siren call is haunting you, I’m willing to bet you’ve heard it before. The foreboding melody has been adapted into plenty of movies.
It will be instantly familiar to fans of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, giving a foreboding and unsettling feel to the opening of the film. And fans of The Nightmare Before Christmas will recognize the melody from the song “Making Christmas,” which is a clear nod to “Dies Irae.”
It’s first famous film credit came with 1941’s Citizen Kane — although it’s safe to assume it appeared in movies before that. And if I were to list every single movie “Dies Irae” has been used in, we’d be here forever. So instead, let’s just look at a few of the most famous film appearances:
- Citizen Kane (1941)
- It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
- The Exorcist (1973)
- Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
- The Shining (1980)
- Dracula (1992)
- The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
- The Lion King (1994)
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
- Sweeney Todd (2007)
- Frozen II (2019)
Now that you’ve got “Into the Unknown” and the mysterious siren call stuck in your head (you’re welcome!), you can check out the original chant that the recurring melody was based on: