Frozen Retrospective

Frozen 2 hits theaters this weekend, so take a look back at the Frozen franchise and how Disney has kept Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, Olaf, Sven and the rest in the public eye while building up the importance of Frozen as its own institution.

November 27, 2013. Disney released a little movie called Frozen into theaters across the globe. At the time nobody quite knew what would become of the film, yet by the end of the year it became a phenomenon. The world went crazy over a fairy tale. The world hadn’t gone that crazy for an animated film in a decade. It went on to gross $1.276 billion dollars at the worldwide box office, making it the highest-grossing film of 2013. It made an impressive $400 million in the United States alone. At the time of its release, it was the highest-grossing animated film of all time and highest-grossing musical. In 2015 it was reported to be the best selling Blu-Ray of all time in the United States (beating out Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Avatar, and The Avengers).

The film won two Academy Awards: Best Animated Film and Best Original Song (“Let It Go”). “Let It Go” became a sensation overnight, played across the world and covered by numerous artists across different countries and languages. Idina Menzel’s version from the film was the first time a song from a Disney animated film reached the Billboard Top Ten since “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas back in 1995. The song was the ninth biggest song of 2014.

By the end of 2013, Frozen seemed to have become more than just another animated film in the Disney canon: it was a franchise of its own. The demand was there. People couldn’t get enough of it. Disney, not one to pass up the opportunity to make more money, put a Frozen sequel into development. Since animated films take time, unlike most films where you can have a sequel out in two to three years, it would take a grand total of six years to get a Frozen sequel off the ground. Disney had to keep the brand going strong so people’s anticipation wouldn’t die down. One doesn’t think of Frozen as a franchise because only one film has come out, but in the meantime, there has been plenty of material to keep the brand going strong. We are going to take a look at the short but also long history of the Frozen franchise.

Frozen – 2013

Frozen has become such a massive institution it is sort of hard to remember at a time when it was just a movie.

Disney animation had been going through a second renaissance that started in 2009 with Princess and the Frog but really started to take off in 2010 with the release of Tangled. 2011 saw Winnie the Pooh (a beautifully animated film nobody saw because somebody at Disney thought it was a good idea to release it on the same day as the final Harry Potter film) and 2012 was Wreck-It-Ralph. The combined effort of Tangled and Wreck-It-Ralph made audiences more comfortable with Disney animation as not just the second tier to Pixar. Yet the trailers for Frozen didn’t really give audiences much to go off of. The first teaser, released with Monsters University, was a slapstick trailer focusing on Olaf and Sven. No indication on the plot was given till the second trailer, and even then they didn’t sell the music.

The film had an interesting production history, and it didn’t quite seem to come together till late in the game when they decided to transform Elsa from a traditional villain to a sympathetic anti-hero and the sister of the main character. Taking a traditional Disney fairy tale and turning it into a tale of sisterhood and redemption was revolutionary, and helped Frozen stand apart. There wasn’t anything quite like it in the Disney canon. Combine that with hit song after hit song by husband and wife duo Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the film became a smash hit.

It is hard to pinpoint why Frozen became such a hit or what resonated with audiences. It was the right film at the right time: but it does appear the popularity of “Let It Go” and the character of Elsa can give a bit of insight. The message of spending your life repressing who you are, and finally accepting yourself spoke to many people. The anthem of being free, never going back was a powerful message a lot of people, particularly young kids, needed to hear. You may be different, but there is nothing wrong with that.

As with many popular films, as time goes on there tends to be a notion to go back and try and take down popular beloved films for not being ‘that good’. It just tends to happen. The higher something rises, the harder it falls. Sometimes people like that. Sometimes films don’t hold up. Yet I would argue Frozen still works as well today as it did when it first came out. The animation is still gorgeous to look at, the music is incredible (you still get chills hearing “Let It Go” and you know it) and the characters are memorable. It does what the best Disney animated films did: took a pre-existing tale but gave it a new spin brought to life with the best animation and wonderful characters. Frozen truly has earned the love and admiration it has gotten. It is still a great film.

Theme Parks

As with many Disney films, Frozen characters were brought into the Disney theme parks to coincide with the release. Yet unlike others, it became almost immediately apparent that these characters would become permanent fixtures in the park. The wait times to meet Elsa and Anna got to be over five hours.

The presence of the Frozen brand has grown in the Disney parks over time. Frozen characters began to be added to the parade, they were added into World of Color, and in 2014 even got their own summer event: Frozen Summer Fun. 2016 was a big year for Frozen at the Disney parks: May 27th saw the opening of Frozen – Live at the Hyperion in Disney’s California Adventure and on June 21st Frozen Ever After opened in Epcot.

Frozen has now become a permanent fixture in the Disney parks, which has helped keep the brand image alive in the public mind. Now Frozen is as associated with Disney and the theme parks as Mickey Mouse, Star Wars, and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Once Upon a Time – 2014

The third season finale of Once Upon a Time ended on May 11, 2014, with a major cliff hanger: a character released from a jar, setting up what the main Disney film explored in the fourth season would be: Elsa, and thus Frozen. This was just six months after the movie had hit theaters.

Disney tended to use Once Upon a Time as a way to cross-promote their films. But unlike other brands who would use it in the build-up to a film, Disney used Once Upon a Time after the fact to keep the conversation going. They added the Wicked Witch of the West as the main bad guy for Season 3, a year after Disney released OZ: The Great and Powerful. Then in the midpoint of season 4, Maleficent was added to the cast just six months after her movie hit theaters.

Many saw this as Disney trying to capitalize on the popularity of Frozen since up to this point most of the Disney characters integrated into Once Upon a Time were from classic Disney films (Snow White, Pinnochio, Peter Pan). This was the first time a modern Disney animated film was brought into the universe. Disney jumped on the chance to integrate their new big hit into their television series in a way to gain more viewers and media attention. It also let audiences know that Frozen as a brand was here to stay, with more on the horizon.

As for their incorporation into the show: it worked pretty well. Georgina Haig made for a great Elsa, Elizabeth Lail seemed born to play a live-action Anna, and Scott Michael Foster was an entertaining Kristoff. It brought back characters like Hans and the Duke of Weaselton, while also expanding and exploring each of their origins. They also introduced the Snow Queen (played by Elizabeth Mitchell), Anna and Elsa’s long lost aunt who seems to be modeled after the original concept for Elsa as a traditional villain. The storyline picks up right after the first film so this acted as a hypothetical sequel, a what-if continuation of the story. It would serve to tide fans over till the real show began.

Frozen Fever – 2015

Two years after the release of the first film, and a year after the characters appeared on Once Upon a Time, the Frozen characters were once again brought back in an animated short, Frozen Fever, released in theaters alongside Cinderella. Production began in June 2014 (just seven months after the original film was released) and was completed in six months. Disney had to get something Frozen-related on the big screen to remind audiences that a sequel would be coming, even if they had to wait a little time for it.

The short was received positively, including the new song ‘Making Today a Perfect Day’ by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. Seven minutes was the perfect length for a short film to include in front of a family film, a lesson Disney should have considered with the next one.

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure – 2017

Let us get this out of the way. Had Olaf’s Frozen Adventure premiered on ABC as a Christmas special as it appears the plan originally was, I think more people would have responded favorably. It is a cute holiday special that is fun to watch with the family at home and runs the length of one (21 minutes). Yet Disney decided to put it in theaters in front of Coco for the holiday season, which did not sit well.

With most theaters already running 15 to 20 minutes of trailers, adding a 21 minute short before it means that families who showed up to see Coco essentially had to wait a whole 40 minutes until the movie they came to see started. Kids’ attention spans are short and can get anxious waiting for Coco, regardless of how much they like Olaf and company. It was originally only planned as a limited-time engagement and was quickly booted from prints of the film (especially in Mexico, where they removed the short from prints of Coco due to audiences’ sheer dislike). It did eventually air on ABC’s 25 Days of Christmas that same year (less than a month after its theatrical distribution experiment).

Yet with two years until Frozen 2, Disney needed to keep Anna and Elsa on people’s radar, even in a small way. Luckily the next Disney film gave them the chance.

Frozen On Broadway – 2018

Much like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King before it, Frozen was brought to Broadway. It makes a certain amount of sense. Not just the movie itself, but the music was a major part of the film becoming a cultural phenomenon. It made a certain amount of sense to bring Frozen to the stage as part of the great tradition of Disney Theatrical Productions. The show had a test run in Denver, Colorado in 2017 before officially premiering on Broadway in March 2018. It started a nationwide tour in November 2019, to concede with the release of Frozen 2.

Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 – 2018

Wreck-It Ralph was the Disney animated feature to proceed Frozen, so it was semi-fitting for the sequel, Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 to proceed Frozen 2.

In the film’s more notable scene, Princess Venelope (Sarah Silverman) meets the other Disney princess at the Disney website, including both Anna and Elsa (with Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel reprising their roles). Both characters also get to partake in a sequence towards the climax where they team up with other Disney Princesses in an Avenger’s style rescue that seems almost like Disney is testing the water for some shared Princess Cinematic Universe.

The sheer popularity and anticipation for Frozen 2 even come into play during the end credits. Ralph lets the audiences know they will get the first look at the Frozen 2 trailer, only to Rick Roll the audience.

Frozen 2 – 2019

Here we are, just days away from the release of Frozen 2. I’ve yet to see it but the early word of mouth appears to be good, with the hint this won’t be the only sequel. This could be the beginning of a larger franchise (with Frozen acting as The Hobbit to Frozen 2 being The Fellowship of the Ring).

The excitement was apparent as soon as the trailer hit. Kids in theaters still reacted to seeing Elsa use her powers. Even kids who were too young to see Frozen when it first came out have grown up with it as a part of their childhood in Blu-ray rotation. The kids who saw Frozen when it first hit are now older and seem to be ready for the darker more mature tale the sequel seems to be setting up (learning from the Harry Potter school of growing with your audience). Can Frozen 2 recapture the magic of the first film? Time will tell. It is unrealistic to imagine it will capture the exact same type of magic since part of what made the first film was the unexpected nature of it. But that doesn’t mean this sequel can’t be special in its own way.

Frozen has been part of the pop culture discussion for six years, be it upfront or even in the background. I myself have some incredibly good memories of the first film and have enjoyed revisiting it year after year during the holidays. It is now as important a Disney viewing for me as any of the Disney classics. I just can’t seem to Let It Go.

What are your thoughts on Frozen? Is the first film as good as you remember or has your opinion changed? What is your favorite song from the film? Are you excited about Frozen 2? Share your thoughts and memories in the comments below.