Why is Disney Overemphasizing Frozen?

Nightly beginning Nov. 5 in the Magic Kingdom, Anna and Elsa from "Frozen" will appear in a new show on the Forecourt Stage in front of Cinderella Castle in the heart of the park, as Queen Elsa uses her incredible powers to transform Cinderella Castle into a glistening ice palace for the holidays. Anna, Elsa, Kristoff and Olaf also will join the festive procession ÒMickeyÕs Once Upon a Christmastime ParadeÓ along with a flurry of skaters, skiers and ice cutters from the Kingdom of Arendelle. The parade is offered during the special-ticket MickeyÕs Very Merry Christmas Party, select nights November 7 Ð December 19, and each afternoon for park guests Dec. 20-31. (David Roark, photographer)
“Nightly beginning Nov. 5 in the Magic Kingdom, Anna and Elsa from Frozen will appear in a new show on the Forecourt Stage in front of Cinderella Castle in the heart of the park, as Queen Elsa uses her incredible powers to transform Cinderella Castle into a glistening ice palace for the holidays.” www.attractionsmagazine.com Dec. 20-31. (David Roark, photographer)

To anyone who is sick and tired of hearing the song “Let It Go” two years after Disney’s Frozen opened in theaters and wonders why Disney has not given its other recent animated films such as Big Hero 6 the same kind of theme park and merchandising attention, I would say, “Yes, they are overemphasizing Frozen.” If these same people wonder whether Disney’s focus on Frozen will negatively effect the Walt Disney Company or its other animated films in the future, this study is meant to put their minds at ease.

In short, Frozen has become a cultural phenomenon in America and Disney is ready to capitalize on that momentum, combining all of their hard learned lessons from the past decades. First this study will provide a brief history of Disney’s marketing strategies over the years and then explore the reasons why the Frozen franchise is seemingly taking over the world. Next, this study will address the effects of Frozen-mania on other Disney projects by comparing the response to Frozen (2013) to that of Big Hero 6 (2014). This study focuses on Big Hero 6 for this study because unlike Pixar’s most recent release, Inside Out (2015), Big Hero 6 has been through the full cycle of movie release markers including home release and Academy Award Season, which places the film in a clearer periphery to the history of Disney marketing in this article.

A Whole New World

The fact is, the Walt Disney Company revolutionized the way merchandising ties to a studio when a man named Herman Kamen was hired by Walt and Roy Disney in 1932. 1 Until then Walt saw merchandise as a way of promoting his Mickey cartoons, but Kamen had the vision to realize that the success of a cartoon will carry over into success at the store counter. The company channeled this power and was able to make higher quality cartoons with their expanded budget. 2 Walt then expanded his company into other mediums such as TV for their cross-promotional potential.

After Walt’s death, the animation wing of the Walt Disney Company struggled. Expensive movies such as the notorious The Black Cauldron (1985) could not make back their own budgets at the box office and animation was considered a dead art form. During these dark days, the Walt Disney Company stayed afloat through merchandise and theme park sales, as well as re-releases in theaters (and eventually the coming of age of VHS tapes). By the time The Little Mermaid (1989) premiered to wide acclaim, Disney was unprepared to profit from the film because no one imagined that an animated film would ever have that kind of financial success ever again! By the time The Little Mermaid was released on home video, the Company was a bit more prepared and The Little Mermaid merchandise accounted for one-third of sales in Disney Stores. 3

It wasn’t until Aladdin (1992) opened that Disney solidified strategies to handle the mega-success of their animated films. New campaigns included action figures, fast food toys, CDs, books, a new animated series on the Disney Channel, as well as Aladdin-themed transformations within Disney parks much like those seen in honor of Frozen complete with a parade in MGM Studios with a spitting camel and the Aladdin restaurant. 4 I’m sure I’m not the only one to recall a certain episode of Full House where Michelle releases the Genie and DJ sees Steve (who provide the voice for Aladdin) in an Aladdin costume proving that Disney still utilizes Walt’s strategies of cross-promotion. This time of unprecedented success in the Walt Disney Company is affectionately called the “Disney Renaissance.”

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Aladdin parade in MGM circa 1992.

During the Company’s expansion that occurred during the Renaissance, the animation department was able to make more than one animated feature a year. There would be the Company’s main animated feature, which I shall refer to as its “flagship” and others which did not receive as much attention with movies such as The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) being given a limited release under the Touchtone label. The film did relatively well and was critically acclaimed, but it did not receive the same status as Aladdin did and was, therefore, not given the same amount of attention. (I will come back to this).

Meanwhile, Toy Story (1995) changed the way Disney viewed the potential of its secondary films as it performed better than Disney’s “flagship” movie Pocahontas did in 1995. The shift in attention from the animated musicals to the Pixar films is also reflective of a larger culture shift that occurred in the Company after Disney Renaissance CEO, Michael Eisner, resigned to be replaced by Bob Iger.

Whereas the culture of the Eisner-era was defined by a musical theatre culture and theatre veterans like Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Peter Schneider, the Iger-Era is defined by a focus on science and technology. 5 As the early 2000’s progressed, Pixar films performed better than Walt Disney Animated films, leading to Disney’s merger with Pixar. Pixar films became the new “flagships.” However, Frozen, like Toy Story, changed the game: in part, because of the flawless execution of marketing and promotion which incorporates many tactics from Disney’s past.

For the First Time In Forever

The Walt Disney company has mastered the art of target audience marketing since Beauty and the Beast was nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture. All of a sudden, there was not just the “TV ad for little girls” and “TV ad for little boys” approach, but there were trailers aired during prime time, targeting adults because the Oscar nomination granted credibility to an art form which had not been taken seriously until that point despite the Academy Awards that Disney films had won in the past. As Disney’s market grew, their target audience marketing became more nuanced. 6 The marketing for Frozen has benefited from years of evolution in this field and adapted the “slow reveal” strategy. The first theatrical trailer for the film featured Olaf, the snowman, performing hilarious gags with no music. This trailer is purposefully vague and uses “boy humor.” The second trailer featured adventure and finally the third featured plot points and music, but still implied that the male characters were the heroes/focus. 7 These theatrical trailers show the Company’s attempt to sell a film which is primarily about women to its 43%male demographic.

Interestingly enough, the marketing strategy for Big Hero 6 was similar featuring a vague “boy humor” first trailer where Hiro attempts to put armor on the large Baymax to no avail. The second trailer featured action with the “Man in the Kabuki Mask” and the third focused on the brotherly relationship between Hiro and Tadashi and plot points involving the group of friends that becomes superheroes. Seeing as how Big Hero 6 received the same marketing beginnings as Frozen, one might wonder why Frozen seems to still be the focus of Disney energies. Firstly, it is worth noting that Frozen and Big Hero 6 are two completely different genres: Frozen is a musical and Big Hero 6 is a superhero movie based on Marvel comic source material. Musicals get sequels, theme park shows, eventual Broadway shows, books, t-shirts, action figure, and accessories while superhero movies get comics, spin-offs, t-shirts, action figures, and possible TV shows. As you can see, there are some similarities in merchandising, but Frozen has some advantages in addition to better box office performance 8 which would explain the reasons why Disney is more likely to focus on Frozen as its “flagship.”

One major advantage that Frozen has over a movie like Big Hero 6 is the fact that Frozen is a musical. Following the tradition of Broadway megamusicals of the 1980’s, Disney would release singles from their musicals before the première of the film to garner interest. Just like Aladdin, Pocahontas, and other musical movies of the Renaissance, Disney released the single “Let It Go” before Frozen opened in theaters. The release of music allows for much more varied marketing opportunities including Idina Menzel’s performance of the song on talk shows and live at the Oscars. In this age of YouTube, every single adorable post of a young child singing the song was free advertisement for Disney, and the vast presence that the film had on social media tells Disney just how popular the movie is.

One might wonder, however, why other recently released Disney animated musicals such as The Princess and the Frog (2008) and Tangled (2010) did not turn into the huge blockbuster that Frozen did. I would argue that part of this gap is due to the fact that Frozen opened in a post-Glee America, where musicals are “cooler” than they were a decade ago, especially if they encompass themes of difference. “Let It Go” has become more than just a Disney song, it has become a political statement which has been written about by several commentators. 9 According to an article in Forbes Magazine, Marty Brochstein, senior VP at the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association is quoted as saying, “This is one of those cases where the content won. It was not so much about marketing, it’s just really a story that resonates, particularly with young girls.” 10 Meanwhile, the musicality of the film also spawns karaoke CDs, singalongs, Disney On Ice Shows, and Disney World performances.

Another advantage that Frozen has is the fact that it is winter-themed and is featured during Disney Word’s holiday party in the Christmas/Hanukkah season as well as being featured in the Norway pavilion in Epcot. 11 Meanwhile, Big Hero 6 has no such songs, political messages, or social media presence. While the meet-and-greet for Hiro and Baymax was popular in Disney World it was cancelled because of technical problems with the Baymax suit. Frozen, on the other hand, remains perfectly suited to the culture of Walt Disney theme parks and merchandising.

All Hail the Pumpkin King

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Nightmare Before Christmas merchandise. mouseinfo.com

For those fans of Big Hero 6 who fear that this film will disappear into obscurity, I say, “Remember Nightmare Before Christmas.” It is Disney’s talent at reading into trends that has made an obscure film like Nightmare into a Disney World staple with loads of merchandise in stores and seasonal shows and attractions. Over the years, Nightmare has received a cult following and its acceptance into the Disney mainstream signifies a cultural shift in America in which the “strange” is embraced, much in the same way that Frozen‘s themes of “otherness” are part of its strength. Another film from the early 90’s which did not make a huge splash upon its release is Hocus Pocus (1993) which also gained a cult following over the years and is now featured in Disney World’s Halloween show with whispers of a sequel in the works. Therefore, if a movie like Big Hero 6 is being eclipsed by the success of Frozen, there is always the possibility that Hiro and Baymax will make a comeback in the future if its content proves worthy. In the meantime, the revenue generated by Frozen will help to fund high-quality animated “flagship” films in the future and more secondary films with the potential to become classics. As of now, the challenge that Frozen poses to the Walt Disney Company is to create more meaningful works which impact generations of fans dedicated to the Disney mythology.

Works Cited

  1. Griffin, Sean. Tinker Belles and Evil Queens: The Walt Disney Company from the Inside Out. New York, London: New York University Press. 2000. pg 185.
  2. ibid., 186
  3. Hill, Jim. “Disney Looks to Avoid the Mistakes That It Made With ‘The Little Mermaid’ as It Expands Its ‘Frozen’ Empire.” The Huffington Post. Sept. 17, 2014. Web. Sept. 29. 2015.
  4. Griffin, 187
  5. Taylor, James C. “How Broadway Helped Animate Disney’s Comeback.” Los Angeles Times. April 3, 2010. Web. Sept. 29, 2015.
  6. Griffin, 187
  7. Davis, Scott. “What Marketers Should Learn From Disney’s ‘Frozen.'” Forbes Magazine. Jan 15, 2014. Web. Sept. 29, 2015.
  8. Frozen earned $400 million domestically while Big Hero 6 earned about $222 million, www.boxofficemojo.com
  9. Kermode, Mark. “Why Frozen’s Let It Go is more than a Disney hit – it’s an adolescent apéritif.” The Guardian. April 10, 2014. Web. Sept. 29, 2015., Peterson, Kierran. “Disney’s Frozen and the ‘gay agenda'” BBC News (Washington D.C.). March 10, 2014. Web. Sept. 29, 2015.
  10. Bulik, Beth Snyder. “How Disney Has Managed to Keep Frozen Red Hot.” Forbes Magazine. Sept. 3, 2014. Web. Sept 29, 2015.
  11. The Frozen-themed attractions in Norway include an exhibit in Stave Church dedicated the historical and cultural research that went into the film and the closing of the ride Maelstrom to make way for the new ride Frozen Ever After.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Christen holds a Masters Degree in Theatre from Villanova University. Research areas include feminism, queer theory, musical theatre, popular culture, and film theory.

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68 Comments

  1. OverSarah
    0

    Funnily enough as a parent of a target aged daughter, I can say that my daughter shows no interest in watching the film. She watched it twice and never chose to again. She loves the IDEA of the film, she adores the songs and the marketing, but I think it tried so hard to be all things that it failed to rivet children (and this is a child who has watched Dogtanion and the 3 Muskahounds so often I have hidden the DVDs and Hotel Transylvania, The Goonies and Hocus Pocus are only left out because I love them too). This is not an uncommon phenomenon, in fact straw poll amongst my friends shows that they have exactly the same issue.

    The only conclusion I can come to is we have a film popular purely for (not due to, but for) its marketing.

    • Adnan Bey

      That’s fair but nobody knows what the girl grows into. As a teenager or yong adult, she may revive her Frozen interest. Disney has a way of keeping these movies in mind. When I watched Beauty and the Beast first, I watched it twice and ‘got over’ it but later, it became a favorite.

      Though I agree about the marketing. Frozen is staying alive because of marketing, and marketing keeps things afloat for only so long. Disney will eventually have to do better.

    • Tom Ford
      0

      My partner’s child is obsessed with watching it over and over on repeat, despite her mother offering her a wide range of other shows and films. That seems to have eased off a little now – but it did last a couple months. She’s just over 2 years old. Similar tales of obsession I’ve heard have been in the 2 to 4 range – well under the age I’d let kids watch The Goonies at!

    • Well to counter that, my 4 year old son loves it and happily watches it every saturday and sunday morning without fail for the last 6 months. In fact, even my 16 month old daughters face lights up every time she recognises it on screen. So it definitely has some allure for sure. Heck, even my wife and me had a stage of belting out the songs in the car!!

    • Penfriend
      1

      “The only conclusion I can come to is we have a film popular purely for (not due to, but for) its marketing.”

      I disagree with you. I was quite skeptic about the so-called hype around the film when it first came out. Then my daughter told me her girls (then aged 4 and just under 3) couldn’t stop watching it. They were singing along, they knew all the characters, and Elsa was definitely their favourite. My daughter said she actually found the content interesting and stirred emotions up in her too. I watched the DVD when I was with them, and I must admit that my emotions were stirred too.

      I feel it is about empowering, a universal yearning to be accepted as one is, to learn to accept ourselves as we are, and this is a growth process which is shown in a very beautiful way which, I’m sure, will help girls and boys alike, even grown-ups, to be happy and balanced.

  2. Louie Binkley
    0

    only watched it last week and was really impressed with the sisters are doing for themselves ending. and the music was really great too.

  3. It’s a great film. As someone who has sat through *a lot* of kids films over the past couple of years, Frozen is well written, beautifully animated and different enough from the traditional hero/princess set up to make it different.

  4. Adnan Bey

    Speaking of musicals, I’m surprised you didn’t mention The ion King which was the ‘Frozen’ of the 90s an insanely popular and had the whole range of tings you spoke of. Broadway musical (which became the most successful broadway show to date I might add), merchandise (I had a Lion King-themed pool) and now, most recently, a TV series, discounting two sequels.

  5. Aaron Hatch

    Great article. It’s frustrating when some hates Frozen just because it’s popular. Anyone should have the right to like or dislike a movie, but don’t hate a movie just because its over popular. Frozen really is one of Disney’s best and thats because it steps out of a lot of Disney’s own tropes. It may be overemphasized, but the film is popular for a reason.

  6. Allie Dawson

    Fascinating study! Glad to see how it turned out 🙂
    I myself was not fond of Frozen, for a myriad of reasons not worth exploring here. What I liked about your analysis, though, was the centrality of marketing for the success of the Disney films. Without necessarily casting aspersions on the objective quality of these films, could one say the only reason Disney had become the giant it is today is because of its marketing?

  7. Packard
    0

    Part of me knows that Frozen won’t be that special any longer.

  8. Nannie Maas
    0

    I am not a supporter of any Disney media. Disney promotes a fantasy world which, in many cases, causes traumatic yet often subtle disillusion related dysfunctions in young adults. Any company in the business of marketing to children is heinous. As a child I was raised on storybooks and written fables which provoked my imagination and enhanced my critical thinking abilities. Visual media is processed quite differently by the human brain. Studies have shown that brain activity greatly decreases and essentially “dumbs” it down to a recording device when exposed to visual media. Granted that, different genres of programming varies the degree of impact, however the programs centered around pleasure and fun “topped the chart” for decreased brain activity and fitness. Finally, to target prepubescent children as the “primary consumer” by any company is, basically the deliberate undermining of parental influence to instill values and beliefs of their choosing. If a parent agrees with the whole of a particular program, and would like their child immersed into its message as well, visual media is a highly efficient method for this goal.

  9. I think it was so sucessful as it rather brilliantly/cynically managed to appeal to boys (adventure/suspense) and girls (princesses/songs) in equal measure with a generous helping of humour to appeal to everyone.

    • Lombardo
      0

      I don’t think the appeal was that gender specific. As a film it was just universally enjoyed.

  10. Frozen is illogical. Looks pretty, but that’s about it.

  11. My daughters are obsessed with Frozen.

  12. rp92

    The background into the way Disney markets and struggled initially is interesting! I definitely think Frozen is way more marketable in the existing Disney market by virtue of being a (while redesigned) classic Princess/action animated feature, while Big Hero 6’s foray into Marvel animated features makes it a little out of the Disney theme park’s alley…

    I think Frozen’s success also lies in the fact that it was a story for girls that finally focused on the girls as the primary relationship. All past Princess movies (with the exception of Brave) had romance as a huge plot driver and the endgame; with Frozen, we finally got a focus on family and ‘girl-power’ that was led and pursued by the ladies themselves. It was refreshing to see Anna as a go-getter ready to save her sister, and when she needed saving herself, she could count on her sister rather than a man she only briefly met.

  13. SomeOtherAmazon

    I agree Frozen is a little overdone, but personally the movie (and the song let it go) helped me to leave a very toxic relationship. I always felt like I was hiding how bad things were getting at my own expense, so it will always have a fond place in my heart. Still, I went to Disney World in august and Frozen was EVERYWHERE. it was kind of annoying. Great article!

  14. What’s said here about Big Hero 6 in your article and comparing it to The Nightmare Before Christmas in terms of becoming a “cult classic” at least from a financial standpoint isn’t truly a fair comparison. Big Hero 6 has become the “third highest grossing Disney film ever” so far at a domestic gross of $222,527,828m debuting at the top of the box office http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=disney2014.htm.

    Whereas with The Nightmare Before Christmas, not only did it have an initial limited opening weekend in theaters (something Brig Hero 6 does not have), it also was released under a completely different studio owned by Disney, Touchstone Pictures, because of how little Disney trusted the film’s content as appropriate for the company (something that Big Hero 6 once again does not have in contrast) http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=nightmarebeforechristmas.htm.

    Furthermore, The Nightmare Before Christmas was only nominated for one Academy Award for Visual Effects while Big Hero 6 won the later Academy Award for Best Animated Film of 2014. Lastly thee have been comments in news articles like Forbes about how Big Hero 6 isn’t getting as much attention though it received a “record-breaking second weekend gross” as well as being the “fastest grossing Disney animated film” after the article’s titular Frozen http://www.forbes.com/sites/scottmendelson/2014/11/17/is-disneys-big-hero-6-the-years-quietest-box-office-smash/.

    Therefore the fact that Big Hero 6 has been this successful can hardly have it be a cult classic since the term means “something, typically a movie or book, that is popular or fashionable among a particular group or section of society” which doesn’t fit with Big Hero 6’s broad domestic gross rate which doesn’t count total worldwide gross and still far higher than The Nightmare Before Christmas easily https://www.google.com/#q=cult+classic+meaning .

    • Christen Mandracchia

      Hello dsoumilas.

      Thank you for the topic suggestion and the comment. What you say is true, however, it is misleading. I want to clarify some things.

      Firstly, I mention what both Frozen and Big Hero 6 made at the box office in my 8th footnote. Note that there is roughly a $200 million gap between the two. This gap is similar to the earning difference between Aladdin which earned about $217 million and Nightmare Before Christmas which earned $75 million. There are many factors which contribute to the success of Big Hero 6, however, I consider the correlation to be valid because of this similar gap in earnings and attention.

      Secondly, please remember that the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature did not exist until 2001. Nightmare Before Christmas did not receive the same attention from the Academy because animated movies, in general did not receive such acclaim from the Academy in the early 90’s.

      Big Hero 6 is generally a good movie which did very well. I think my article clearly articulates the reasons in which Frozen is better crafted for success in the Disney culture which is still adjusting to accommodating the super hero/comic book genre. When Nightmare Before Christmas was released, the film did not fit in with the culture of the Company in the same way that Aladdin did. The culture caught up with the film and now, as I say in my article, Nightmare has a large presence. As the super hero culture grows within Disney, so too might Big Hero 6.

      For the record, I also never said that Big Hero 6 failed or will become a “cult classic” as, you are correct, the definition would be inappropriate for this film.

      That being said, my correlation is meant to highlight the fact that some Disney films which do not receive as much fanfare from the Company gain popularity in the future.

      Thank you again for your topic suggestion: without which I would not have had the opportunity to write this article.

  15. ohhh bliss
    0

    My two and five year old daughters just love Frozen. It is a great movie. I think one of it’s appeals is it does not talk down to kids or shy away from complex issues. It treats them with respect and intelligence. It is a great story with great moral insights, ‘love puts all emotions in balance’.

  16. The only thing that it stands out for is that the final ”love” was not romantic but sisterly love.

  17. Personally, I am getting tired of seeing all the frozen merchandise everywhere I go. That being said, I understand the appeal of the movie. Its just not for me.

  18. Because kids love it. Plain and simple. It’s got good animation and catchy songs. All of that = $

  19. I just came here to say that I’m mildly pissed that Disney’s switching out the Aladdin musical in Disney’s California Adventure for Frozen.

  20. Marcie Waters

    I think it has to do with profits. While Big Hero 6 was well received critically, it grossed just over half of what Frozen grossed in the box office. Critics don’t buy merchandise, movie fans do.

  21. Very interesting article. I had seen frozen and loved it, but I have to admit the reason I first watched it was because everyone was talking about it. Where as Big Hero 6, I have barely heard about and have not watched yet.

  22. I am starting to feel as if I am the only person who didn’t like this film, could barely watch it (only stayed because I was with my daughter) and promptly forgot about it – except a feeling of annoyance that, I’m in the dark as to why it was so popular.

    • Lynelle
      0

      It wasn’t objectionable. But I think it was overhyped. Ah well, as long as it has/had a faithful audience I can see it becoming a singalonga classic to go with Rocky Horror and The Sound of Music. Sometimes these phenomena just happen, and there’s no explaining them.

  23. radical bro
    super insightful and critical

  24. Although a stellar film― enjoyable for both children and adults alike, Disney milked frozen more than Nintendo milked the Mario franchise.

  25. To be honest, I noticed the craze – but never seen the movie. I have seen countless disney films, but never saw Frozen. I can tell you I knew about the movie long before it came out due to the song “Let it Go”. Like stated in this article, that song blew up. It went “viral”. There were covers, spoofs, and all sorts of home videos being uploaded to the web as FREE advertising. Personally, that turned me off because it simply annoyed me; But it certainly worked for Disney. Now that their marketing strategies have been laid out to me in this article, it all makes sense. Their smart – its making them tons of money. Why would they stop?

  26. I have mixed feelings about the popularity of Frozen. While I love that the story’s main focus is upon the sisters (as opposed to romance), I really dislike how fanworks have hypersexualized Elsa to the point that I’m afraid to let my 5 year old niece type in “Elsa costume” into Google. That being said, I’m glad Disney at least vaguely attempted to address mental health issues through Elsa’s character development. It’s important for major media like Disney films to use their broad reach to promote positive messages about mental heath, race, and sexuality, so I’m hoping Disney’s next few movies will try to address these things. With Moana (voiced by a native Hawaiian! yes!) upcoming, I’m very optimistic that Disney will do better to have diverse girls star in their films.

  27. Emily
    eadewaard
    1

    I appreciate that you neutrally examine why Frozen has been extremely successful and compare it to some of Disney’s well-known works. I think the admiration people have for Frozen in regards to the sisters being independent heroines shows a fresh, cultural shift. Disney seems to be making a conscious effort to break out of its paradigm of princesses/princes and people are certainly taking notice.

  28. The only reason Frozen is popular is because of the marketing for it. They make Frozen everything. I think Big Hero 6 is a much better film because it was different than the normal princess movies. It also has good representation of males and females in it.

  29. crispychips

    Aham… So Frozen, eh? *Clears throat*. Ok, so I have to voice my opinion about this movie… First of all it is in no way unique in terms of featuring musical content: practically any Disney movie out there has a few great songs.
    Second, I’m 27… And watched the movie for the first time a few weeks ago. Why did I submit myself to such torture? Partially because I grew up on Disney so it does hold a soft spot in my heart, and partially because of the hype surrounding it: everywhere I looked I saw Frozen merchandise! It was pure madness. When a 20-year-old friend of mine found out I never watched it she was stunned. Since she’s an intelligent person I value her opinion. Thus, one day I set down and watched Frozen.
    First of all, let me say that I detested Elsa (especially her nails-on-blackboard voice), that beauty pageant walk, and don’t get me started on her hideous make-up… Ugh… I shudder… Simply put she was Dolly Parton meets Drag-queen. She had such low self-esteem it was purely unnerving… Anna was somewhat better, but she was such a spaz she made me want to slap her several times across the face. Olaf was pretty harmless, and the emphasis on marriage throughout the movie was highly disturbing. I liked Hans a little bit because he was such a dirtbag (and a psycho) which added a breath of fresh air to this catastrophe.
    As to the iconic and mind-numbing ‘Let it go’: it practically made my ears bleed… On the bright side Frozen has plenty of feels to go around.
    Also their royal parents did such a piss-pore job bringing the girls up that for them dying was the only way of redemption…
    I heard/read somewhere that Frozen is a feminist movie… I guess, I dunno. I never saw it as one… In short I didn’t get what the hype was all about. Maybe if I was a three-year-old or half as cynical as I am in my progressive age I would have resonated with Frozen way better than I did.

    • Katheryn

      I think it is the three-year old to whom the movie is marketed, rather than a 27-year old adult. Three year-olds tend to love it and adults do not (in great part because parents have to listen to the music 24-7 for as long as the child is obsessed with it…and when it comes to small children, obsession with a particular film or book can last for years), so for the most part, I’d say Disney succeeded in what they set out to do.

      It might not be unique in that it features musical content, but I think what sets this film apart is not necessarily the worth of the music, but rather the sophistication with which animated films (specifically, this one) are now marketed. The progression of social media, as the author mentions and was her point, has pushed awareness (and over-exposure) to this movie.

  30. YsabelGo

    Detailed analysis about Disney’s marketing techniques. You’ve put a lot of time and effort into this article to make it an informative piece! Although I enjoyed Tangled more (I guess cause I’m a romantic at heart), Frozen did go beyond Disney’s usual tropes and presented a story that was enjoyable with good music. And everyone loves good music!

  31. Christina Legler

    The cult following of Frozen is such a strange phenomenon. People say it appeals to young girls, but so did The Little Mermaid. They say it’s because it has a good story about sisterly love, but so did Lilo and Stitch. I think Frozen’s success is just one of those things that becomes unusually popular for a number of reasons, including all of the ones you’ve listed. Good article! It’s definitely a subject worth examining, and not one with a straightforward answer.

  32. Jeffery Moser

    Disney movies are geared for profit. Interestingly and ironically, for Frozen, its theme song is not about any solution or resolution. Like the plot, either there is a crack (rather many cracks) or none at all. Viewers must decide the degree to which the movie is complete. Perhaps that is why the music overpowers the story line, another Disney film tradition.

  33. There’s no doubt that Disney is king when it comes to marketing their product. With the “vault,” pricey merchandise, and appeal to children– the adorable little frivolous consumers they are–Disney has set up a system that allows them to profit off of material over half a century old. But I’d never thought about why certain movies are more popular, particularly in marketing, than others. It’s interesting, but no surprise that Frozen had more commercial success than Big Hero 6, even if Big Hero 6 had more critical acclaim. Frozen follows the form Disney is known for– the princess movie. Though it deviates from the traditional romance driven form thanks to repercussions of recent developments and advances in the feminist movement, it’s still about princesses. Big Hero 6 is a complete deviation from Disney’s famous form– it’s a super hero movie. It makes sense that Disney would capitalize on Frozen more– it’s a marketing campaign they’ve led many times. Besides the advantage of a marketable soundtrack, Frozen also has a myriad of vastly different characters unlike Big Hero 6. In Frozen there’s a big sister, a little sister–who are a queen and a princess respectively– a funny talking snowman, a cuddly reindeer, a big lovable guy, and some magical talking rocks. Plenty of toys, entertainment, and merchandise for little boys and girls. Big Hero 6, while it has a diverse cast of characters just doesn’t encompass all the different character tropes Frozen does.

  34. When this film came out, I thought it was very good, but I didn’t think it was spectacular like Disney was trying to make it out to be. In my mind, the film was good, but it wasn’t the Lion King, or Aladdin, or Beauty and the Beast. Even Brave was a better film, and none of those were marketed as hard. The songs were catchy and lovely, but the main issue with all the Frozen elements is that they overdid it. It is ridiculous that every time you look around, still, all you see is Frozen. Maybe, I enjoy the older films more, so I’m a little biased, but my little sister, who was eight when the film came out, is even tired of it. It’s been worn out, and she has told me so. I think Disney is killing the franchise the more they promote it, because ,the more they do it after two years, the more annoying it becomes.

  35. I really enjoyed reading this and getting to take the time to learn and think more about Disney’s marketing and movie-making techniques, as well as their evolution over the years. It’s interesting how many of these elements that may contribute to a film’s “success” are talked about rather infrequently, and do not seem to be consciously noticed by those who are exposed to different types of marketing (e.g. marketing within other shows, popular music, social media, etcetera). Looking through this article and its comments, while I haven’t seen “Frozen” in its entirety, I wonder if the success of films such as “Frozen” is mainly due to the story and film itself or its marketing and growing popularity?

  36. Diego Santoyo
    Diego Santoyo
    0

    You have a very informative article that I enjoyed reading. I loved the way you started it because it made me laugh. It’s hard to escape “Let It Go” because it’s everywhere!

  37. Although its a fact that frozen is being overemphasised…it is hard to get over “Let it go”..*winks*

  38. Disney Studio had NEVER won an academy award before Frozen. Surprising, isn’t it? This is not counting Pixar’s nominations.
    In the past, only Beauty and the Beast had been nominated for an Oscar, and Fantasia had been nominated for a Grammy.
    Frozen marks the first time the central Disney animation studio had won one of the awards. Disney is proud. Its violent marketing is simple to explain as that.

    • Christen Mandracchia

      The Walt Disney Company’s first Academy Award was actually in 1932 for the short Flowers and Trees. Walt won a total of 26 Oscars over the course of his life including a special award for Snow White.

      Beauty and the Beast was not only the first Disney film, but the first animated film to ever be nominated for Best Picture. No animated film has ever won Best Picture.

      Meanwhile, the award for Best Animated Feature was created in 2001, partially due to the critical acclaim of Disney films and the expansion of the animated genre. Frozen is the first non-Pixar Disney film to win this award, if that is what you mean.

  39. As a Disney-phile (light), I approve of this article. Good incorporation of your sources.

    I would say that it isn’t so bad that Frozen is still being played up over Big Hero 6. Frozen is a film with female protagonists and a great message that even bucks old Disney tropes. I love Big Hero 6, but Frozen is the more important film, I think. As for Hocus Pocus and Nightmare getting cult status? I would venture to say that it had to do with their Halloween themes, because there are a lot of people that LOVE Halloween.

  40. Given that Disney has made a sequel to Frozen that does not look terribly impressive, nor contributes anything to that overarching world, the cynic in myself would state that Disney is trying to grasp after something, and are running out of things. Despite this tendency, the more realistic side of myself would suspect essentially the intuitive premise of the article; that Disney knows its audience, what tastes its audience has, and is allocating advertisement funds accordingly. On a side note, I do like the fact that the article is well-informed, and well-researched, with its argument being well-articulated. The best thing that this article does is that it quantifies, and illuminates the intuitive.

    • Disney making lazy sequels to their flagships is nothing new, and I don’t think a lack of success for those sequels portends a loss of control on Disney’s part. The sequels aren’t supposed to be huge moneymakers, thats the job of the next flagship. Agree with you on the subject of the article, as well: this was massively well researched. kudos.

  41. I couldn’t help but agree with your points on why Frozen was so popular due to its advertising. I am one of those people who was tired of hearing the songs but they finally broke me and became catchy. While I do believe the movie was charming there were things that I found that didn’t fuel the storyline.

    Its interesting that you bring to light how different films are advertised to different sexes but I wonder that you didn’t address how Big Hero 6 was advertised to girls. Maybe I missed that portion of the article but I don’t recall seeing a trailer that was geared towards women, as cool as the trailers were.

    • Christen Mandracchia

      I did not mention that one specifically. The theatrical trailers, as I mentioned tend to be either gender neutral or target Disney’s 43% male demographic. The more gendered trailers usually appear on TV. For example, the TV trailer for Aladdin which was targeted at girls focuses on Jasmine and her dreams as if the movie is another princess film while the Beauty and the Beast trailer for boys says that the plot involves the Beast and his “magical army” going out to “save Belle” from Gaston.
      The TV trailer for Big Hero 6 which was most likely targeted at girls features Honey Lemon and the aunt character as if they are principal roles and not secondary. This can be seen here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBJfcZMkae0 Like many aspects of Disney marketing, this is an area which is evolving as you’ll notice it doesn’t give misleading information about the plot like the ones from the 90’s do. Hope this helps.

  42. I love this article, but I too feel as though it is time to ‘let it go’ with frozen. I might wanna build a snowman, but I just can’t help the feelings of joy and disdain as I’m belting out the chorus to ‘let it go’ in the car….if it comes on my iphone…

    I guess we can’t all be winners <3

  43. Working at a movie theater, it was very interesting to see that we still had Frozen 6 MONTHS after it came out (typically a movie is in the theater around a month, 2 if it’s good, 3 if its REALLY good). What was more surprising was that it was still filling up half a theater, when it had come out on DVD! People were paying overpriced tickets just to see it on the big screen.
    What made everyone so intrigued in my opinion was the trailer. It showed NOTHING of the story. Just 2 characters, which turned out not even to be the main characters. That drew peoples attention.

  44. I used to be a big “Disney movie fan”. Then I had the harsh realization that all Disney movies force parents to deal with the topic of orphaned children due to parental deaths and girls growing up to be rescued by ‘Prince Charming’. This plants the subliminal belief that women NEED a man to be worth anything, as well as the childhood fear of your parents tragically dying because they went out for an evening while you stayed home. Seriously. Look at all the Disney movies and vast majority of the stories revolves around one or both of those issues.

    I still haven’t watched “Brave” because I believe it was the first film that promoted a strong female role. I did see “Frozen” in the theater because the music was catchy and the lyrics to “Let It Go” are empowering. What I saw in the theater (even though Disney kills-off the parents at the beginning. *sigh!*) warmed me. If you went in with an open mind, instead of preconceived notions of what to expect from a Disney movie, you saw what our current society is like and all the traps to love and romance women have been conditioned/programmed we are victim. Then as the story continues (if you’ve paid attention all the way through) you see the Truth revealed and where to find True Love to rescue your heart . . . your sister (or family). This is one Disney movie I would allow an impressionable little girl to watch and listen to the songs over and over.

  45. Great study! It’s true about the advertising. Disney is so good at advertising their products, it is unbelievable! But — I can’t lie, I get sucked into their advertising as well. As much as I love Disney, I am not a huge fan of Frozen. I love that Disney did not make it as, “the Prince will save the Princess,” but the film didn’t touch me as the others have in my life.

  46. Emily Deibler

    This is a wonderful overall look at Disney’s marketing techniques. As for Frozen, though I had issues with some story elements, I thought it was decent. Disney really is masterful in advertising their products.

  47. Tofuboy

    One fun fact, there is a theory that suggests Elsa is not Anna’s biological sister, but in fact Rapunzel’s twin who was sent to the neighboring kingdom in fear of being kidnapped for her magical power after the incident with Rapunzel.

  48. I agree with the writer that Disney is overemphasising Frozen, but in the same way, Disney is earning money by giving the little girls what they want. The kids are enthralled with Elsa’s looks and their parents fulfill their wants by purchasing many items of Frozen merch in local disneylands or even stores overseas. It’s a marketing ploy by Disneyland, and a very smart one too. Teens are persuaded by Celebrity Endorsement, and parents just do what makes their kids happy.

  49. Some interesting analysis here. I particularly like your input on the marketing aspect of the film. One thing I wanted to add is that despite the success of the film and changes in the strategy of Disney in the storyline to present a strong female character, the plot still contains some of the traditional “beliefs” of the studio. Yes, the film is significantly focused on a female character but themes such as the “coming of age” is still present in the movie. One of the reasons which I believe Brave was not as successful as Frozen is the appeal of the girls as “Princesses”, while Merida was more of a warrior than a princess.

  50. Arazoo Ferozan

    Some interesting analysis here. I particularly like your input on the marketing aspect of the film. One thing I wanted to add is that despite the success of the film and changes in the strategy of Disney in the storyline to present a strong female character, the plot still contains some of the traditional “beliefs” of the studio. Yes, the film is significantly focused on a female character but themes such as the “coming of age” is still present in the movie. One of the reasons which I believe Brave was not as successful as Frozen is the appeal of the girls as “Princesses”, while Merida was more of a warrior than a princess.

  51. Slaidey

    This was very informational, thanks! I didn’t know these specific marketing strategies and wondered myself why Frozen blew up so huge. I do hope Big Hero 6 won’t be overshadowed in the future too.

  52. Frozen has been huge. It would be crazy not to promote it as much as possible and keep the money train going. Heck, I’d do it if I had something popular.

  53. This article does put the whole Frozen craze in perspective; I was at Disney World last year and now Olaf’s face will be engraved in my mind forever. It does make sense from a marketing standpoint, and I had no idea how appealing musicals were to the masses until you explained it. Good job.

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