Disney, Opinions

Vindicating Olaf from ‘Frozen’

Many fans were confused and upset at the highly anticipated teaser trailer for Disney’s Frozen. The trailer, which debuted last June, was essentially a short vignette featuring the film’s two sidekicks, Sven the reindeer and Olaf the snowman, instead of an epic, all-encompassing megatrailer showing off the film’s scale.


The frustration is understandable: To the average moviegoer who has never heard of Frozen, this looks to be a simple buddy comedy starring Sven and Olaf. The teaser trailer has no mention of princesses or music or adventure. Case in point, I was discussing Frozen with my brother, who has seen the trailer and nothing more, and he interrupted me because he thought I had confused movies.

It’s easy to see why. I mean, in practically every sense, Olaf is the center of Frozen‘s promotional campaign so far. Not only does he star in the trailer, but he’s also now found as a theater stand-in inside multiplexes across the country (bizarrely playing a ukulele, no less). Not only that, but he’s the only character to appear on this teaser poster…

Frozen-Teaser-Poster-Olaf

…and has already been announced as the host of Winter Dreams, an upcoming nighttime holiday show at Disney California Adventure.

World-of-Color-Winter-Dreams-Olaf

Not Anna. Not Elsa. Olaf. And it has a lot of people ticked off.

It’s clear that Disney is being intentional on how it markets this film. The strategy is just throwing a lot of people off because it’s not what we expected. I’m against the fan army tide, though; I like it. It seems to me that Disney is trying to make for certain that Frozen appeals to as broad of a demographic as it possibly can, hoping to avoid what plagued The Princess and the Frog‘s mediocre box-office numbers.

Here’s why I think this Olaf-centric campaign is a good thing. If Disney pitches Frozen to the public as a princess film from the get-go, you’re going to have a very narrow reach in terms of people who will want to see the movie. Even though there happens to be a princess in it, I expect Frozen to ultimately have enough appeal to entertain beyond demographics, much in the same way Aladdin and Tangled did. Of course, no matter how it’s marketed it’s still the same movie, but you get what I’m saying: you say “princess,” and some folks will deem it as a girls’ film and not give it any more thought. The title being Frozen will help rectify this, but so will putting Olaf at the center of marketing. Particularly with boys, if they are already sold on seeing the movie, and then find out that, yes, there’s princesses involved too, well… they’re not going to mind because they’re already intrigued. If you have it the other way around (princess epic THEN introduce Olaf), it might be too late to reverse people’s thinking.

Frozen-Olaf

Additionally, what Disney gains in being so hopped up on Olaf is that the audience is familiar with (and, perhaps, enthralled by) this character before they even see the movie. If they get him as a character, they’re going to want to see more of his story even if they don’t have any clue what it’s about yet. This strategy brings to mind a particular blue alien who starred in (what I view as) Disney’s most brilliant promotional movement of all time. We all remember the teaser trailers for Lilo & Stitch, involving a trouble-making Stitch wrecking havoc on famous Disney scenes like “Circle of Life” and “A Whole New World.” These trailers tell us absolutely nothing about the Hawaiian culture, family emphasis, and endearing heart that is at the core of Lilo & Stitch‘s very existence, but they DO get us into the theater, so that we can THEN fall in love with those other things. We’re sold on Stitch, we want to see what he’s all about, so we go see his movie and reap the benefits from what his film stands for.


And that’s exactly what I think Disney is trying to do with Olaf: selling him as a goofy, wisecracking sidekick akin to the likes of Pumbaa, Sebastian, or even King Candy, hoping it will be enough to win us over… and THEN pulling out all the stops for a more expansive marketing procession that gives us a more thorough perspective on just what Frozen is, just in case.

About Blake Taylor

Blake studies Electronic Media and Film at Appalachian State University. His favorite movies are The Lion King and Toy Story 3, and his favorite park attraction is Mickey's PhilharMagic. He also thinks those swell vintage Mickey Mouse cartoons are just the tops. You can follow Blake on Twitter @olddirtyblake and visit his Disney blog at blakeonline.com.
  • http://www.garywrightonline.blogspot.com/ Gary Wright

    I actually really like Olaf! He’s cute and I really want his plushie. Is it just me?

    • http://theartofanimation.weebly.com/ Max den Hartog

      I like Olaf as well (Especialy his cute scream) but I think they have to put the focus on Anna and Elsa, he is just a sidekick character. I think Disney showed us enough Olaf now, and its time for Anna and Elsa! Any new trailer news? Jennifer Lee told we’re getting more info this week.

    • Butteryfingers

      Why should marketing it as a princess film be a problem though? didnt mermaid and Beauty and the beast do well?

      • http://www.garywrightonline.blogspot.com/ Gary Wright

        That was 20+ years ago and the market was totally different. Look at the difference of marketing between The Princess and the Frog and Tangled and compare their box office results. SO DIFFERENT. It’s kind of a shame really that companies have to resort to gender-neutral dumbing down of their marketing strategies :(

        • Darcy

          You’re just not getting how deadly dull the idea of a film about an unappealing American pseudo-princess and a frog (a frog, for heaven’s sake!) is, versus the idea of, say, a terrifying beast falling in love with a vulnerable girl. The difference is night and day.

          I mean, I used to watch Disney films, and even I had zero interest in Princess and the Frog. Not to mention that it was one of the two weakest Disney-princess movies anyway.

          But as soon as I found out about how thrilling and deep a character Elsa is, I was hooked on Frozen. Do you even see how big the box-office is for superhero films? That’s how Disney should have marketed this — as Disney’s super-heroine film.

          One film: Super-heroine blasts snow powers from mountaintops!
          Other film: boring girl kisses frog.

          The difference is night and day.

          • Matthew Latham

            I really think that P&TF was supposed to be more charming, which in it’s own way it was, while Frozen was supposed to be more epic. Princess and The Frog was probably supposed to be the Cinderella of our time, but ended up not being because of some of the elements it used. Frozen is more of the sleeping beauty or beauty and the beast of our time.

    • Doll gymnast

      Pictures totally agree with u

  • Darcy

    You want to know how Disney should market this film to a broader audience?

    Here’s a thought.

    Disney might consider whether or not Frozen happens to have a character in the film who has awesome and amazing snow-magic powers that can freeze half a world, who is more beautiful than any Disney princess ever created, who is more gorgeous for that matter than any DC or Marvel super-heroine, who has more existential tragedy in her backstory than even Nolan’s Dark Knight, and promote the *heck* out of that character.

    How should Disney market this film? By showing how exciting and awesome and unique and incredible Elsa is. That’s how.

    I mean, they created this stupendous character. They might consider actually, you know, using her.

    • MadNessMonster

      ^^ Also, this. :)

    • http://www.garywrightonline.blogspot.com/ Gary Wright

      They want BOYS to watch this movie! That won’t happen if the promos are all about Anna and Elsa. I totally agree with Disney’s marketing decisions for Frozen. I’d rather see this movie be a Tangled-sized success than it end up underperforming like The Princess and the Frog.

      The Olaf-Sven trailer may not have worked for us older fans, but ask anyone who watched it in a theatre, it received a thunderous amount of laughter and applause. Kids are loving it, as are many older viewers!

      Oh and by the way, brace yourself for the Frozen marketing blizzard over the next couple of months! ;)

      • Darcy

        You can’t possibly fail to understand the difference between the appeal, to BOYS, of a story about a girl and a frog (booooring!) and a super-hero with epic, awesome powers who is tortured by those powers into living a Batman-like life of solitude.

        BOYS will watch a movie about a super-heroine who is ultra-sexy and can blast enemies with snow powers a thousand times sooner than they’ll watch a movie about an dopey-looking plushie.

        Boys want action. Boys want awesomeness. Elsa as Snow Queen promises both. Olaf makes this look, to boys, like a movie for babies.

        • http://www.garywrightonline.blogspot.com/ Gary Wright

          Well that’s exactly what Dreamworks tried to do with Jack Frost and the rest of the characters in ‘Rise of the Guardians’ last year, and we all know that turned out to be a commercial disappointment…so basically Disney is just playing it safe.

          • Darcy

            Except (a) I never even heard of Jack Frost and the Guardians until some people started posting Jack Frost on Tumblr in connection with Elsa — and left me wondering, “Who is this white-haired person who looks like a boy version of the Snow Miser from the old Hanna Barbara Christmas cartoons?” So the penetration of that ad campaign was minimal.

            And (b) just now glancing at those character posters, the designs are pretty weak to put it mildly.

            I promise you, you show the Japanese trailer for Frozen to boys, or better still, augment it with a little more superhero action and epic scale, and boys WILL be intrigued.

          • http://theartofanimation.weebly.com/ Max den Hartog

            If they want this film to appeal to boys, just make marketing surrounding Anna, Elsa and KRISTOFF! Boys will think he is cool, i guess.

  • MadNessMonster

    You make a very good argument here, but I’m sadly going to have to disagree. I actually think focusing on the goofy sidekick character is going to do an awful lot more harm than good. I mean, imagine if there was a teaser trailer, posters, and so on for the next “Star Wars” movie and ALL OF THEM only focused on one character… and that character was JarJar Binks. That’s the sour feeling in my gut the Olaf-heavy ad campaign gives me and, worse, I see the same reaction on Twitter, etc. to this ad campaign and character.

    Now, personally I’d like to be as wrong about Olaf as I was about Ray in “The Princess and the Frog” (who looked like a JarJar/Mater-esque nuisance in the ads and wound up being the most sympathetic character in the movie). But it boggles my mind that you guys are doing a better job promoting what “Frozen” is actually like than Disney is.

  • Kevin

    Why are people so angry about the marketing for a movie they have already decided to go and see?!
    How they market it doesn’t matter at this point, at least not to us fans. What does matter is how many tickets they sell, and how successful the film is so that Disney can continue to make films for us to see! How it’s marketed isn’t going to change the content of the film… not at this stage in the game!

  • Dobeman

    Saw this the day after it opened. Sat there completely confused for the first 30 minutes. Where is the frozen guy? Why is the story about some girl with magic? When did this become a “Princess” movie and why does Disney feel the need to lie to the public to get them to come see some over-sexed cartoon character (when she’s singing and prancing around her ice-castle) who, in the end, doesn’t “need a man” to come save the day?

    My daughter loved it and my boys had a good time, but I felt very much like this was a purposefully guided trick to lure a larger audience. And I get it, trailers are designed to highlight the best parts of the movie, but Olaf was such a non-character for most of this movie and not even vaguely mentioning the human characters in most of the lead-up is just obviously a trick.

  • Heather

    My daughter and I hated Olaf in the movie. He came close to ruining it. The movie would have been far better without. Sven was okay.

  • Stephenie Reynolds Kessock

    Hate to break it to you author but my boys felt duped by the “Olaf advertising” and frankly so did it. It was deceitful on the part of Disney. We HATED the movie. If I had known what the movie was actually about, I would have NEVER gone to see it. Is this what Disney has resorted to? Tricking people into paying to see a movie that was completely different than what they thought it was? I was a very unhappy mama when the princesses started singing. I wasted nearly $100 for my family to see a movie that they hated. Thumbs was down Disney.

  • Doll gymnast

    Well I LOVE Olaf!He is my fave character.
    I think this is the best Disney movie because it’s about 2 sisters instead of a prince and Princess.

  • why does this have to have a n

    Olaf is the only reason I didn’t watch this in theaters. He is the only part of the movie that I dislike. So there.

  • Oliver

    If I hadn’t been told by people that this movie was great I wouldn’t have seen it based on the trailer. I just watched it and thought, oh no, another goofy comedy sidekick, they seem to have aimed it at three-year-olds