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