Disney, Opinions

[OPINION] ‘Olaf’s Frozen Adventure’ Is the Meme Disney Didn’t Intend

Share on Pinterest

This Thanksgiving, Pixar’s Coco opened to near-unanimous praise and a hefty domestic box-office sum of $71 million. Viewers and critics agree that director Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) and his team have created a beautiful, refreshing film.

The same cannot be said for a certain talking snowman who hails from the land of Arendelle.

Preceding all United States screenings of Coco is Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, a 21-minute holiday featurette that was originally developed as a television special. While the project has been heavily advertised toward its target demographic, those outside that realm weren’t as in-the-know, and were understandably thrown off-guard. Huh? Frozen? Well, okay, I mean, it’s just a short, right? Wait… a short would’ve been over by now. Am I in the wrong theater? What? I’m not? This is supposed to happen? Whose idea was this? How much longer is left? When will this madness end??

Those aware of the featurette’s inclusion didn’t seem to mind it as much. Families with young children are chomping up the new merchandise (as was probably the point). A handful of millennial Disney fans are in love with it. From my vantage point, as a stand-alone project, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure succeeds as a cute holiday story and a welcome addendum to the Frozen saga, even if it isn’t overly ambitious. It explores the characters a little more by playing with their mythology, its songs (while not written by the original film’s music team) are nice, and it definitely embodies the sense of cheer found in most successful holiday efforts.

But it’s a valid point that, even if it’s a perfectly fine Christmas special, the theatrical release of a Frozen mini-sequel alongside a full-length feature from a separate animation studio about the Day of the Dead is an awkward presentation… and a precarious one to prepare people for. I didn’t tell my best friend about Olaf until after he bought his movie ticket for fear he might not go if he knew about it. One family I know planned to see Coco on Thanksgiving, then decided not to go to the movies altogether when they found out they’d have to sit through 20 minutes of Olaf.

And if you didn’t see it coming? Well… some people got upset. Mexico flat-out stopped showing Olaf’s Frozen Adventure with Coco because audiences were so annoyed by it.

Because many moviegoers are becoming confused once the featurette begins, some theaters are now placing signs on box-office windows and cinema doors just so customers are fully aware of what they’re about to experience.

Olaf's-Frozen-Adventure-warning

Photo by Rotodesigner Ryan Campbell

Olaf's-Frozen-Adventure-warning

Photo by Rotowriter Blake Taylor

Yeah, yeah, I know. Olaf’s Frozen Adventure is not made by Pixar, and it certainly isn’t a “clip,” and this now brings up an entirely different discussion about if Disney and Pixar still each have a separate identity in the public’s eye, and… anyway. Reactions to Olaf’s Frozen Adventure are amplified and irate, or at least seem so, possibly because the majority of the viewers who actually loved it aren’t old enough to be on social media. Therefore, it’s left to be labeled perhaps unfairly by a tirade of tweets. There’s some truth in the chaos somewhere, though, and there’s definitely no ignoring the 27% audience approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s safe to say that Disney won’t be pairing any 21-minute featurettes with full-length films again anytime soon. Against anything Disney was expecting, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure might be remembered not as a holiday classic, but as a meme. Here are a few ways to answer the question that we all must now ask ourselves: How did this happen?

 

Frozen Overload

Let’s be honest: It’s cool to hate Frozen. Over the years, I haven’t shied away from writing about this claim, which has inevitably led to some readers calling me names with a vocabulary so foul it would make Prince Hans look like a savior by comparison. And that, in a microcosm, is the strange effect the Frozen franchise has on pop culture. It is either obsessed over or immensely disdained. I understand being sick of a franchise, but I can’t quite comprehend having such an extreme hate for an entertainment property like many adults seem to have toward Anna and Elsa. If you don’t like it, then don’t watch it… But now, that argument is placed on its head as everyone is forced to do otherwise if they want to see Coco. With any other franchise, that might’ve been okay, but everyone has a stance when it comes to Frozen, so the outcome is divided to say the least.

To many, Frozen is the youngest child that took away the attention from virtually everyone else. And, well, Disney hasn’t exactly been quiet about milking the cow for all it’s worth. That much is valid, and if you’ve had enough, you’ve had enough. If you’ve reached your Frozen saturation point, the last thing you want is more of it, and Olaf’s Frozen Adventure throws it at you whether you want it or not.

(I mean, come on, though. You know we’re fans, right? Frozember, remember?)

Surprise!

While marketed heavily on Disney Channel and through other various family outlets, many audience members were still unaware of the project’s existence until it started playing in the theater. Audiences have come to expect a short before Pixar films, but it’s almost always an original Pixar composition, not a franchise-based outing from Disney. Compounded with Frozen overload, not knowing beforehand that Olaf’s Frozen Adventure is included in Coco‘s presentation immediately, understandably bodes a sour opinion for those who are over it before it’s even begun.

 

Length

This was supposed to be a television special, and its length wasn’t changed after it was decided to release in theaters instead. That’s a lot to ask an audience to sit through. Having a featurette of this length isn’t completely foreign to Disney, but tit hasn’t released one like this in nearly three decades. Mickey’s Christmas Carol debuted theatrically in 1983 alongside a reissue of The Rescuers. It was followed in 1990 by The Prince and the Pauper (another Mickey featurette) accompanying, coincidentally, The Rescuers Down Under. Who knows if the response back then was as hostile as the feedback toward poor Olaf. Mickey’s Christmas Carol has held up as a holiday standard, and within the animation community is considered a classic. The Prince and the Pauper, while enjoyable, is not well known today. This leaves a rather unpredictable precedence for what could happen long-term for Olaf’s Frozen Adventure.

It’s worth noting, though, that despite not having released a featurette theatrically since 1990, Disney and Pixar have both still done so on television. Walt Disney Animation Studios created an original story about Santa’s elves being spies in Prep & Landing (2009) and its follow-up, Naughty vs. Nice (2011), both of which aired on ABC. While not explosive culturally, the specials received generally positive response. The directorial duo who helmed those specials also directed Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. Additionally, Pixar developed two Toy Story specials for ABC: Toy Story of TERROR! (2013) for Halloween and Toy Story That Time Forgot (2014) for Christmas. The former is stronger and better established from a mainstream perspective, though both are enjoyable. Perhaps it was the fear that Olaf’s Frozen Adventure would receive a similar mediocre success if assigned to airwaves rather than cinema screens. Perhaps Disney wasn’t confident enough in Coco to stand on its own. Perhaps it was a mixture of both.

Different Demographic Than Coco

Here’s where we get a little deeper into the conversation. Most of the uproar against Olaf’s Frozen Adventure comes from viewers who probably wouldn’t have voluntarily seen the featurette by itself. Yet, they still voluntarily went to see Coco. This means that we cannot, as Disney maybe wants to try to do, lump all Disney and Disney/Pixar features into the same demographic. Being from the same parent company doesn’t mean two projects will attract the same audience. This becomes a double-edged sword as Disney reaches diverse groups in developing different kinds of films, but assumes its own defeat in developing a property than everyone can enjoy. You can’t use the logic that says “We need to attract the Frozen crowd to Coco or else they won’t see the film” to also say “The Coco crowd should automatically like what the Frozen crowd likes.” It’s possible to go both ways, but that’s not always the case. While Coco is certainly a film the entire family can love, when getting into detail it probably has a little more mature demographic than Frozen‘s audience, and this idea to eliminate the margin seemed to implode upon itself.

What’s more, Disney probably expected a shoe-in approval for Olaf’s Frozen Adventure because it’s done the same experiment before, almost verbatim. The eight-minute short Frozen Fever preceded the live-action Cinderella in theaters in 2015, and while not everyone was over the moon about it, it certainly didn’t cause such a ruckus as this. The difference, then (aside from the longer running time this go-round), is that the audiences for Frozen and Cinderella were relatively similar. They are not as different as those between Frozen and Coco. Rather than have two different demographics in the room as is the case with Coco, with Cinderella the audience was more or less the same, just larger, because of the inclusion of the short. This allowed Frozen Fever to be a resounding commercial success (especially as a short film), but remain under the radar to the audience who is now up in arms over having to sit through Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. They didn’t have to see Frozen Fever because many of them probably weren’t attracted to Cinderella.

disney-frozen-new-icy-still-image-anna-kristoff-olaf-sven

The Frozenorian Theorem

We’re far from finished from the Frozen storm. Frozen 2 arrives in theaters November 27, 2019, exactly six years to the date after the original film started everything.

The ebb and flow of the public’s relationship with Frozen is unique from anything else in Hollywood. The Communications graduate in me is honestly most fascinated by the real responses people have toward the franchise. I don’t think any child who has a near out-of-body experience when Olaf appears onstage at a Disney theme park is faking their response. They’re genuinely that excited. In contrast, I don’t think most people who are vocally adamant about their disapproval of the franchise speak such an opinion as a means for attention. They’re genuinely upset. (Contrast this with the comments section of this post from the week Frozen released in 2013, unanimously excited, with one reader dubbing it “peak of the Disney Revival era.”) And that is what is so, so interesting about all of this. It could easily be a thorough study in human behavior. In whatever shape, in however the form, Frozen elicits a strong response, and it will be eye-opening to see where that response continues to take us in the years to come.

 

Did Olaf’s Frozen Adventure make you leap for joy or spit fire?

Edited by: Hannah Wilkes

Share on Pinterest

About Blake Taylor

Blake graduated Appalachian State University studying Electronic Media Production and is an alumni of the Disney College Program. He is currently a copywriting apprentice at Elevation Church. Blake’s favorite films are Mary Poppins, The Lion King, and Toy Story 3. You can find him on Twitter (@blake_242) and visit his blog at blakeonline.com.

  • Angelo Thomas

    I hope people somehow forget about (or forgive) Olaf’s Frozen Adventure by the time Frozen 2 comes out. I love Frozen more than anyone I know, but even I have a hard time defending “Frozen fatigue” right now. I’d hate for people to go into Frozen 2 with a bad taste in their mouth because of this short.

    • Amber Dvorak

      I agree entirely. The overall presentation of this was just poor, and perhaps playing in a theater also made expectations too high. As a TV special, I think it would have been much better received. I personally enjoyed it, and am glad I got to see it before it’s removed from theaters. (Also, wanna compete for title of Biggest Frozen Fan?? 😅)

  • Rachel Wagner

    I really enjoyed it and thought it was cool to get bonus movie for my ticket price

  • It was pretty cringey for me. Theyre just such flat & forced characters, especially elsa. I love musicals & even I thought the songs were too often & not that great. Olaf himself I’ll admit was funny & entertaining, but I was embarrassed to have my relatives (who arent really animation fans) sit through the cutsey-wootsy-ness because I insisted they’d like Coco. People in the theatre were definitely confused & talking about the length.

    Everyone in the theatre loved Coco though, I’m in an area with a high Mexican population & it got big laughs at the cultural jokes & a big ol’ applause at the end. So I guess it made up for the awkward start.
    Besides personal opinions on the Frozen Franchise, and the weird length, it was probably that the two films feel mismatched.

    • Mack

      I think the characters seem ‘flat and forced’ because they keep harping on Elsa’s missed childhood/teenage years. They did it with Frozen Fever and now this short. I hope Frozen 2 doesn’t do the same.

      • Manuel Orozco

        I didn’t see Frozen Fever but I didn’t expect you to say feel flat and forced. Especially when the returning creative team took a slightly lighter and softer vibe from the first movie.

  • Mack

    My wife and I loved it, even the songs (particularly ‘When We’re Together’). But yeah, it was a little long for a theatrical ‘short.’

    • Manuel Orozco

      I’ve only listened to That Time of Year, When We’re Together and Ring in the Season. Not that bad of songs even if Robert or Kristin Anderson Lopez did not write them

  • aquapyro

    Frozen has become the Stitch of this Disney Era. Remember when Stitch got 3 direct to DVD sequels, a tv series, a theme park overlay (to negative reception even though Frozen is a much better ride) and took over the castle. Its all going to implode at this point.

    At first I didnt think the hate for the film was justified but now its gotten to the point where I can’t stand it anymore.

    • Chelsea Warner

      That’s kind of how I feel. I will still say that Frozen is good movie but it is just so overrated and I’m sick of seeing it wherever I go.

      • Manuel Orozco

        I don’t blame you. I only saw the movie once at the El Capitan four years ago. Luckily the exposure has been less stressful for me in recent times. Except I was semi addicted to the rehearsal first look at the Broadway version. I just felt an obsessed need to keep my eyes on the road to Broadway. In case Disney doesn’t mess it up. Only few people recommended the show to me but I’m mainly concerned for how the plot is structured with Jennifer Lee’s new book. Particularly with Let It Go being the Act One finale but after In Summer.

    • Manuel Orozco

      Even though I’m a 2000’s kid, I prefer Frozen over LILO & Stitch.

    • Lauren Rodriguez

      Aloha! i happen to love lilo and Stitch. The movie is one of my favorites and I love the sequels as well with the exception of Stitch has a glitch. I loved the TV series too. I agree with Frozen has just become too much.

  • Honestly I almost liked the short more than the original movie! Being a Hans Christian Anderson fan as well as a writer (one of my first novel-length tales was a retelling of The Snow Queen), many of my problems with Frozen was what I felt–and this is just my opinion–a mishandling bordering on disrespect of the source material. Naming the villain Hans was just too much for me–the rotten cherry on top of a dry cake. Anderson was a gifted writer who deserves to have one of his gorgeous tales treated with the maturity and depth it deserves.

    • Mack

      Huh, never thought the Hans connection. You’re right, that does seem a bit disrespectful, even if unintentionally.

      • I hope for the movie makers’ sakes it WAS unintentional, instead of some sad sort of inside joke. Frozen had a lot of interesting elements to it, but… *sighs* *cheers self up by thinking about Coco instead*

    • Sebastian

      I haft to agree with you honestly. (I haven’t seen the short) but I feel personally that Frozen is a ok movie but rather too americanized and many of the more mature and powerful story elements are dumbed down at best in my opinion. I kind of cringe at the opening with vueli choir since it’s the only real connection to it’s source material aside from the coronation. I also wish that Sven was acting more like a real reindeer. And yes it’s very disrespectful to name a manipulating monster after a great writer. I mean just look at how well Pixar seems to respect Mexican culture, wish the same had been done for a different tale of The Snow Queen. By the way I’d like to read your take on it.

      • Yes, for sure! I enjoyed Vueli but not a lot else unfortunately. The animation, as others have said, was gorgeous, but that is simply an expectation I have going into any animated movie (although not every one lives up to that of course).

        Oh, thank you! That’s one of the best things one can say to a writer! The story’s unpublished, and may never see publication as it’s the first novel draft I ever finished, but its focus is on Gerda and her hero’s journey. I’ve aged the characters to teens and given them each their own link to the world of seasonal faeries. Basically on her journey to rescue Kay from the Snow Queen, Gerda must grapple with her own feelings for him, his destiny as future summer king, and her own family secrets that might destroy her.

        • Sebastian

          I agree that the animation is unique and the snow looks very updated.
          Sounds very interesting 😀 I remember reading Snow Queen a long time ago and I thought that Gerda was a very well thought out protagonist. So brave and loyal to her Kai. I’m sure I would like your take on it. Especially the secret part that’s very mysterious and intriguing.

    • Marielle

      What do you think of the 2012 Russian animated movie The Snow Queen?

  • I missed half of this thing because I don’t think my theater played any previews, I got there a few minutes late and used the restroom before I sat down, only 10-15 minutes after the 7pm showtime, and from what I could figure, it was about half over. Olaf was was melting away in a sauna when I sat down, and I think I only got in on one big musical number, which I did actually like, but, I mean, it’s Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell, even if the rest was terrible, I can’t hate them singing together.

    What little I saw of it, I thought was mediocre with a smidge of cringe, until right before the end, when it improved exponentially. If the half I saw is indicative of the whole short, then overall it’s probably mediocre to mildly enjoyable. I didn’t find it awful, like the vast majority of internet reviewers seem to have, but I don’t think it had any place being attached to Coco, and I’m still slightly bitter about being deprived of a Pixar short, which is one of my favorite things about going to any Pixar movie. Anyway, rant over, it wasn’t awful, but it should have stuck to television.

  • Chelsea Warner

    I haven’t seen it yet, so I can’t say that I like it or not. I will say that Frozen is a good movie, but it is just so overrated. I never understood what made it so much better than Tangled or Wreck It Ralph. I honestly do have a problem with it being played in front of Coco. My biggest problems are they are from different studios, it’s a Christmas special being played in front of a Day of the Dead movie, and it’s just too dang long.

  • I personally didn’t mind the special in front of Coco (thought it was mostly very lovely by the end lol), but yeah it didn’t feel extremely theatrical to me

  • Manuel Orozco

    When the preview for this short played before Cars 3, I knew I was going to skip Coco until it is taken off presentations. Because as much as I thought Frozen was beautiful and surprisingly heartfelt, it has received too much exposure. If Olaf’s Frozen Adventure still plans on airing on ABC this coming month, I won’t be getting into the Frozen craze anymore afterwards. At least not until the sequel comes out two years from now.

  • Jeremiah

    It’s odd people get so mad. It’s pretty expected by now for animated films to have shorts. The shorts are sometimes ten or even fifteen minutes long. This isn’t THAT much longer. It’s a real pity not showing in Mexico anymore. Those whiners spoiled it for all the little kids.

    • Yellow

      Well…I think usually these shorts max out at around 7 minutes (I think Frozen Fever did), while this is three times as long. I can understand why people are upset.

  • Yellow

    I really like the first Frozen. But if I did see Coco, I’d probably skip this special. I think it would be forgivable if they had the short *instead of* commercials, but I don’t know that that would ever happen.

  • Hannah Wilkes

    I genuinely liked Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. I would love to see Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson involved with more Disney projects in the future. They seem like a great songwriting team! And I thought there were some really beautiful details in the animation, especially with some of the details in the characters’ clothing design and effects. I also thought it was a nice change of pace. Every trailer that played at my theater before Coco was for an animated comedy and, while Olaf’s Frozen Adventure has plenty of comedic moments, the overall serious tone was a breath of fresh air (the same can be said for Coco, as well).

    It’s a shame there was so much confusion caused due to the length of the featurette. Being a Pixar fan I expect to see animated shorts before Pixar films, but even I would have been confused by Olaf’s Frozen Adventure – primarily due to its length – if I hadn’t known about the featurette beforehand. Had it premiered on TV, where people expect holiday specials to be broadcast, I don’t think there would have been nearly as much backlash.

    • Amber Dvorak

      I liked it too! Probably more than Frozen Fever, actually. It’s a shame that it’s getting backlash due to the presentation, when the featurette itself is quite nicely done (as I’ll elaborate on in my review tomorrow 😏).

  • I haven’t seen Olaf’s Frozen Adventure yet, but I
    think that it was a mistake for Disney to put this
    20+ minute short in front of Coco. It would have
    been better to keep this on tv.

    I think Disney only did this because they either
    thought that people wouldn’t go out in big enough
    numbers to see a unique and original Pixar movie,
    thus why they added this to get a bigger crowd or
    they wanted to keep Frozen fresh in folks’s minds
    in anticipation of Frozen 2.

  • BTW, I’m not on the “I hate Frozen” bandwagon.
    I do not love the movie, it is just good in my view.

    • Manuel Orozco

      I’m on that bandwagon with you too

      • I’m not on any bandwagon. All it is is a good film.

        • Manuel Orozco

          It was just an expression

          • Oh, I understand now. Sorry about that Manuel.

          • Manuel Orozco

            Forgiven

  • Lauren Rodriguez

    Hola! I think an Elena of Avalor short would have fit a lot better in front of Cocoa. It would have been received with open arms and they could have made the story line for it dia de los muertos centered. Disney missed an awesome opurtunity.

  • The best movie I can compare Frozen to is actually Titanic. Both are movies that made huge money in theaters by people who obsessively went to see it many, many times, and both movies are best remembered by a single song that became an earworm in everyone’s brain. Some of you born in 1992 or later may not recall this, but “My Heart Will Go On” was the “Let It Go” of the late 90s, and everyone ended up getting sick of it.

    The difference is that Titanic, despite having huge box office success, had no possibilities for a sequel. The ship sinks. Frozen is a lot more open-ended. The reaction to Olaf’s Frozen Adventure is what happens when you try to continue the mania of a few years ago on a public that is not homogeneous in their love of it.