You probably remember where you were when you first heard it.
“The snow glows white on the mountain tonight, not a footprint to be seen.”
Those opening notes need no further identification. Today, they prompt one of two things: immediate celebration or immediate pulling out of hair. The Frozen phenomenon—the good and the bad—tells the story of the triumph of Walt Disney Animation Studios in developing a film that could 1) win over audiences, 2) make money, 3) please critics, and 4) cement itself as a vessel for the Walt Disney Company as a whole. Frozen has achieved in a year what many films spend decades attaining notoriety for. It’s been exactly one year, to the day, since Frozen‘s theatrical debut, and in the time since we had our first listen of “Let It Go” (remember that Oscar website we had to visit to listen to it streamed?), it has been a wild ride.
The first rumblings of Frozen sparked, from the beginning, an elevated interest. Disney Animation’s steady climb in creative quality combined with the key elements of its existence to elicit excitement right away. A fairy tale? A musical fairy tale? A musical fairy tale based on a story from the same mind as The Little Mermaid? It doesn’t take much to create anticipation for a Disney film, and when those kind of teases are thrown into the mix, there is reason fan squeal. As a follow-up to Tangled and a creative progression from Winnie the Pooh and Wreck-It Ralph, this was a promising film.
Following a bizarrely silent period in terms of marketing, promotion kicked into high gear in summer 2013 once the teaser trailer starring Olaf and Sven (a controversy in its own right) opened the floodgates for additional information. As more and more news surfaced, it became more evident that Frozen would not just be a film to look forward to—it was a film whose release would be one to tell your children you lived through. Its final trailer proclaimed it to be “The greatest animated event since The Lion King,” and buzz couldn’t have been higher. The Rotoscopers celebrated in style with Frozember, a whole month of Frozen happy dancing as we counted down the days until the film’s big arrival.
And what an arrival it was. Instantaneously, the world adored Frozen. All eyes were upon it for the 2013 holiday season, and the question became not if you had seen Frozen, but how many times. Children, adults, marsupials—everyone raved about this film and grew to have an attachment to it.
The most personal way to see the true impact Frozen had in its early months was the embrace given to it by people who weren’t necessarily obsessed with animation or Disney. Bloggers, fans, and critics weren’t the only niches tweeting about this thing; everyone was. The school bell tower hailed “Let It Go” at the season’s first snowfall, while simultaneously it seemed like the whole nation blamed Elsa for the ice. The Billboard Top 100 playlist carried several songs from the film’s soundtrack (a feat that astonished me completely as I heard “Love Is An Open Door” playing at work on the actual radio).
But even given this elite acceptance, Frozen was not a passing trend, or at least not a quick-lived one. Somewhere around New Year’s, a barrier broke and this “thing” that permeates Frozen—this magic touch—became something more. What was once simply a hit film became a global phenomenon. A sing-along theatrical event, countless of patient guests waiting in hours-long lines to meet Anna and Elsa in Disney theme parks, thousands of YouTube covers, and two Oscars later, Frozen had become the world’s #1 animated film of all time, overtaking the billion-dollar record previously held by Toy Story 3.
And with success came, inevitably, the Disney synergy machine. Upon the realization of Frozen‘s powerhouse potential, various different arms of Disney spent the springtime quickly developing projects for a juggernaut launch in the summer. Some endeavors called for quick entertainment options in the parks to pacify the expectation of guests for Frozen to be part of their vacation experience. Disney’s Hollywood Studios hosted Frozen Summer Fun (complete with fireworks and a live stage show; the latter of which still remains indefinitely) while Disneyland added a Frozen pre-parade to its afternoon procession. Bringing Frozen to hometowns, this year’s Disney On Ice production spotlights the film and Disney Consumer Products’ line of Frozen merchandise can barely be stocked before it disappears. In terms of media, Disney Channel stars recorded a pop version of “Do You Want To Build a Snowman?” and ABC’s Once Upon a Time is currently spending its fourth season with a significant emphasis on a Frozen-inspired storyline. Long term, Disney is setting up Frozen for further longevity with a new short from Disney Animation debuting spring 2015, a permanent attraction opening at Epcot in early 2016, and a Broadway spectacle from Disney Theatrical in early stages of development.
With so much saturation comes, for some, frustration. After already becoming somewhat annoyed by seeing so much Anna and Elsa, the announcement that Epcot’s Frozen ride would replace the longstanding Maelstrom was the last straw for some Disney fans. It didn’t help matters when news came that Elsa, not Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, would magically turn on the Christmas lights on Cinderella Castle for the 2014 season. It seemed, in this framing, the film was overtaking things it had no place tampering with. While there is no denying the quality merit of the movie, its exposure as a franchise is admittedly everywhere, and if you’ve had enough, there is barely a place to find refuge.
Every now and then, a property rolls around that Disney latches onto in a big way. Lilo & Stitch, High School Musical, Cars, and Phineas and Ferb all exemplify this cycle in the past decade or so, but none even hold a candle to the cultural, commercial, and truly universal roar of affirmation for Frozen. How much does Disney feel that this movie defined its past year? I was too young to be cognizant of the wave of influence the Disney Renaissance had on the world in the early 1990s, but I imagine this is what it must have felt like. Whether or not you’ve had enough at this point, there is no denying that past year of Frozen surge will forever be a tent-pole chapter in the pages of animation history, a shining example of the reach one single original idea can have to touch the lives of many in a touchingly significant way.