Synergy is irresistible. And when you’re Disney, inevitable.
When a new property becomes a hot topic, the Walt Disney Company can infuse said property into its multi-arm infrastructure quicker than you can say “Maelstrom.” After decades of experience, this is one corporation that knows how to effectively extend the longevity of its characters’ legacies not only across several years, but across several generations. Whether through temporary events or permanent projects, Disney can crank a franchise through the synergy machine like no other studio can, thanks to a presence in consumer products, animation, theme parks, radio, and beyond.
Capitalizing on Frozen‘s success in a blatantly marketable way, this year’s telecast of the Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade was renamed “Disney Parks Frozen Christmas Celebration.” What could have been a wonderful opportunity fell flat of its potential, but not necessarily because of Frozen.
The event was an overall disappointment, largely because it strayed away from the thing that makes it most special: the parade itself. (Hey, wait a minute. Isn’t Frozen all about–embracing–who you are rather than changing to what we think others want to see? Sigh.) Degraded to insultingly quick clips of floats whisking briskly passed hosts Robin Roberts and Tim Tebow (Yeah, I was confused too) at Walt Disney World, the parade segments were shoved aside in favor of a major slant toward concert performances from WDW, Disneyland, and Aulani (Disney’s resort hotel in Hawaii).
The integration of Frozen into this 31-year television tradition largely relied on performances of four of the film’s songs. Oodles of dancing little girls performing “In Summer” was skippable (the irony of Olaf prancing in a circle around the famed statue of Walt Disney). Alex and Sierra’s acoustic “Love Is An Open Door” and Laura Marano’s Hawaiian “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” sounded odd as stand-alone performances given their lyrics, but music-wise sounded delightful as new renditions of favorite songs. (I would love a whole ukulele Disney album.) Closing out the show, 12-year-old Lexi Walker brought the house down with “Let It Go,” the song that catapulted her to viral stardom when she sang an African version of it last winter. Kudos with those.
Frozen‘s other inclusions were three parade floats, viewer-submitted clips singing the soundtrack, and a continual mentioning from the hosts of Anna and Elsa’s family motif being the strong center of the film, just as it is the center of a Disney vacation. This emotional lens was the route taken by producers to pitch vacation sales this year: it showed families reuniting and celebrating in the Disney parks rather than simply playing the parks’ usual highlight reels. This helped keep the program’s promotional shove to a minimum, as well as elicited a few tears.
Interestingly, Anna and Elsa were the parade’s big “build-up” characters, the ones teased at before every commercial break as coming up soon, instead of (check this out) Santa Claus. Moved to the very beginning of the broadcast, Santa is typically the big treat at the end. Not this time. Capping off the broadcast was a bizarre icification of Main Street courtesy of Elsa, complete with embarrassing visual effects on Disney’s part. It looked horrid, probably not helped by the shots being merged images from two days of filming, which unfortunately had different weather both days.
Perhaps most strange of all is not what was included, but what was left out. So much remained average that could have been extraordinary. 2013’s broadcast raised the bar high with Neil Patrick Harris’s stellar hosting duties, which included a full musical number as the show’s opener. This year we were left with a hodgepodge of oddly juxtaposed hosts in far too many locations, making for a jumpy, confusing, and uninteresting two hours. Absent was anything about the creation of Frozen itself; as many promotional events Josh Gad attends for Disney, I’d think he’d jump at the chance to be part of this special in a big capacity. Likewise, it’s odd Disney completely neglected Jonathan Groff, who was already in Walt Disney World for Epcot’s Candlelight Processional the week the special was filmed. That seemed like a no-brainer. I remember watching Ernie Sabella perform “Hakuna Matata” and Jodi Benson sing “Part of Your World” on this same telecast during their films’ prime, and thinking that was so cool. It’s a little befuddling as to why it isn’t the norm anymore.
It’s always a risk deriving from the usual, and the peculiar thing is this annual event has tried different endeavors before, but always reverts back to its parade format. 1999 experimented with a nighttime airing instead of morning, and 2000 saw a Christmas Eve countdown to Santa instead of a regular parade. Both ultimately became one-time stints, as the Frozen theme will likely be. It simply did not work; not because it was specifically Frozen, but because it morphed itself to try to fit a mold of something it is not. The theme gave us a few nice moments (the introductory narration had some beautiful videography of empty parks after dark), but ultimately was not enough of a pay-off to be something that should continue, again more due to the format rather than the theme itself.
At the very most, I hoped for an elaborate opener with Anna, Elsa, and the gang preparing the park for a magical Christmas morning (a la the Disneyland Fun sing-along tape). At the very least, I expected something more than what was delivered. These unfulfilled expectations, paired with the lack of a traditional parade, made for many eye rolls and shaking heads in my living room as the telecast went on. If producers were looking for a way to make the program different this year, perhaps it would have been better to devote one extended segment of the broadcast toward Frozen‘s influence rather than restructure the entire two hours away from its parade heritage. I could say much more, but in a discussion about the handling of Frozen, that’s all that is relevant to say.