They’re the most in-demand celebrities in town. They’re so popular that their performance count is double the number of the act at the same venue last year. Moments before they make their entrance, there’s a chill in the air as the crowd stands elbow to elbow. There is barely room for anyone to move, and a jitter of excitement as the clock ticks closer to showtime. At last, the lights dim, and the guests of honor arrive. Is it a sold-out Taylor Swift concert? Nope. Try Cinderella Castle at nightfall, ready for A Frozen Holiday Wish, a new show for the 2014 Christmas season in Walt Disney World in Florida.
Since 2007, the Magic Kingdom has dazzled guests with a breathtaking display of icicle lights adorning Cinderella Castle during November and December. It’s a sight enough to stop one in their tracks, mouth agape with awe. Each night, the lights are turned on with the help of Disney magic and some special friends. Until now, that meant Mickey and the gang assisting Cinderella and Fairy Godmother to make the ice appear. But given the immense superstardom of a certain frosty queen, a change was in order for 2014. A Frozen Holiday Wish is a quick, 9-minute presentation starring Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, and Olaf that, like this year’s ABC Christmas Day telecast, latches onto the Frozen train in a big way. Continuing our voyage into how one animated film can make an impact across media platforms, let’s take a closer look at A Frozen Holiday Wish.
Guests waiting to see an elaborate production will be sorely disappointed. The amount of people gathered is equivalent to fireworks crowds, though the act that follows isn’t quite at that level of grandeur. It’s better to describe it as a ceremony than a show, but when appreciating it for what it is, it’s nice: the resort’s most popular characters, some amazing technology, and beautiful background orchestration sprinkled with instrumentals of both Christmas and Frozen tunes. The character element of the show is dialogue heavy (with oodles of borrows from Frozen‘s script), void of songs or dances that typically fill a Disney stage show. But, in all honesty, that’s perfectly ok, as it fits the bill for what the show functions to be: A final chance before the day is over to see the Frozen icons in person, just in case you missed them throughout the rest of the park.
As Frozen climbed to phenomenon status, naturally guests expected the film to be part of their Walt Disney World vacation, and Disney has worked rapidly to make that possible. As the wait continues for the permanent Frozen attraction to open in Epcot in early 2016, Disney has increased the capacity of Anna and Elsa’s meet & greet, added the sisters to the morning welcome show and the afternoon parade, opened a sing-along at Hollywood Studios, and inserted a 3-float Frozen procession into the Christmas parade. Everybody wants to see this crew, and A Frozen Holiday Wish ensures a huge amount of people (all at the same time) can do just that. It is Disney efficiency at its finest with story arguably at its most vulnerable.
Why vulnerable? The premise, when really thinking about it, is a bit out there. Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, and Olaf, after making a long trek, have arrived at the Magic Kingdom for the holidays. Admiring the splendid decorations, Kristoff remarks the only thing missing is ice, to which Anna encourages the crowd to help her use peer pressure against Elsa to make graffiti on this trespassed property. Ok, so most people aren’t being that judgmental, but that’s essentially what’s happening. While Elsa at least acknowledges this isn’t their home and that they’re just visitors, it would have been neat to gain permission from Cinderella herself, if not to prevent Elsa from being a felon than to ignite the fanboy in all of us.
The show marks the first-ever park appearance from Olaf, who prompts a big reaction from the audience. He has yet to have a regular meet & greet on the East Coast. I for one can’t wait to meet him when that day comes.
The show’s highlight is, of course, when Elsa uses her powers to light the castle. What ensues is a display of digital wizardry involving projections (perhaps a bit too long), pyrotechnics, and, finally, the lights themselves. It’s one of those Disney moments you’ll remember long after you return home.
Since this is a popular occasion, it’s important to arrive early for prime viewing. However, which viewpoint is “prime” will probably differ based on your preference. Do you want to be as close to the characters as you can get, or would you rather observe from a distance so as to get a wide view of the whole castle? Either way, the Hub will be difficult to navigate, especially for the first performance of the night. The second performance should have lighter, but still relatively thick, crowds. Since there is entertainment happening in the castle area nearly nonstop, it can be difficult to know how early to arrive simply because there is hardly a time when people aren’t congregated around the Hub. 20 minutes before the first performance got my party a sardined spot just in front of the Liberty Square bridge.
Spending two days throughout all of Walt Disney World, I can say Frozen did not seem as in-your-face as I anticipated. Sure, Anna and Elsa popped up from time to time over the course of my vacation, but not more than any other prominent Disney figures. While it may seem Disney is going to town with all things Frozen, the film’s integration is no different than what the company has done with each of its hits. Similar successes have enjoyed identical expansion. There is a 20-minute show at Hollywood Studios and an E-Ticket ride at the Magic Kingdom that both tell the exact same story of The Little Mermaid in strikingly parallel ways. That’s not to mention Ariel’s float in the parade, her appearance in a 3D show, her song in Fantasmic, and her own wing of hotel rooms at a resort. The Frozen craziness is nothing that isn’t already in place with other hit films. It just seems amplified because of its newness.
Frozen welcomes guests to the vacation kingdom of the world alongside a fabled collection of other heroes that have cemented their place into the Disney legacy. A Frozen Holiday Wish, as such a prominent part of Walt Disney World’s holiday offerings, not only confirms Disney’s feelings of welcoming Frozen to the family but also capitalizes on the feelings the franchise elicits in park guests. People got excited for the castle lighting ceremony even before Frozen was involved. People get over-the-moon excited for Frozen. Put the two levels of excitement together, and you’ve got palpable anticipation before the show begins that is difficult to match anywhere else on Disney property. Was it wholly necessary to remove Cinderella altogether? Probably not. Will A Frozen Holiday Wish continue forever? I think it will last a few years. For the moment, though, if going into it with the right expectations, it’s a delightful glimpse into the adoration the world has for this film and these characters.
A Frozen Holiday Wish continues at the Magic Kingdom with two performances nightly through December 31, 2014. Check a Times Guide upon arrival for showtimes. I’d be very surprised if it didn’t return for 2015’s holiday season.
[UPDATE, 1/5/15, 11:36 AM EST] According to WDW Magic, A Frozen Holiday Wish received an extension by popular demand. The show will now be performed through January 12 at 6:30 p.m. nightly.
Here’s a full video of the show from our friends at Orlando Attractions Magazine: