You don't have to be a Disney fan to know about Frozen. Everyone in the world knows its theme song, and most parents have heard it more than they would like to.
Since its release in late 2013, Frozen has become the most successful animated film of all time, grossing over $1 billion globally. It has taken out two Oscar awards, a Golden Globe and a Bafta, and is the bestselling DVD of the decade.
The soundtrack for this culturally saturating film has also sold multi-platinum, outselling Beyoncé and the sing-a-long version of “Let it Go” has been viewed more than a billion times on YouTube.
Four years on and the merchandise is still among the top-selling toys at department stores, even after the severe shortage that resulted due shortly after the film’s release, due to the massive popularity.
Wait times for meet-and-greets with the Frozen Princesses at Disney Parks often exceed four hours and a Broadway show, in addition to a film sequel, are both already underway, even though the first film is still the most searched movie on the internet and the second most illegally downloaded film.
So, what is all this popularity about? We take a look at what has made Frozen so successful, how it was adapted from the original tale The Snow Queen, and what we can expect from the upcoming sequel.
The Cultural Impact
The cultural impact of Frozen is everywhere. The effect of Frozen has become so deeply embedded into our culture that it’s influence has impacted families all over the world. Shortly after its release, journalists, bloggers and parents all over the internet were pointing out how engaged their children were with the film and its music. Even Hollywood celebrities such as Amy Adams, Ben Affleck and Kevin Costner cited how obsessed their children had become with the film. According to a report released in 2014, Elsa was one of the most commonly used baby names of the year, and an international headline even reported that a young Japanese woman moved out of her marital home and was taking steps to dissolve her marriage on the grounds that her husband “is just not that into Frozen.”
Despite being almost four years old, Frozen has continued to live on beyond the original film. The producers of Once Upon a Time capitalized on the ubiquitous nature of Frozen by writing a Frozen crossover story arc into the fourth season of the show. The third season, which finished by hinting at the new storyline to come, broke record viewing numbers, and significantly boosted the viewership for the next season. Fans all over the world have also enjoyed several other Frozen projects including, one-hour television specials, The Story of Frozen: Making a Disney Animated Classic and The Making of Frozen: Return to Arendelle, as well as Frozen Fever, a short film sequel which debuted in theaters in 2015. Fans are also currently awaiting the release of a holiday special, ‘Olaf’s Frozen Adventure’ as well as the full-length animated sequel, Frozen 2 which is scheduled for release on November 27, 2019.
Columnist Joel Stein of Time magazine has rightly referred to the film as an inescapable "cultural assault", of which the world has never before seen.
From Snow Queen to Frozen
Many people do not know that Frozen was a project, 70 years in the making.
Frozen was adapted from a story by Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen, whose fairy tale credits include The little Mermaid, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Ugly Duckling and Thumbelina. Andersen penned The Snow Queen (Sneedronningen) in December of 1844 and it is thought that the story was inspired by the Christmas festivities that surrounded him while he wrote it. The story was also inspired by Andersen’s deep commitment to the Christian faith.
As far back as 1937, Walt could see the potential for this Danish fairy tale as source material for Disney’s next big film, and began closely reading the text, jotting down ideas and brainstorming. In 1943, he began having discussions with Samuel Goldwyn about a possible collaboration on a full-length feature adaptation of Han Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. Walt’s proposal was for Goldwyn’s studios to create live-action material which would be a biographical insight into Andersen’s life, while Disney artists would create animated segments of The Snow Queen and other best known works by Andersen, to insert into the film, creating a Mary Poppins style film.
What eventually shelved the project for several decades was Disney’s inability to create a cinematic story from the original material, primarily because they studio felt that the character of the Snow Queen could not be adapted to relate to a modern audience. Though the producers felt that the setting of The Snow Queen and its characters were compelling and would translate well to film, the story pegged the Snow Queen as an evil villain, and had gaps in the plot that couldn’t be filled, (for example, it lacked a final showdown between the villain and its protagonist Gerda). While the story was captivating, Disney struggled to find a way to adapt the villain, or find enough conflict within the narrative, to build a full-length feature film around it.
After the United States entered the second World War, the studio switched their focus onto making wartime propaganda, which meant the project was shelved, resulting in Goldwyn producing his own live-action biopic of Andersen’s life.
Despite the collaboration falling through, the Walt Disney Company never stopped trying to find ways to incorporate The Snow Queen into the Disney-verse. In the early 1970s, Disney designer Marc Davis designed a ride through attraction for Disneyland, California which was to be situated in Fantasyland, in the location that the theater now occupies. The ride was to feature elements from The Snow Queen, but the plans were not given the green light. The 1980s also saw attempts by Disney artists to get the project underway, which, once again, resulted in gaps that couldn’t be filled, and the project was abandoned once more. Several more attempts were made in the years that followed, but circumstances always stood in the way of getting the film off the ground( the director leaving for a new project which later became Tangled and the contract between Disney and Pixar falling through were the two main ones).
In 2008, the project was finally picked up under the working title, Anna and the Snow Queen but the existing problems with the storyline had not been resolved. It wasn’t until 2011, following the success of Tangled that Disney announced the title and release date for Frozen, and committed finally to working through the story and character issues. After extensive work, it was ultimately decided that Anna and Elsa would be sisters, creating the family dynamic that became the foundation of the story as we know it.
From there, a plot was created which surrounded Elsa and her villainy, including her intentional freezing of Anna’s heart and deliberate efforts to ruin her marriage to Hans. The breakthrough in the storyline came after “Let it Go” was composed, and the production team felt they needed to rewrite Elsa’s character to fit the complex character that this song portrayed. Once they rewrote Elsa, they then went back and rewrote Anna and the rest of the plot to shape it around Elsa’s new characterization. According to producers, the impact of this song “rippled through the entire movie”.
Why Frozen Is So Popular
So why did this movie shoot to stardom within days of its release?
We have a few theories, which we’d like to share with you…
- The Marketing
Nobody knows how to market like Disney, and for this film, they went the extra mile. From a pop cover version of the main song, to the casting of Idina Menzel and the masterful exposure of the film everywhere you go, I think we can all agree, Disney promotes like a boss.
- A New Renaissance Addition
A throwback to older Disney films, Frozen captured the spirit of the Disney renaissance. At a time when animation relies heavily on adult humour, pop-culture references and quick wit, Frozen is set apart by its traditional fairy tale feel – lonely princess in a castle, a kingdom under a spell, a heroic quest to save a loved one.
- The Music
You can’t deny that the music from this film is catchy, and its authentic Broadway sound made the entire soundtrack an immediate hit among people – young, and old.
Of course, the music in the film peaks when its big hit ‘Let it Go’ hits the screen. This Oscar-winning song has become an anthem among the LGBTQ community, and has been parodied and covered by YouTuber’s and stay- at-home-mothers all over the world. The scene in which it takes place is also visually stunning, and Idina Menzel’s two octave powerhouse voice makes the song difficult to get out of your head.
- The Girl Power
Having two Disney princesses is a very clever marketing technique, but it also gives strength to the feminine presence in the film. The two strong female characters, in conjunction with the film’s subversion of traditional Disney ideas about romance, gives this film a feminist foot forward for Disney.
Fast Facts About Frozen
- There is a cameo of Rapunzel and Flynn Rider from Tangled in the scene where guests are arriving to witness Elsa’s coronation
- Frozen is the highest grossing animated film of all time, as well as the highest grossing musical. It is also the highest grossing film of all time
- The characters of Hans, Kristoff, Anna and Sven are a reference to Hans Christian Andersen, the author of The Snow Queen. Say the names quickly in sequence and you will understand the reference
- Anna is 18 years old in the film, while both Elsa and Kristoff are 21 years old and Hans is 23 years old.
- Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell both initially auditioned for the part of Rapunzel in Tangled before being called back for Frozen
- During Olaf’s song, there is a dance with four seagulls which echoes back to Bert’s penguin dance in Mary Poppins
- There is a hidden Mickey on one of the shelves in Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post and Sauna
- Josh Gad improvised much of Olaf’s dialogue
- Animator’s studied live reindeer in order to draw Sven’s movements
- Elsa is the second animated Disney Princess to become a Queen during a film, and the first to be coronated on-screen (the first was Kida from Atlantis: The Lost Empire
- There is a scene in which two townsmen are seen arguing over the correct way to stack firewood, bark up, or bark down. This refers to a heated debate in Norway that was sparked in 2013, after a 12-hour TV program on firewood aired. It included eight hours of a live fireplace, and the network received dozens of texts complaining about how the firewood was stacked. The complaints were split evenly between people who were upset about bark facing up, and those who were complaining about bark facing down.
- It took 50 animators to create Elsa’s castle
- Jennifer Lee was the first woman to direct a full-length Disney animated feature film
- The production crew visited Norway on a two-week long trip before production began. The film was largely informed by that trip including the landscape, clothes, music, buildings, and names
- A prominent therapist diagnosed Elsa with Borderline Personality Disorder
- The film spent 16 consecutive weeks as the number one film in Japan
- The song ‘Let it Go’ was written in a single day and was written to accommodate Idina Menzel’s vocal range
- ‘Let it Go’ was the first song from a Disney animated musical to reach the top ten in the Billboard Hot 100 since ‘Colors of the Wind’ in 1995.
- The song ‘Let it Go’ also made Idina Menzel the first Tony Award winner to ever reach the top ten.
- The film’s most complex frame took 132 hours to create
- The color of Elsa’s castle changes with her emotions
- There is a Disney easter egg during ‘First Time in Forever’. When Anna dances through the room full of paintings, 'Jean-Honoré Fragonard''s "The Swing" can be seen. This painting was the inspiration for the visual style of Tangled
- During the number, "Let It Go," Elsa releases the clasp on her purple cape, which blows away in the wind. Since purple is the traditional color of royalty; this is symbolism of Elsa "letting go" of her royal responsibilities
- The 2013 winter season in the U.S. was unseasonably cold, prompting rumours that Elsa had influenced the nation so much that she had affected the weather
- Almost half an hour of the film is music
- Better Midler inspired the appearance of Elsa in the early work on the film
- The horses featured in the film are Norwegian Fjord horses and are one of the oldest breeds in existence
- When Oaken is talking to Anna, small figurines can be seen. These are based on the original concept art for the trolls
- The minor characters of Kai and Gerda are named after the main characters of the original fairy tale
- Frozen is one of many Hans Christian Andersen works that has been adapted by Disney. Others include The Little Matchgirl, The Little Mermaid and ‘The Steadfast Tin Soldier’ segment in Fantasia 2000
- The statue head that Anna throws into the cake during First Time in Forever appears to be that of Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid
- At the beginning of the film, people can be seen raising a green maypole. This is done in Sweden to celebrate summer
- The film took 600 people two and a half years to complete
- The two snowmen represent Elsa’s attitudes when she created them. Olaf came about from her young playfulness, while Marshmallow was made when Elsa was angry and pent up with emotion
- Whenever a troll sings, his or her crystals light up
- ‘Sven’ and ‘Olaf’ are also the names of the characters from whom Jack wins his tickets in Titanic
- The male trolls have blue or green crystals and the female have pink or red
- The kings first and last works in the movie are “Elsa”
- The words ‘door’ and ‘anymore’ are used as a rhyming couplet in five of the songs on the soundtrack
- Frozen is the first Disney animated feature soundtrack to be released on vinyl since 1988
- Alan Tudyk played the Duke of Wesselton in Frozen, and then the Duke of Weaseltown in Zootopia
- Idina Menzel is the first person to voice to different Disney princesses (Elsa and Nancy)
- Anna is the only Disney princess to share a duet with the villain
- Anna was originally called Greta, a name based on Gerda from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen