In 2013, Walt Disney Animation released their 53rd animated feature, Frozen, a loose adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale ‘The Snow Queen’. While the film was initially more faithful to its source material, it eventually got changed into a story about two sisters who deal with the consequences of the older sibling’s ice powers. Upon its release, the film ended up becoming a monster hit that was quite arguably unexpected. It became Walt Disney Animation’s first film to gross over $1 billion worldwide, staying in the Top 10 at the domestic box-office for 16 weeks. This commercial success also translated well to the film’s critical reception, with many critics calling it one of the best Disney animated films in years, lauding it for its characters, animation, music, and much more. In short, Frozen quite arguably became the biggest Disney animated film since The Lion King in terms of the cultural impact that it left on audiences, right down to all the covers and remixes of its signature song, ‘Let it Go’. As of this moment, a sequel is in the works and is slated for a November 2019 release. But to hold fans over until then, Disney has released a few Frozen shorts that premiered in front of a few of their other theatrical releases. However, unlike the original film, these shorts have not fared as well in terms of internet reception, especially when one of them was shown in front of a recent Pixar classic. But today, I ask one simple question; are these shorts as bad as the internet constantly puts them out to be? Well, the short answer is ‘no’, but let’s delve a bit more into why that is exactly.
But before we get into that topic, let’s take a step back to remember everything that made Frozen the phenomenon that it still is. As noted earlier, the most important moment in the film’s production was when the character of Elsa the Snow Queen was changed from being the main antagonist to a more sympathetic protagonist who fears the potential ferocity of the public’s response to her powers. Thus, Frozen ultimately became a story about Elsa’s younger sister Anna going on an adventure to rekindle her relationship with her long-estranged sister and save their home after Elsa creates an endless winter storm. In other words, Frozen is one of the few Disney films that isn’t primarily focused on a romantic couple, instead focusing on the love of two sisters. Granted, this isn’t the first time that this has been seen in a Disney film (as I know many long-time Disney fans will point out, 2002’s Lilo and Stitch also featured a pair of sisters as main protagonists), but it’s handled phenomenally here thanks in large part to the great lead duo of Anna and Elsa, voiced excellently by Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel, respectively. While Frozen can technically be described as ‘Anna’s story’ given that she’s the one whose actions drive most of the plot, the film does balance the two’s roles in the story quite well. While Anna does have a few love interests in the charming prince Hans (Santino Fontana) and rugged iceman Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), she’s ultimately more focused on fixing her relationship with Elsa than finding true love. And as for the Snow Queen herself, as evident from her iconic solo, her big arc in the film revolves around her learning to embrace her powers after spending years in isolation. Simply put, it’s easy to see why she’s become such an icon of the LGBT community to the point where it’s been reported that she will have a female love interest in the sequel.
Anna and Elsa aren’t the only great characters in this film, however. Despite what was said earlier about Anna being more focused on her relationship with Elsa than finding a love interest, she does have great chemistry with Kristoff, who has a unique relationship of his own with his reindeer Sven. But, of course, arguably the biggest standout of Frozen, even more so than its two female leads, is Josh Gad as the lovably naïve snowman, Olaf. First introduced as a snowman that Anna and Elsa built when they were kids, the latter than rebuilds him during ‘Let It Go’, which also results in him being brought to life. Anna and Kristoff then come across him on their travels where he reveals his desire to experience summer, blissfully unaware of what truly happens to ‘frozen things’ like him during that time. Regardless, Olaf is another fantastic addition to Disney’s long line of iconic sidekicks, and Gad gets a lot of the film’s best lines (e.g. “Oh look at that, I’ve been impaled…”). And, of course, another key element of Frozen is its soundtrack with songs written by Robert and Kristen-Anderson Lopez. There’s the charming ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman?’, sung by Anna in her attempts to get Elsa to come out of her locked room so that they can play together. Would you believe that this song was nearly cut from the film for allegedly being too sad? Thankfully, this wasn’t like ‘When Love is Gone’ from Muppet Christmas Carol and the song ultimately stayed in, allowing it to become arguably just as beloved as ‘Let it Go’. And yes, on that note, Elsa’s big solo is undeniably the film’s main anthem due to its emotionally resonant themes and powerhouse vocal performance from Idina Menzel. Plus, it was one of the biggest contributors to Elsa’s crucial revamp from villain to hero.
Any way you look at it, Frozen was a modern Disney classic, and during a 2014 TV special that delved into the making of the film, it was announced that it would be getting a few spin-off shorts prior to its feature-length sequel. The first of these follow-ups was the 7-minute short Frozen Fever, which debuted in theaters in March 2015 in front of Disney’s live-action remake of their 1950 classic, Cinderella. In the short, Elsa, Kristoff, and Olaf try to hold a birthday party for Anna, which starts to get problematic when Elsa is stricken with a cold. And because of her ice powers, this causes her to spawn a bunch of cute baby snowmen whenever she sneezes. Upon release, the short fared rather well with critics and it seemed as if audiences were equally positive towards it. But if you look on any major film fan site, well, that’s a different story, as I’ve seen this short receive some of the most hostile fan reviews that I’ve ever seen in my time as a film critic, with several folks calling it a massive ‘cash grab’. However, I don’t necessarily see what’s so bad about it. If anything, it benefits greatly from maintaining the same crew from the film, specifically directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee and, of course, the main cast. Robert and Kristen-Anderson Lopez also return to provide another catchy tune, ‘Making Today a Perfect Day’, the short’s sole musical number. And while the main premise of the short may be about Elsa and company trying to give Anna the most perfect birthday ever (something that, unfortunately, never really happened back when Elsa locked herself away from the world), what it is ultimately about? Anna just looking out for her sister so that her cold doesn’t end up getting the best of her. In other words, it’s another great example of this franchise wearing its heart on its sleeve, thus making Frozen Fever an enjoyable continuation of the series and a nice little bonus for those who went to go see the live-action Cinderella in theaters. And for those who didn’t get the chance to see it in theaters, it’s now available as part of the Walt Disney Animation Short Films Collection that was released on Blu-Ray and is also currently on Netflix.
But of course, this now brings us to what is easily one of the most controversial animated shorts in recent memory, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. As the title suggests, this 21-minute short focuses more on Olaf, who embarks on a quest to try and find a new holiday tradition for Anna and Elsa when the latter realizes that, due to her years of isolation from both Anna and the world, their family never had any major holiday traditions to follow. Originally announced as a TV special, this 21-minute short was instead upgraded to a theatrical release in front of Pixar’s 2017 masterpiece Coco… and if you thought that the negative responses to Frozen Fever were harsh, then you haven’t seen nothing yet. Upon its debut alongside Coco, this special was truly savaged by critics and audiences, many of whom questioned its placement in front of a Pixar film in lieu of the traditional Pixar short. It didn’t fare any better in Mexico, Coco’s main setting, where it was straight-up ignored in favor of just showing Coco. The short was ultimately pulled from theaters on December 8th and aired on ABC just six days later, where it was received much better by critics who felt that it was more suitable when shown that way. But just like Frozen Fever, I don’t really see why this special, which was helmed by the duo behind the Prep and Landing series (long-time Disney veterans Kevin Deters and Stevie Wermers), was treated like it was an insulting affront to both Pixar fans and regular filmgoers when it ran in front of Coco.
Despite the change in directors, this short does maintain the same great charm and heartwarming depth of the original film, right down to the relationships between characters like Anna and Elsa or the comedic duo of Olaf and Sven. And while the music wasn’t done by the Lopez’s this time around (instead, it was done by Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson, who had only done music for the Nick Jr series Little Bill beforehand), the final song ‘When We’re Together’ is up there with ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman’ as one of the most heartwarming melodies in the franchise’s history. And on that note, this special ends on a moment that’s quite frankly perfect in the context of this franchise. After Olaf fails to try and find a new holiday tradition for Anna and Elsa, which results in him getting depressed and the two sisters having to go out to find him when he gets lost, Anna and Elsa realize that they did have a family tradition, Olaf. Tying seamlessly back to the classic ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman’ segment from the original film, the two realize that Olaf, being their most treasured childhood creation, was the one thing that kept them together even during the years when Elsa was locked away in her room. Cue the great final tune ‘When We’re Together’, highlighted by the phenomenal lead duet between Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel, and you have one heck of a sweet finale. It’s a shame, then, that the genuine sweetness of this special was undermined by all the intense backlash that it got.
Now with all this in mind, I’m not saying that this special is ‘perfect’. For starters, it strangely rushes through the first few tracks of its soundtrack even though it is longer than Frozen Fever, which only had one song that played through the entire short. In the end, though, it’s yet another charming addition to the Frozen franchise with a lot of great humor and more excellent performances from the franchise’s ensemble cast. As such, I’m still baffled at how people thought that this had a negative impact on Coco… which ended up grossing over $800 million worldwide, won two Oscars at that year’s ceremony, and is considered one of Pixar’s greatest films. If you ask me, this whole backlash towards a harmless Frozen short was what truly ended up being more harmful to Coco because that was how it ultimately did what people feared it would do to it in the first place… overshadow it. Thankfully it didn’t really overshadow it given how successful Coco ended up being, but the point still stands. And probably the one thing about this backlash that I find rather hilarious is that one of the main criticisms towards the short was that it was ‘too long’. Now I’m starting to understand why Rescuers Down Under didn’t do so well when it was released in 1990. Audiences went into it expecting the follow-up to Disney’s 1977 film The Rescuers and were instead treated to a 25-minute animated adaptation of The Prince and the Pauper starring Mickey Mouse that preceded the main film. And speaking of The Rescuers, its 1983 holiday re-release was paired with the classic Disney adaptation of A Christmas Carol. In all seriousness, though, people really can’t sit through a 21-minute short?
In conclusion, it’s clear that the intense backlash towards the Frozen shorts is partially due to the backlash that the franchise has been getting in general after the first film’s worldwide success and how it has since become even more of a hit with each new addition to the franchise. And while I will admit that I do agree that ‘Frozen mania’ did get a bit too crazy sometimes, that doesn’t take away from the fact that the film is genuinely a modern Disney animated classic with lovable characters, gorgeous animation, and catchy songs. In fact, I won’t lie, Frozen is one of my Top 10 favorite Disney animated films of all-time. Again, I know that it’s become popular these days to hate on this film for being the hit that it was, but honestly, I’m damn glad that it did become a monster hit because it’s the kind of film that genuinely deserved to be one. And the two follow-up shorts that it’s gotten since then more than serve their purpose of giving fans something to hold them over until the sequel comes out in 2019. Frozen Fever is a nice, breezy short that covers all the bases when it comes to having everything that made the original film the classic that is. And as for Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, while I will agree that it arguably works a lot better when aired on TV, having it run in front of Pixar’s Coco really wasn’t as big of a deal as the internet ended up making it. Most importantly, though, neither short ever betrayed the essence of what made this franchise what it is today. Anna and Elsa continue to be one of the most endearing sister duos in all of pop culture, Olaf is still just as lovable of a sidekick as ever, and as a fan of this franchise, I can say that I’m very excited to see where it goes from here.
And that concludes this little editorial on why the Frozen shorts really aren’t as bad as the internet consistently puts them out to be. For more Disney news, reviews, lists, and everything in between be sure to follow us on Twitter (@TheDisInsider) to stay up-to-date with all our posts.