Monday, February 3, 2014

How a Sassy Nordic Girl Outflanked the Mouse


If I wasn't trying to throw a "Frozen" birthday party for a 6-year-old this weekend, I would be very amused about how the movie has unhinged the normally extremely-customer-overaware Disney empire. This is a company who plans every part of your experience down to the last moment, who is a genius at cross-marketing, who runs their amusement parks like a cross between a Swiss watch and a German rail line — and they were completely unready for what a hit "Frozen" has become.

(granted, the experience is likely even more intense here in Minnesota, where we all are slightly Nordic and it does feel like some wicked enchantment has frozen our land in perpetual winter). But I digress…

After all, "Frozen" is originally based on one of Andersen's fairytale "The Snow Queen." As these things go, it's not in the Top Ten canon of princess stories, though it's no "The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf" either. It languished in production for several years until finally being given an overhaul by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee. Lee, by the way, is the first woman to have directed a Disney animated feature. I think at that point, Disney just wanted the thing done and off the shelves. They gave it a Thanksgiving weekend opening and hoped for modest success, along the lines of "Hercules"or "Anastasia."

"Frozen," however, had its own mind about that. The designers were meticulous in their planning, giving Arendelle the most detailed sense of place yet in any Disney film. The composers (Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez) showed their chops in the music, which has a very sophisticated, modern edge (I can't be the only one who hears the Jason Robert Brown stylings in "Love is an Open Door.") And of course the cast is incredible. My little girl wants to be Idina Menzel.

We were all hungry for a different kind of story, one where your sister loves you just as much (actually more!) than a prince, and for snowmen that dreamed of summer and kindly reindeer, for vaguely Sami ice cutters and a storeowner with his hunky Nordic husband and sauna full of kids. A place where a princess can have fierce wintery powers and grow up to be a beloved queen (instead of the villianess Disney originally envisioned her as).

"Frozen" is now Disney's biggest animated opening of all time (and that's before the sing-a-long version was re-released last weekend, much to the dismay of the discount theaters who wanted to get it before the dvd release later this month). And, as my husband and I can assure you, the merchandise is ridiculously scarce. The party ware, the dolls, the figurines, the dresses — all with limited-to-no availability (and believe me, we've tried it all).

Disney calculated that Anna would be the heroine the little girls like, and so purportedly produced ten Anna items to each Elsa one (and now you can't get either!). When Patrick walked into the Disney store today and looked around dolefully, the sales person said "Let me guess. You're looking for Frozen? And specifically Elsa? Yeah, no luck. We unpack a load and there are 2-4 Elsa dolls, and they are gone that day." I guess my girl is not the only one who dreams of snow powers.

It's frustrating for party planning, and we've done a lot of work-arounds to come up with a "Frozen" party for Beatrix this weekend. But the whole thing actually makes my little feminist soul pretty happy. A strong princess with a voice born of by winter storms has inspired a whole legion of little girls, while her plucky and loyal sister has captivated us all. If Disney wanted to know what we really want out of our princesses, they've now heard that loud and clear.

So how about making some more?

ETA:  When I tweeted the link to this post, I checked out @DisneyFrozen. They have — wait for it — over 14,000 followers. And they have not yet tweeted.

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