June 13, 2014

Shawnee’s ‘Frozen’ singalong proves the franchise isn’t cooling down

The all-encompassing and enduring adoration by little girls of “Frozen,” released more than six months ago, surprises even Disney.

It was a damp, 60-degree evening at Theatre in the Park. Not exactly, well, frozen, but cold enough that kids donned long pants and sleeves for the kickoff of the Shawnee theater’s summer movie series.

But the mist and threatening clouds could not deter the crowd of 800 fans, just as it wouldn’t have bothered Queen Elsa. Twirling her pigtails with a shy smile, Jada Balora, 4, fittingly explained, “I like the part where she says the cold doesn’t bother her anyway.”

Such dedication is to be expected of the “Frozen” fan base — a few million little girls and a few million not so little. This movie is their anthem. And while each has a different reason for loving “Frozen,” they weren’t going to miss the opportunity to belt out the comfortable lyrics.

It’s no surprise. “Frozen,” which tells the story of how two sisters, Anna and Elsa, overcome Elsa’s frightful power of turning everything into ice, has become the fifth-highest grossing film of all time. The movie has grossed $1.245 billion worldwide, which beats the $1.064 billion of “Toy Story 3.”

Even Disney, the monster of fairy tale merchandising, has been knocked on its heels by the success.

Jim Silver, CEO and editor-in-chief of Time to Play Magazine, said the movie didn’t peak when it opened in theaters. It wasn’t until the March video release, which allowed kids to play the movie over and over, that the film got big.

“They watched ‘Frozen’ literally a hundred times,” Silver said. “They learned every song; they learned every line. And they became engaged. They wanted to play ‘Frozen’ at home. ... It was big beforehand, but this took it to a different scale.”

As a result, parents in search of merchandise, especially costumes, are out of luck.

Some kids at the park wore movie-inspired costumes — blue tutus and princess crowns — but a Disney Store dress was nowhere in sight at the Shawnee amphitheater.

“I work at Target, and we have nothing,” one Lee’s Summit mom, Jessica Canaday, said. “We’ve been sold out forever.”

When making the movie, the company looked at previous movies, like “Brave” or “Tangled” with their own heroines, and believed they had budgeted accordingly. While popular, neither foretold the all-encompassing and enduring adoration of “Frozen,” which was released in theaters more than six months ago.

For Canaday’s daughters, Jordan, 5, and Jillian, 3, like to pretend they’re Elsa and Anna. They sing the parts of the sisters while in the car. And when it comes to hair, they practice braiding in one of two ways: Elsa’s French braid and Anna’s pigtails. If the braids don’t touch their shoulders like the sisters’ in the movie, it doesn’t count.

For them, missing the singalong show Tuesday wasn’t an option.

“They’re not readers yet, but that doesn’t matter because they know all the words and entire sections of dialogue,” Canaday said. Many young girls can belt the lyrics to “Let it Go” or “Fixer Upper” before they’re even able to spell their last names.

Some fans even listened to the movie album on the way to the Theatre in the Park showing — twice. And their reasons for loving the princesses are just as simple as the song’s rhyming words.

“Ice power,” Jayden Sink, 6, explained.

“I like Anna because she’s funny,” Mallory O’Neal, 6, added.

The Idina Menzel ballad, “Let it Go,” took home an Academy Award. The album has graced the Billboard’s Top 100 chart for 28 weeks — “The Lion King” made it for only 10.

“There was such iconic music from those old Disney movies,” Silver said. “This was the first movie in a long time that had this type of iconic music. … It was also something sisters could understand, a little bit of the sibling rivalry and sister relationship. … It has all the makings of a huge movie; it became a huge movie, and kids just wanted to play out ‘Frozen.’”

“Frozen” won its own Oscar for best animated feature. And Disney needed the win. The Oscar category for best animated feature has been dominated by its sister company, Pixar, since the category’s creation in 2001 — and DreamWorks won almost every year that Pixar didn’t. The studio once famous for being the place “where dreams came true” seemed to be stuck when it came to its own.

John Lasseter, chief creative officer for Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, told The New York Times that there even had been talk of closing shop as the studio struggled with computer-aided filmmaking.

Disney needed more than a box-office success. It needed a cultural phenomenon.

“Frozen” made Disney cool again. No longer were young girls sitting around waiting for a prince to come sweeping in. These princesses did their own rescuing, and if the opening weekend totals were any indication, it was about time.

“They’ve had successes, but more of their successes have been in the boys aisle,” Silver said. “Disney’s actually been quite strong at retail, they just haven’t had a movie of this magnitude and a licensing program of this magnitude.”

One reason supposedly is that the studio believed young audiences had grown too sophisticated for musicals. Think again, Mouse Ears.

The overwhelming demand for anything “Frozen” has caused a shortage of merchandise on Disney Store shelves all over North America. At one point, merchandise had to be airlifted from Disney factories to keep up with demand.

And the “Frozen” popularity extends far beyond clothing. Besides the homemade dress, Shawnee mom Kim Honeycutt found “Frozen” fruit snacks at Wal-Mart and stickers and a coloring book in the one dollar section of Target.

The tour company Adventures by Disney added Geirangerfjord, Norway, to a new itinerary inspired by the movie. The film’s fantasy kingdom of Arendelle was based on the fjord as well as Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.”

An ice show seems like an obvious choice, but Disney on Ice had to rush to get a tour into this year’s lineup. It begins in September on the East Coast. Reportedly, more than 500,000 tickets were sold in its first week. Twenty snow machines will project Elsa’s powers.

A Broadway show is in development as the company strives to catch up with its unexpected success, and oh, yes, probably something will be added to those little theme parks. Lines that are hours long — what else is new at Disney World or Land? — form for a chance to meet the Elsa or Anna characters.

Jamie Sink, who took her 6-year-old daughter Jayden to the Theatre in the Park event, is already anticipating the popularity of the Disney princesses in a few months for Halloween.

“I think every girl from the age of 2 and up is going to be Elsa or Anna,” Sink said.

Most little girls can’t pinpoint the exact reason they’re infatuated.

But for Chai Armenta, 19, it’s a bit easier. “It’s just so different. I like how the sisters band together and save the day, not some prince.”

She went to the Theatre in the Park movie with her sister, Honeycutt, and her 3-year-old niece, Kenzlie Honeycutt. Armenta made a sparkly blue-and-white dress for Kenzlie after stores were all sold out of “Frozen” apparel. The sequins and snowflake decor channels Elsa’s transformation scene where she sings “Let it Go” on a mountain.

On eBay, the Disney line of Elsa dresses can sell for a couple hundred dollars, which is inspiring many to look for less expensive options. Three-year-old Kinzley Williams’ dress was preordered from Just Gioia boutique. Another mom has ordered everything from blankets to clothes to dishes from the UK Disney Store. They get everything quicker there, she said.

“Wal-Mart, Target, Toys R Us, they have nothing,” Honeycutt said. “It’s an empty shelf, or they cover it with another Disney princess.”

“We are thrilled that audiences formed instant connections with the characters and are working hard to get additional product into stores as soon as possible,” said Margita Thompson, vice president for external communications with A spokeswoman for Disney Consumer Products, said in a statement.

“Guests will see product will “continue to flow in throughout the summer, and stores are expected to be back in full stock by July/August.”

Silver said meeting the demand isn’t as simple as ramping up production. Manufacturers need raw goods, then to make the product. There’s a couple of weeks for safety standards, then the shipping, much of which arrives in the U.S. by boat. After hitting distribution centers, it has to be sent to stores and stocked. The process takes about three or four months.

Until then, it looks like parents, and store merchandise, are on ice.

But the “Frozen” adoration isn’t going anywhere if the young infatuation is any indication. After all, some movies are just worth melting over.

Got some “Frozen” fans at your house? Submit a video of them singing “Let It Go” at kcvideodesk@gmail.com. We’ll feature them KansasCity.com and The Star’s YouTube channel.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

To reach Linley Sanders, call 816-234-4297 or send email to lsanders@kcstar.com

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