Yet Disney's 2013 animated movie – probably more appropriately labelled a 'phenomenon' – has so thorough pervaded popular culture, I felt throughout the launch weekend for Disneyland Paris' Frozen Summer Fun season that these were characters, locations and (perhaps most importantly) songs I already knew well.
Having been in Orlando for last year's Frozen Summer Fun season at Disney's Hollywood Studios, I assumed that I had some idea what to expect. But despite sharing a name, there's a distinct flavour to the Parisian interpretation. The festivities feel more intimate here, and seem to have grown organically from the particular ecology of the European park.
The bulk of the new content is focused around one corner of Frontierland, meaning that it feels like a satisfying addition, rather than mere overlay. The area that sits unused for most of the year – hosting Santa's Village at Christmas – has been transformed into Arendelle, with the highlight being the return-to-use of the 1,500-seat Chaparral Stage. It's here that you'll find the Frozen Sing-along show – and where the contrast with Frozen festivals at other Disney resorts is most clear.
This is no rushed job; the time, care and money that's going into creating it is apparent throughout. It's very typical of a Disneyland stage show in tone – I've never before seen so much frolicking, grinning, and tightly-choreographed dance packed into 35 minutes – but it's executed with precision and craft.
The narrative framing sees us cast as last-minute replacements in the Arendelle Choir for Anna's Winter Festival, after the original choir are caught up in a snow storm. (Disney never can resist a '...but something goes wrong' story.) A bit of exposition from Anna herself moves things along and leaves the show's ensemble to rehearse us, ready for Elsa's arrival.
The real focus however is not so much the story, but combining some quite elegant staging and set design with a chance to belt out the film's most famous numbers in sync with projected clips from the film. (And yes, even I was surprised to discover how many of the lyrics I already knew.)
Once we're into the main thrust of the thing, it really doesn't let up. There's smoke. There's beach balls. There's copious amounts of snow. There's consistent one-on-one interaction between performers and audience. The sheer everything-and-the-kitchen-sink levels it builds to generates pure hysteria in the stadium. The audience get excited enough when 'Let It Go' is announced as the next song – by the time of Elsa's balls-to-the-wall entrance, I can honestly say I've never seen quite this level of response from an audience in a theme park.
Crucially, it's pulled off with a level of commitment by the cast that should mean – providing the energy is kept up through its run – it pushes the right buttons with audiences. I sat there, utterly bemused by the experience, yet grinning from ear to ear. Even if the sing-along experience isn't quite your bag, it's an entertaining enough spectacle to keep you more than engaged.
Perhaps the only bum note I'd flag up is that sight-lines in the stadium can be problematic for a sing-along. At the press performance, the English-language lyrics were only shown on the centre screen. From where I was sitting, these were mostly obscured by one of the Chaparral Stage's pillars.
Admittedly, most of the kids in the audience seemed to have every line off by heart anyway – but it does somewhat diminish the sense of inclusivity that the production so successfully achieves otherwise. (Performances alternate between French to English – the language not being spoken actually gets more coverage on the side screens.)
Exiting the stadium, the rest of the area is more low-key. There's the Royal Couturier – think a small-scale, Frozen-specific Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, offering Anna and Elsa make-overs for €55 a pop, or €120 with a dress to take away. (The Disney Princess money-printing machine is now so ubiquitous, I'll let that one pass without further comment.)
Further on is Wandering Oaken's Trading Post offering enough merchandise to drain any wallet, a stall selling custom Frozen treats such as cupcakes and slushie drinks, and a photo opportunity with a model Olaf. Shy of the opportunity to meet the principal characters themselves, it gets to the heart of what visitors will be after.
Elsewhere in the park, the characters mostly pop up as additions to existing offerings. There's a nicely-integrated 'Let It Go' sequence added to the park's evening spectacle Disney Dreams!, and a float for the sisters in Disney Magic on Parade! They're top-ups rather than standout additions for sure, but help create cohesion throughout the park.
Owing to the beyond-belief queues we've seen worldwide when Disney's offered up an Anna & Elsa meet and greet, DLP have perhaps wisely tried to find an alternative way for guests to meet the characters. So this Summer sees the return of Frozen: A Royal Welcome – last seen during the resort's Christmas celebrations – in which the pair ride in a horse-drawn carriage through the park.
Five hour queues for meet and greets are clearly not ideal – but this is the one aspect of the festival that lacks a sense of spectacle. Rather than have guests queue to meet Anna and Elsa, Show Director Katy Harris said that they wanted to instead bring them to the guests. The magic of a meet and greet however isn't just in seeing a familiar face, but in the atmosphere and context in which the interaction occurs. As it stands, young visitors are more likely to get that sense from the Sing-along than the surprisingly-pedestrian procession.
Regardless, it adds another string to a full bow of entertainment. Yes, it's Frozen overload – but at a time of continued and widespread desire for chances to engage with Anna, Elsa, et al, this is exactly the point. It's likely that this will drive attendance more than last year's extensive Ratatouille additions, for a fraction of the cost. And it's a pleasure to have a full-blooded show back in the park, regardless of your investment in the property it's based on.
Judging by the response of the younger guests I saw throughout the weekend, Frozen Summer Fun hits the sweet spot. And it may even have convinced me to finally pick up a copy of the film.
Frozen Summer Fun continues at Disneyland Paris until September 13th.
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I went to Disneyland Paris last summer and was really disappointed by the lack of presence of Frozen throughout the parks (including merchandise - the only souvenir I wanted from that trip was a cuddly Olaf and I left disappointed), so I'm really pleased to hear about the new additions this year!
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