Is 'Frozen' Disney's Next Great Franchise, or Next Forgotten Fad?

September 10, 2015, 3:09 PM · Disney's announcement that it will be closing its popular Aladdin musical at Disney California Adventure in favor of a new Frozen show elicited howls from many Disney fans. Since Frozen (the movie) debuted in late 2013, Disney's added Frozen characters to World of Color, meet-and-greets, and multiple parades, opened Frozen sing-alongs at DCA and Disney's Hollywood Studios, and made Frozen the focus of months-long promotions at all of its resorts. And earlier this year, the company announced that it would convert Epcot's Norway pavilion to a Frozen theme.

For some fans, all this Frozen has given them a brain freeze.

But for all the complaints, plenty of other Disney fans are lining up to enjoy whatever Frozen attractions the company offers. Frozen has earned more than $1.2 billion dollars at the box office worldwide, making it the highest-grossing animated film of all time. Given that, Disney's emphasis on Frozen is just good business. The question is, though... will the demand for Frozen last?

Olaf, Anna, and Elsa

Some perspective: Even though Frozen is now the highest-grossing animated film of all time, those numbers are skewed by the inflation of ticket prices over time. According to BoxOfficeMojo's analysis of domestic ticket sales, adjusted for inflation, Frozen isn't even close to the top spot, trailing Monsters, Inc., Toy Story 3, Aladdin, Lady and the Tramp, Finding Nemo, Bambi, Pinocchio, Shrek 2, Sleeping Beauty, The Jungle Book, Fantasia, The Lion King, 101 Dalmatians, and the all-time inflation-adjusted champion, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Those are all valuable franchises, worthy of long-term presence in top theme parks. But that list should suggest that putting Frozen all over its parks isn't a guarantee of long-term success for Disney. What's the wait like for the Shrek show at Universal these days? Or the Monsters Inc. show at Walt Disney World? Those were wildly popular animated franchises once, too.

Yes, Frozen characters Anna and Elsa have drawn waits of four hours and more for their meet-and-greet at the Magic Kingdom. But if you take a few moments to look at those queues of waiting fans, you'll see a definite trend. Almost all the families waiting to meet the Frozen queen and princess include early-elementary-aged girls. You just don't see as much gender and age diversity among Frozen fans as you do for other animated and entertainment franchises. Frozen has a huge audience not because it has wide appeal, but because it absolutely dominates within a narrow demographic.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing — plenty of franchises prosper with demographically-narrow fan bases. But it does make creating a decades-long demand for the franchise more difficult than it would be if the franchise appealed to a broader base. That's especially true for a franchise that appeals to a demographic that is notorious not just for dropping its favorites as it ages, but turning on them.

I've already heard from several people anecdotes about girls in fifth or sixth grades hurling savage insults at other girls who come to class wearing an Elsa T-shirt. Middle schoolers can be vicious toward classmates whom they perceive to be acting like "little" kids. A few children's franchises have managed to retain their fans across the middle school-divide (Harry Potter is the gold standard here), but most need to attract new, younger fans as their growing fans "age out" of the franchise.

That's the challenge for Disney with Frozen. If you want an example of a franchise that has done this beautifully for nearly 50 years, look at Sesame Street. And if you want the counter-example of a franchise that crashed and burned over the same challenge, look at Barney.

Barney and Friends
Not the future Disney wants for Frozen

For those who did not have kids around the turn of the century (it's still weird for me to type that in reference to the year 2000), Barney was huge back then, dominating kids' attention nearly as much as Frozen does now. And Barney appealed to both genders.

Obviously, Disney has resources at its disposal that the independent production company that ran Barney did not, including its own cable and television networks, film distribution channels, a radio network, publishing houses, and yes, theme parks. But even if Disney's new Frozen musical at DCA is a huge hit with critics and audiences, that alone won't do much to help Frozen endure. An excellent live show at Universal Studios Florida (and yes, it is a well-produced show, if you have not seen it) wasn't nearly enough to help that franchise become relevant to a new generation of fans.

Disney's clearly making bank on Frozen right now. But are its actions with Frozen in the parks reacting to the franchise's popularity, cashing in on a hot fad, or are they part of directing that franchise, to help ensure its popularity across future generations?

With so many fans turned off by the expansion of Frozen in the parks, it's clear that Disney has missed an opportunity to expand the franchise's appeal by making more fans feel welcomed within it. That's fueling concern that the Disney Parks are just riding this phenomenon, instead of helping to direct it. But even if the parks seem to be throwing Frozen all over the place, the rest of the Walt Disney Company has proven itself time and again to be able to recruit new generations of fans to replace the young ones who one day grow out of love for specific characters.

In other words, if Disney wants Frozen to be a franchise, and not a fad — and all of Disney is willing to do the work to make that happen — it will be.

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Replies (26)

September 10, 2015 at 4:07 PM · You're showing two different figures. One is worldwide, the other is domestic. In worldwide figures, it is ranked #8. This is clearly a very popular movie. Domestically, not so much, but what is the actual takeaway? Frozen is ranked #21 domestically (unadjusted) while a top 10 worldwide movie. It is ranked #103 domestically (adjusted for inflation).

Yet Frozen is less popular than Monsters Inc. in the domestic market. Monsters is actually a rank higher than Frozen domestically; however Monsters drops to #115 worldwide.

Let's say the domestic Disney fans have a case, but Disney theme parks are for all visitors and this is about winning foreign visitors that love Frozen. This also makes the case for Avatar in Animal Kingdom.

September 10, 2015 at 4:09 PM · Great feature Robert, I have these same questions in my head about the durability of the Frozen franchise.

I think Disney needs to make Frozen Mania hold out until Frozen 2 is released in like 4 or so years.

If it does that, Frozen merchandising is making 3 billion in sales.

If not...

Then Rodger, we would have a problem.

September 10, 2015 at 4:32 PM · Disney's movies have endured for generations, and their princess movies are especially good at this. I think the "Frozen-mania" will die down, but what does that really mean for the parks? Drop the character from a few parades, replace the stage show with whatever is new, and put whatever the popular character of the day is in the meet-and-greet.
The only real investment (outside of the stage show - and let's face it, it will be popular for at least as long as the Hunchback of Notre Dame show)is the Norway overlay. And, again, I'm sure it will stay relevant enough for the investment. Malestrom wasn't exactly pulling record-breaking lineups to begin with.
All this said: I could never hear "Let it Go" again, and be a very happy man.
September 10, 2015 at 6:01 PM · I would like to point out that, if memory serves correct, The Lion King was just as overexposed as Frozen was and people still love it. In fact, many people consider it one of the greatest animated films of all time. Some even go as far as to call it one of the greatest movies of all time period! So I expect Frozen will still be relevant in a couple decades.

If you read my comment in the article where it was revealed Aladdin would be replaced then you know how I'm against Frozen's overexposure, but I'm not completely against it having a presence in the parks. I can accept a meet-and-greet (especially when the 2 actresses playing the princesses are awesome!), I can accept a ride, I can accept a parade appearance, and I can accept a show or 2. What I can't accept is the ride being in a horrible location (and taking out one of my favorite hidden gems), too many shows (especially when they replace an awesome show) and I definitely can't accept seeing advertisement posters for it everywhere!

Just my 2 cents.

September 10, 2015 at 6:05 PM · "Let's say the domestic Disney fans have a case, but Disney theme parks are for all visitors and this is about winning foreign visitors that love Frozen. This also makes the case for Avatar in Animal Kingdom."

Disneyland is the World Most Famous local Theme Park.

September 10, 2015 at 7:03 PM · Clearly, Disney needs some sort of Frozen themed attraction in their theme parks for the time being. And aside from re-theming Maelstrom (which is a much needed upgrade), doing a live show is probably much more economical and flexible than imagineering a whole new ride. For many years, the only Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, Lion King and Aladdin attractions at any park were live shows. Now that all the above mentioned movies (except Lion King) have actual ride/attractions, their live shows are winding down. Having a Frozen stage show will satisfy those guests interested in a Frozen themed attraction while Disney waits and sees if the popularity is long lasting. It also gives them the flexibility to replace it easily when Zootopia becomes the next Disney blockbuster.
September 10, 2015 at 7:55 PM · I think the demographic is wider than you think. Frozen made $200 Million in Japan. This high figure was driven by 30 year old women. There are actually a lot of moms that like the movie which I think is partially driving the high merchandise sales. Many tween girls "hate" everyone and everything except (New Kids On the Block to One Direction) fill in the parenthesis with whatever boy band is popular this second. However, plenty of above 20 year old ladies I know loved Cinderella, Ariel, Belle, or Jasmine as a child and love them today. The 90s princesses did not have the intensity of popularity of Frozen, but it's hard to see how Anna and Elsa could fare worse in the long run popularity wise. Frozen has some men who appreciate it also. As Banksy said he - yes the guy who made Dismaland- "does not have an issue with Disney. I’m not a hipster, so I don’t think something is evil or vacuous because it’s popular. The Let It Go sequence in Frozen is brilliant cinema’

Basically from your argument it follows that The Beatles shouldn't have been popular long term because there was a frenzy around them when they were first popular without a huge marketing machine promoting them. I would counter that there is more substance and artistic quality in Frozen than in Shrek and more in Sesame Street than Barney especially (for Pete's sake what adult can watch that for more than 1 minute), just like there is more in The Beatles than New Kids on the Block. That substance and quality is what determines a franchise's longevity not fatigue from over exposure.

September 10, 2015 at 8:24 PM · B Goodwin already said exactly what I was thinking. I never saw the Aladdin show, but by all accounts it was very good. That was due to the show itself, and I think not likely the underlying IP. If the Frozen show is as good as the Aladdin show, there's no reason it won't stay relevant as long as the Aladdin show has. So the only risk is that the production of the show isn't up to scratch.

Meet and greets aren't really an investment and can follow the fads very well.

As for overlaying Norway, the risk (as already stated many times) is in the introduction of fiction to a park which has been more based in fact and science. I don't think there's any dispute that frozen, even as a fad, will prove to be more popular (not necessarily as good) than the Norway pavilion, so financially it will make sense.

Personally, I don't have an issue with the deterioration of Epcot's themeing. I would rather go to France than visit a Disney representation (the cost is much the same as going to Orlando from Australi), or read a book on the science behind something than see Disney's dated version of it. I think a theme park can serve a purpose in education, but only to those who are unlikely or unable to learn or experience things themselves.

September 10, 2015 at 8:42 PM · I think we need to see how Frozen II goes to see if this gravy train keeps chugging.

Anyway, I understand Disney's want to make as much money as possible. After all, they are a corporation. However, I feel that they are risking future rewards for gains today.

This is not saying that Frozen is bad. It will rank as a Disney classic without a doubt, but look at the other classics. I feel that Disney did not try to squeeze the money out of them. We literally had to wait 20 years to get anything more than a musical for Beauty and the Beast. The Lion King only got a show and it is considered one of the best!

September 10, 2015 at 11:13 PM · Here's the thing about is big, but it is not as big as it is being made out to be. Disney is currently doing more with Frozen than they have ever done before with an untested franchise. The franchise currently has only one movie (with a second in development) and one short film, yet it is getting a ton of exposure in the parks including projects as large as a whole land. At the same time, Disney has neglected to develop anything else based on recent animated films, and this doesn't work so well with a franchise of limited appeal.

When it comes to IP-based attractions, you either need to create the tie-in immediately to capitalize on the popularity or wait to be certain that the franchise has longevity. This is something I worry about with Avatar Land and the opening in 2017, and it is also something that could be a problem with Frozen. If interest in the franchise dies out over the next couple years, or worse...if Frozen 2 is a major disappointment and kills the franchise, Disney could end up wasting a lot of money on attractions that wind up with a shortened lifespan due to short-sightedness.

Frozen is worthy of a place in the Disney theme parks, but I don't feel it is established enough to be worthy of everything Disney is currently doing with it. Start with one attraction, and if the result is long-term success then continue building from there. Additionally, don't focus solely on one property and exclude other viable options. Too much Frozen may turn visitors away who don't care for the property, and with the competition in today's theme park market it may be challenging to get them back.

September 10, 2015 at 11:13 PM · I can't talk for everyone else (unlike some) but I think the exploitation of the movie most of the time was cheap and to much.
Due to that it cheapens the movie. I for one don't care for the movie, the design and animation looks cheap and empty, even the population exists from a hand full of models. The music is all over the place and a simpel pop song is it's saving grace but feels music like completely out of place. But that is clearly beside the point (or is it).

If Disney would have build a miniland like the artwork for the Frozen expansion destined for Disney Sea I would actualy be excited. It looks stunning and should have a great ride. We would have to go quite a few years without any mayor Frozen in the parks but a float and meet and greet are cheap and could feed the anticipation. In the end a bigger demographic would be excited about the movie giving it legs and people will want to watch it before visiting it.
But what if Disney knows the movie isn't a clasic. That it's lucky it got where it got and has tocash as much money from it until the larger audiance sees for what it is. That is exactly what Disney is doing and they do it with great effect.

September 11, 2015 at 3:52 AM · Mr. Miles writes: "But if you take a few moments to look at those queues of waiting fans, you'll see a definite trend. Almost all the families waiting to meet the Frozen queen and princess include early-elementary-aged girls. "

TH Creative Newly Certified Theme Park Insider responds: Um ... I think they keep making more of those ... So ...

September 11, 2015 at 4:59 AM · Your numbers don't include merchandising.

This company is the very definition of over-saturatization, look at the Disneyfication of Time Square, and the exuberance of theme parks itself.

Frozen is here to stay, but will be replaced eventually.

September 11, 2015 at 6:14 AM · This is exactly what I considered, and discussed eagerly to a somewhat interested spouse :)
The whole takeover of Frozen has been a little too much, in the past banners and short term shows/parades have been fine for Films/Shows with smaller demographics.
I am sure Frozen will become a classic and the attractions will be one of those 'its nice to go on to look back' features before they are retired for the next big thing.

Great article Robert, saying what many of us have no doubt been thinking.

September 11, 2015 at 6:41 AM · All this still comes down to a guessing game.Only time will tell. Heck, even Disney originally underestimated the success of the movie. Not enough merchandise was available for sale and there was really no park presence. The decisions to put it in DHS were last minute and the first attractions were thrown together in a few quick weeks during summer of 2014. Frozen obviously exceeded the expectations of Disney management. But predicting movie and IP success has never been an exact science. The film & IP history is a vast boneyard of unexpected successes and failures. It's way too early in the ballgame to call this one.
September 11, 2015 at 6:51 AM · i agree with most, Frozen does not have the sustaining power other might. And what with Lion King, Why is there not a link King land inside Animal (lion) KINGdom. theres a stage show, theater, MULTIPLE movies. i have seen it On Broadway, On stage, in the round etc.. it came out in 1994 and has had UNFOUNDED success, #1 musical of all time grossing 6.2 Billion and STILL on Broadway yet nothing. YOO DISNEY HELLOOO. I Am 50 and would still go to see a Lion King themed area. Frozen Um Not soo much
From the NY daily News: Here's something the folks at Disney can take real pride in: "The Lion King" is the top ticket of all time.
With a worldwide gross of over $6.2 billion, "The Lion King" stage musical has now achieved the most successful box office total of any work in any media in entertainment history, The Associated Press has learned. The total makes "The Lion King" more valuable than any single Harry Potter film, the blockbuster "Titanic," or any of the "Star Wars" movies.--
if that doesnt warrant its own land, Enough Said - DISNEY ARE YOU LISTENING
September 11, 2015 at 7:50 AM · The quality of the sequel will determine this
September 11, 2015 at 9:49 AM · People act as if Frozen is so over exploited, it will implode. I listened to "Under The Sea" and "Be My Guest" numerous times on my Disney cruise that I thought my head will explode, yet Disney has rewarded "The Little Mermaid" with two attractions at Disneyland Resort. You can hear "Under The Sea" at the new Mickey show at Disneyland and the Little Mermaid ride at California Adventure. "Beauty and The Beast" will further be exploited with a new movie starring Emma Watson.

This phenomenon isn't limited to Frozen. Every Disney feature will get its due over and over again.

September 11, 2015 at 12:49 PM · Anon Mouse: exactly what I was thinking... Beauty and the Beast; Aladdin; Lion King, etc. were HUGE in the 90's but they still have a lot of power now... They are "timeless classics"... Obviously, there is a big focus on Frozen now because it is recent but I do strongly believe it will become a classic just like the others and occupy its own space...
September 11, 2015 at 2:57 PM · On the Monsters Inc and Shrek comment:
Monsters Inc and Shrek are still incredibly popular animated franchises. Just look at the grossing of the last "Monsters" film: $743,559,607 (it's the 3rd highest grossing film of Pixar). Shrek is still very recognisable mainly overseas. The attractions made for this IPs are just way too small and, in the case of Shrek, very mediocre.
On the Frozen craziness:
It's ridiculous that they replaced Aladdin with Frozen, especially when I realize that Disney has never done an Aladdin ride that makes the IP justice. Why they can't settle with the stupid sing-along show that already replaced the incredible Muppet Vision?
Frozen is an okay movie that probably will be remembered for a long time, but there are other equally popular IPs that deserve better. Just my opinion
September 11, 2015 at 5:45 PM · A GREAT question was asked. But, if you take a step back and look at the data, it speaks to the launch of another WDCo franchise.

Yes, Frozen caught DIS by surprise, in the sense that it has become its own $1B franchise. DIS always thought it would strongly reinforce the Disney Princess line.

As far as "over exposure"... the attractions (stage shows, 'Meet & Greets', parade floats, etc) if interpreted as cheesy, cheap or stale they will damage the Frozen brand.

Yes, the upcoming ride utilizes the same ride track and vehicles, but supposedly that's all. You have to admit, it's genius placing it in E.P.C.O.T. with the hope of boosting the parks attendance. It could also be said, it's the worst mistake, if it's perceived as the only 'cool' thing in E.P.C.O.T. or cheesy, cheap or stale!

As far as Monsters, Inc. WDW: Laugh/DCA: ride, Stitch, bringing back Capt. EO, Finding Nemo and other failed attractions/rides (every park has a few) often referred to as quick and very cheap overlays by park goers. It should come as no surprise, park management on both coasts agree! And have plans to replace them all.

Time will tell. Just not the over night make over being sought by theme park die hards.

September 11, 2015 at 11:52 PM · This really reminds me of the line from David Koenig: Everyone knows Disney is a business. They just don't like it when it acts that way.

I loved the Aladdin show too but I recognize that when you have something not just a movie but a full-fledged cultural movement, you hit it when it's hot. As others have pointed out, so many other Disney films of the past still resonate today because the kids who saw them have grown up and now showing them to their own kids and I believe "Frozen" (with its great themes of sisterhood and such) will follow that so I have some faith this will help out a lot in the long run.

September 12, 2015 at 9:34 AM · The narrow demographic is the biggest problem. And they alienate the rest of us when they keep trying to shove this mediocre would-be franchise down our collective throats.

This is such a predictable knee jerk reaction from Disney bigwigs. The movie's a smash? Time for an overdose of the movie in the parks! Frozen is clearly a flash in the pan because it doesn't have broad appeal, and the backlash has already begun.

September 12, 2015 at 7:40 PM · Lord, how short are our collective memories. Disney "overexposes" every property that proves to be a hit. Aladdin went from classic movie to lame direct-to-video titles to wretched TV cartoon and so on. That Pressler and Eisner were exploring Disney's cheap as hell theme park period is the only reason we didn't get Aladdin attractions. They do this with everything. Heck, Stitch, arguably the least classic "classic" is basically everywhere and he sucks.

September 14, 2015 at 4:36 AM · Disney has such enormous market power that all it has to do is shove anything at least modetately successful down the throats of kids to be successful. Disney's Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast are all incredibly outdated stories that wouldn't stand up today without Disney's marketing machine. Frozen is far better than any of those films. In fact, so is Tangled, Brave, and Mulan. It's not like Disney is investing big theme park attractions into any of those films. Instead, Disney's marketing department has determined that the financially optimal solution is to force outdated films down our throats with new Little Mermaid and Snow White Attractions. It's Disney's fault that they market in such a gender specific way. It's not like there are any Flynn Rider or Kristoff merchsndise or meet and greets. Maleficent and Alice and Wonderland (Tim Burton) were successful movies, but it's not like you can see any traces of those reboots at the theme parks. Big Hero 6, the Incredibles, and Wreck-it Ralph feature main characters from both genders but you find most merchandise pushed on boys and very little traces of these incredibly successful movies at the theme parks.

At least Frozen represents a fairly new movie instead of something 25+ years old. I'm not going to buy Disney's outdated junk. Frozen is a small step forward.

September 14, 2015 at 9:57 PM · Isn't the real problem that they're ignoring Big Hero 6 (which could easily have a Saturday morning cartoon show and spot in Tomorrowland) and Wreck-It Ralph (Could use a sequel and a place in Epcot or DHS)?

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