The FROZEN Formula

Anna and Elsa of FrozenFROZEN, by Walt Disney Animation Studios came out on Blu-ray and DVD March 18th. By the time that day ended Frozen had sold 3.2 million copies (in one day) to make it “one of the biggest sellers on home video in a decade.” according to “Frozen has now earned $1.032 billion at the global box office and is the 13th highest grossing film ever released.”, the article goes on the say. Read the full article here. This is evidence that Walt Disney Animation has succeeded in reinventing itself and is back on top of the major motion picture animation business.

I’m sure there are many reasons for this, but the biggest reason in my opinion is that Disney has modernized and upgraded their storytelling formula for today’s audiences. They had it perfected once before, starting with Little Mermaid in 1989, peaking with Lion King in ’94, and then ending with Pocahontas in ’95. For the next 14 years they struggled to regain their steam and adopt their formula for new technology and changing audience values and expectations. They had a few minor hits but mostly struggled until 2010 when everything clicked, once again, with a little movie called Tangled.

I remember going to see Tangled with very low expectations. An animatedRapunzel from Tangled movie about Rapunzel? Give me a break. It had flop written all over it, or so I thought. But, my girls talked me into taking them to see it in the theaters and I was blown away. I thought it was the best animated movie I’d seen since Toy Story. My kids agreed. I remember thinking at the time, “This is it. This is how a Disney movie should look today.” I had no way of knowing if Tangled was a fluke success or the beginning of a new trend for Disney. Now, after seeing Frozen, I can say with certainty that Disney has successfully re-written their formula.

THE FORMULA – Other than the obvious change from traditional animation to computer animation, here are some of the key points of the new formula:

1. A strong female lead who is smart and very capable of handling herself, but at the same time vulnerable, sweet and likeable. (nothing new here)

2. A likeable, strong lead male character whose story is almost as rich and conflicting as the female’s story. (this is new)

3. A villain who is more 3-Dimensional. She’s not 100% evil like villains of the past. These new villains have a definite good side that just happens to get eclipsed by their bad side. (this is new)

4. The funny sidekick character remains, but he’s less annoying and gets less camera time.

5. Fewer musical numbers.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR DISNEY? – A look at Disney’s movie slate for the next few years tells me Disney isn’t content to put all their eggs in one basket. They are apparently willing to take  their chances on developing other successful formulas with their next three major motion pictures; Big Hero 6, scheduled to come out November of this year is about a group of super heroes who are recruited by the government to protect their nation. Zootopia in 2016 is about a fast-talking fox who’s on the run when he’s framed for a crime he didn’t commit, and the cop rabbit who is hot on his tail. Giants, also in 2016 is about a boy named Jack who befriends a giant from a group of wicked giants that have enslaved Jack’s town. The two go on a journey to set things right. Finally, in 2018, it looks like a Disney movie that could capitalize on the new formula. It’s called Moana and it’s about a girl who is a “sea voyaging enthusiast, and the only daughter of a chief in a long line of navigators. When her family needs her help, she sets off on an epic journey. The film will also include demigods and spirits taken from real mythology.” (

Moana concept artI, for one, like this new upgraded formula of Disney’s as long as they continue to be as great as Tangled and Frozen. These are the kind of quality movies that can be enjoyed by adults and kids together.


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