While much of the vitriol being flung at Olaf’s Frozen Adventure decries its quality, most of the hate is rooted in the fact that a 21-minute short film is airing in front of a full-length motion picture. That’s a major addition to Coco‘s runtime, and this isn’t just any short film — for the first time, Pixar audiences are being forced to sit through something produced by Disney Animation prior to the latest from the Emeryville Titans. Pixar fans adore the delightful five-minute shorts that usually precede its movies, but this reeks of forced corporate synergy. And it sort of is.
Olaf’s Frozen Adventure was originally intended to be a Christmas special for ABC television, with Disney no doubt planning to make an annual tradition of airing it. It was directed by Kevin Deters and Stevie Wermers-Skelton, the duo behind the Prep & Landing TV specials from a few years back. Just like those specials, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure was produced for a television audience; thus it was designed with those expectations in mind, as well as the existence of commercial breaks.
By all accounts, it was primarily Disney Animation czar John Lasseter – who got that job by first heading up Pixar – who decided to move Olaf to the big screen. Lasseter told Entertainment Weekly that the switch was made for two reasons: first, after seeing the finished product, he thought the quality of the animation looked “too cinematic” for television, deserving nothing less than a big screen presentation; second, Lasseter and Disney Animation saw a parallel between the journeys of the two main characters from Olaf’s Frozen Adventure and Coco, aka Olaf and Miguel.
In the Frozen short, Olaf searches for new holiday traditions to help Anna and Elsa, who are sharing Christmas together for the first time in their lives. Coco‘s Miguel spends his movie searching for his family’s traditions regarding the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos. It’s ironic that Disney saw these two films sharing any connection at all, considering that audiences are accusing Olaf for being a tone-deaf pairing with Coco.
Indeed, the popular alternate interpretation is that Disney was unsure about Coco‘s mainstream potential (perhaps after recent Pixar struggles with the likes of The Good Dinosaur) and so wanted to put in the proven Frozen brand as a carrot. Of course, they didn’t reckon for the short being highly divisive and totally underestimated the strength of the Pixar brand.
There’s no denying that Disney’s movies have increased in quality and emotional depth in recent years; diverse hits like Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, Moana, and, yes, Frozen have pretty much changed the view of the animated side of the company. While it’s not hard to imagine some of those pairing up for a double feature with one of Pixar’s more emotionally complex characters and nuanced worlds, the response to Olaf’s Frozen Adventure probably sours that.
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