Frozen is one of the highest-grossing animated films of all time, raking in over $1 billion worldwide in barely 4 months. If you ignore inflation or re-releases, it is the highest-grossing film from Walt Disney Animation Studios ever. A few weeks ago, it became the first of Disney’s (not Pixar’s) animated features to win the Best Animated Feature Oscar since that category’s inception in 2001. And you can’t go far online without finding a video of someone singing its Oscar-winning anthem “Let It Go.” Hell, you can watch a video of people singing it in multiple languages, one which has racked up hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube and the like. Thus, it’s not wrong to say that Frozen has become a sensation the likes of which we haven’t seen from Disney’s animation arm since the heyday of their Renaissance period in the early 1990s. Admittedly, I’m not nearly as big a fan of the film as many folks are, but I’m much happier that this movie has taken the Internet and the world by (ice? snow?) storm, instead of something like Wreck-It Ralph. If Frozen, a cheeky throwback to the old-fashioned musical fairy tales that defined Disney animation as being the medium’s standard-bearer, can make a billion dollars, maybe the powers that be at Disney won’t assume that audiences wholly loathe or reject musicals or old-school animation.
However, it seems painfully clear that the powers that be at Disney either are going to ignore what mass audiences want, or they simply have no idea. Consider, as the latest piece of evidence, the Blu-ray for Frozen, out today. In watching the laughably scant special features, and in noting that Disney recently yanked the planned 3D Blu-ray from its release schedule, I can only conclude this much: Disney is preparing itself to stop making Blu-rays. I realize, of course, that this sounds like reactionary hyperbole, but as I went through the Blu-ray’s supplements—which took me all of 40 minutes—I found the conclusion inescapable. Recently, Disney announced a new cloud-based service wherein you can buy and watch all manner of their films: not just old favorites like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Beauty and the Beast, but live-action films from the 1960s or the 1990s, as well as a host of direct-to-video sequels. Digital copies of some form have become as valuable to Disney as a physical disc. I’ve echoed this point so many times in these Blu-ray reviews: if a Disney Blu-ray has a bare-bones physical release, why buy the Blu-ray? If you’re a Blu-ray owner, then it stands to reason that you might have a Blu-ray player equipped with the Amazon Instant Video app; maybe you have an Apple TV and can access iTunes. If you can buy the movie without buying a physical product, why even make the physical product?
I don’t imagine, mind you, that Disney Blu-rays are going the way of the dodo within, say, a year. But if Disney Movies Anywhere succeeds to any extent, I would not be surprised if they phase out physical media over time. Disney removing the 3D Blu-ray for Frozen from domestic release is another sign of this possible inevitability. (There will still be an international release of the 3D Blu-ray, which appears to be region-free, if you’re interested.) Though post-converted 3D remains constant among new theatrical releases, 3D Blu-rays, just like the 3D TV fad, seem to be fading away. I’m not a 3D TV owner, and I’m on record as almost always preferring the 2D version of any film, but the phenomenon that is Frozen would seem tailor-made to receiving a 3D home media treatment. I don’t doubt that Disney’s choice was inspired by middling 3D Blu-ray sales; otherwise, there’s zero logic in removing one option of a presumably popular home media release from the marketplace.
But then, there’s almost zero logic in the Frozen Blu-ray as it stands. I said it only took me 40 minutes to get through the special features on this Blu-ray. Ah, but that was a lie, so let me clarify: not counting previews for upcoming releases, there is a grand total of 40 minutes and 51 seconds of supplemental features on this Blu-ray. Nearly half of that time is dedicated to four music videos of “Let It Go”: one is performed by Demi Lovato, whose version plays over the film’s closing credits; the other three are performed by Spanish performer Martina Stoessel and Malaysian singer Marsha Milan. (You were expecting, as a certain movie star would say, Adele Dazeem? Sorry.) There’s also the 6-minute Oscar-nominated Mickey Mouse short “Get A Horse!”, which is still charming but less so in 2D; just under seven minutes of mostly unspectacular deleted scenes introduced by Frozen co-directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee; a woefully short 7-minute feature where Buck and Lee talk with longtime Disney employee Alice Estes Davis about Walt Disney’s failed attempts to get an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” off the ground when he was alive; the original teaser trailer; and a video called “The Making of Frozen.”
Let’s talk about that last feature for a minute. Maybe you’re like me. (Not too much, I hope, for your sake.) Maybe you’re adding up the numbers in that last paragraph. Four music videos and roughly 20 minutes of other supplements, and an overall runtime of just under 41 minutes of special features doesn’t leave much time for a making-of featurette, you may be thinking. And you would be correct. “The Making of Frozen” is a three-minute video featuring some of the film’s stars—Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, and Kristen Bell—singing and dancing in Disney’s Animation building, asking the question that everyone in the audience is wondering: “How did we make Frozen?” (Arguably, if a person accessed the Blu-ray menu and selected a special feature entitled “The Making of Frozen,” they might indeed be wondering the answer to this very question. Not the wildest presumption.) The answer is as follows: “We don’t know.” The song performed in this video was written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the film’s songwriters; the music and lyrics are suitably jaunty and winking. But as you’ll note, the song chooses to sidestep a totally legitimate question—“Hey, how did you guys make that wildly successful film millions of people have seen and loved?”—in favor of…well, I don’t know. The charitable reaction, I suppose, is that this song is a playful skewering of how actors are so separate from the process of animation that they would be pretty clueless if anyone asked them how the film they lent their voices to was created. As I watched this video, I chose a less polite response. (If you think said response included me addressing the video with a profane phrase, you are once again correct, my friend.)
Here’s the bottom line: if the directors of this film, or Disney as a whole, do not want the audience to get even a little peek behind how Frozen was made, I have a fantastic solution: do not tell us. Don’t pretend that you are going to reveal the film’s secrets (and by the way, we’re not exactly talking about nuclear launch codes here). Just don’t tell us. Even as I type these words, I feel like I might be indulging in hyperbole, but this feature felt like a weird middle finger to the most passionate fans of Frozen. “Oh, yeah, you saw this movie four times? You’ve been singing the music every day in the shower? Want to know how it was made? Well, tough.” What is the point of this video? To reunite some of the cast so they can sing again? I’m honestly not sure, but whatever the explanation is, I can’t fathom how it would absolve this (possibly unintentional) smugness. I’ve seen a few people surmise that Disney will double-dip and, perhaps closer to Christmas, release a deluxe edition of Frozen on Blu-ray. I wouldn’t put it past Disney, of course, but again, I’ll ask: why create a bare-bones edition now? The movie’s already been available to buy and rent on iTunes, Amazon, and the like for a couple weeks, so if you (or your kids) want to watch the movie ad nauseam, you could have done so without ever going to Best Buy or Target or wherever. (And Disney would still make a ton of cash on the digital download.)
Here’s why this bothers me (mostly). Frozen’s success cannot be understated. Yes, Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph performed solidly at the box office. (And, of course, The Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh were both absolutely delightful, but too few people saw those, especially the latter. I digress.) But Frozen is proof that the backbone of the Walt Disney Company still has vitality; these movies can work if the company allows it. The company can rebuild its fanbase, or at least redouble their efforts to maintain what fanbase they have. Things like the Frozen Blu-ray, along with the callous (potential) assumption that double-dipping the film on Blu-ray won’t make them look painfully, needlessly greedy, send the wrong message. (Let me state the obvious: if this Blu-ray actually included, y’know, a making-of featurette, then this goofy little video wouldn’t bother me nearly as much, if at all.) If Disney is beginning to throw in the towel on home media, or at least making digital copies as prevalent as a physical disc, I’d rather they speed up the process. I’d rather they stop half-heartedly trying to create Blu-rays with special features, and just stop doing it altogether. They clearly have no interest in offering up a Criterion-style/level treatment in their films. (But wouldn’t that be glorious?)
If you loved Frozen, you may have already preordered this Blu-ray, or you’re reading this after rushing out the store to buy it on opening day. Or maybe you didn’t want to wait, and purchased a copy to watch on your PlayStation or Xbox or Blu-ray player or Roku or Apple TV. And why shouldn’t you? Disney wants you to start watching in the cloud at least as much as you pop in a Blu-ray on your HDTV. I don’t want to sound like I’m throwing in the towel on fighting for better Blu-ray special features in Disney catalog or new releases. But I’m also a realist; the Frozen Blu-ray supplemental treatment is piss-poor, an even more shocking fact when you take into account how damn popular this movie is. If a movie this wide-reaching and beloved can’t get a decent amount of special features, then it’s time to accept that just about nothing will. That’s a shame, and something Disney should be embarrassed by.
— Josh Spiegel