Disney’s kitsch new live-action film of “Cinderella” is already a hit in America, and it’s sure to work its box-office magic in Britain, too, where it will be released just in time for the Easter holidays. But it would be interesting to know how many people buy tickets because they are aching to see Kenneth Branagh’s take on “Cinderella”, and how many have heard that a certain short film is being screened before it—“Frozen Fever”, a seven-minute cartoon sequel to Disney’s blockbusting Oscar-winner, “Frozen”.
As a marketing strategy, it’s brilliant. Not only will the cartoon bump up the “Cinderella” takings, it will also feed the addiction of “Frozen” fans. And, would you believe it, Disney has just announced that they are bowing to popular pressure and putting “Frozen 2” into production. But despite being aware of this brazen calculation, I wasn’t cynical about “Frozen Fever”. I have, like everyone else with a six-year-old daughter, seen “Frozen” more times than any other film ever made, but I still admire its clever songs, its shimmering animation, and its feminist twist on a fairy-tale formula: “true love’s kiss” comes from a sister, not a handsome prince. I’m also a sucker for its comic-relief characters, so a spin-off showcasing Olaf the summer-loving snowman or the under-used tribe of trolls would have suited me fine.
“Frozen Fever”, though... Well, it doesn’t take long to realise that this short is built on nothing more than a scrap of self-congratulatory wordplay: “hey, we’ve read lots of headlines about ‘Frozen’ fever sweeping the nation, so how about a cartoon in which Elsa...has a fever? Get it?” The not-exactly-gripping plot is that Elsa, super-powered Queen of Arendelle, wants to throw a fantastic birthday bash for her sister, Anna. (The intensity of the sororal devotion between these two is starting to seem unhealthy.) But she fears that the party may be ruined by her sniffle. Anna tells her to lie down and get some rest, but Elsa insists that the birthday fun needn’t be curtailed, because—wait for it—“a cold never bothered me anyway”. Hmm.
Some fans may be delighted by this post-modern reference to the refrain of “Let It Go”, the “Frozen” showstopper. But for anyone over the age of eight, it just confirms that “Frozen Fever” is a smug curtain call that relies wholly on the brand-loyalty it assumes its viewers already have. Various characters are shoved back onstage to take a bow—not just Kristoff, Sven and Olaf, but the disgraced Prince Hans, and the big Nordic chap who runs the mountain-supplies store. (Alas, there’s no sign of the trolls.) The only novelties on offer are obviously included for merchandising reasons. First, there are the new dresses, which Elsa conjures up for herself and Anna—sure enough, dolls of the sisters in this season’s outfits are on sale now. Second, there is the running gag that whenever Elsa sneezes, tiny sentient snowmen appear all around her (well, they’re either snowmen or snotmen). And, yes, cuddly toys of these snow-homunculi are also available at a Disney store near you.
I know; it’s hardly a revelation that Disney is motivated as much by profit as by creativity. After all, the company has already cheapened its legacy with substandard sequels to “The Jungle Book” and “Peter Pan”, so what’s another cash-in between friends? But, speaking as someone who has organised a “Frozen” birthday party, and paid good money for a “Frozen” karaoke singalong CD, I must admit that I was expecting better. I’ll say it: “Frozen Fever” left me cold. And that’s the standard of pun that the cartoon deserves.
Frozen Fever is playing before "Cinderella" in American cinemas now, and in British cinemas from March 27th