‘Frozen’ fever grips cultural landscape

ft.com – On Christmas morning, five-year-old Addison Peskie’s living room was a sea of ice blue and bright purple.
“A Frozen fleece vest. A hat and gloves. A water bottle. She even got Frozen underwear,” said Jasara Peskie, describing a pile of gifts tied to the hit Disney film. Addison is also the proud owner of Anna and Elsa dolls – the protagonists of Frozen – a toy model of Elsa’s ice castle and countless books and CDs featuring the princesses and their talking snowman friend.

Welcome to Frozen mania. More than a year since the animated film was released in November 2013, it is dominating this holiday season, cementing its place as a cultural phenomena and a moneymaking machine for Disney and its partners. “Last year you couldn’t find Frozen stuff to save your life at Christmas time,” Ms Peskie said. While shopping this year, when she saw film merchandise, she thought, “Frozen stuff – better buy it because I don’t know if I’m going to see it again!”

Amazon said on Friday that customers had bought enough Elsa dolls to reach the top of Cinderella’s castle 855 times. Among other fun facts, the ecommerce retailer said the total length of Frozen duct tape purchased by its customers in the festive season could stretch to the top of Disneyland’s Matterhorn more than 729 times. In the entertainer of the year stakes, Associated Press has named Frozen its 2014 winner, ahead of singers Beyoncé and Pharrell Williams and actor Benedict Cumberbatch. It is not hard to see why, as the movie’s characters and themed merchandise have become as ubiquitous as its Oscar-winning song “Let It Go”.

The film, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Snow Queen”, has been an extraordinary theatrical success for Disney. It has taken in $1.27bn at the global box office, according to Box Office Mojo, making it the most successful animated film and the fifth-highest-grossing film of all time.Cinemas have capitalised on its popularity with singalong screenings where attendees are encouraged to show up in costume. Frozen on Ice, a live touring ice-skating version, has become the highest-grossing event ever for Feld Entertainment, the company behind Disney’s live shows.

Frozen was the biggest contributor this year to Disney’s studio division, where revenue jumped 18 per cent to $1.8bn. Analysts at Morgan Stanley say the film drove a third of the studio’s $254m in operating income in a year when Disney had several other hits, including Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Maleficent. Home entertainment revenue jumped 20 per cent from a year ago as consumers snapped up Frozen DVDs. Frozen, which Bob Iger, Disney chief executive, described as “a tremendous franchise”, has also had lasting impact outside the theatre.

Its wildly popular soundtrack has lived at or near the top of the Billboard chart this year. With 3.7m copies sold through November 30, the album is in a race with Taylor Swift’s 1989 to become the bestselling album of the year. On the digital front, the Frozen soundtrack was iTunes’s top seller.And, as shoppers such as Ms Peskie have found, Frozen characters are slapped on everything from backpacks and bedsheets to cookie decorating kits and toothbrushes. FAO Schwarz, the high-end toy retailer, is selling a $5,000 made-to-order Elsa doll from Madame Alexander, adorned with Swarovski crystals.

Frozen has brought in more than $1bn in sales for Disney’s consumer products division. “Product sales continuously exceed retailers’ expectations and with the new short [film airing with Disney’s upcoming Cinderella] launching in March, Frozen fever looks set to continue,” said Josh Silverman, executive vice-president for global licensing. As a result, Frozenhas knocked Barbie from her perch as the most popular toy brand for girls in the US, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation. It found that 20 per cent of parents planned to buy the merchandise for their daughters this holiday season.

“Barbie has been the top girls’ toy for over a decade, but it is no surprise that Disney’s Frozen has taken the top seat as children have had it on the mind as far back as Halloween,” said Pam Goodfellow, consumer insights director at Prosper Insights and Analytics, which conducted the NRF survey. Millions of little girls clamouring to dress up as Elsa and Anna sparked a global shortage of costumes and other items earlier this year. Following the Halloween rush, Disney said it has sold more than 3m Frozen dresses in North America. Toymakers with valuable licensing rights see no thaw in Frozen’s success. Jakks Pacific, maker of the Snow Glow Elsa doll that topped many retailers’ gift guides, could see Frozen sales top $100m this year, according to Needham analysts. That would be a boon for Jakks, which reported net losses in the last two years.

For Mattel, which owns the rights to make Disney’s princess dolls, Frozen is a bright spot in a difficult financial picture. Mattel’s princess sales average about $300m in sales each year, while its Barbie and Fisher-Price lines have slumped.
“We’re happy to see the demand for [Frozen] extend beyond its movie launch,” said Bryan Stockton, chief executive, during an October conference call with analysts. “There’s a lot of momentum on Frozen and we’re really working hard to capture that opportunity.” Mattel only has another year of Frozen to count on – rival Hasbro was won the rights to Disney princess toys starting in 2016. That may be just in time for the rumoured sequel, Frozen 2, to cast its spell all over again.

Shannon Bond
“‘Frozen’ fever grips cultural landscape”
www.ft.com
28 December 2014

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