A Charmed Life for Disney’s ‘Frozen’; As It Passes ‘Lion King’ in Sales, Surprise Hit Helps Studio Move Out of the Shadow of Sibling Pixar

A Charmed Life for Disney’s ‘Frozen’

As It Passes ‘Lion King’ in Sales, Surprise Hit Helps Studio Move Out of the Shadow of Sibling Pixar


Jan. 12, 2014 8:02 p.m. ET

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Animated musical ‘Frozen,’ which hit a domestic total of $317.7 million this weekend, beat a dozen new entrants to become the most successful movie of the holiday season. Walt Disney Pictures/Everett Collection

When Melinda Wedde took her daughter Zoey to see “Frozen” for the second time in January, she faced a challenge: Convincing the four-year-old not to sing every song out loud in the theater.Walt Disney Co. DIS +0.65% ‘s animated musical has been a surprise blockbuster. Despite opening before Thanksgiving, it beat a dozen new entrants to become the most successful movie of the holiday season. A week ago it enjoyed the rare success of ranking No. 1 on its sixth weekend playing nationwide.

This past weekend, as the movie’s domestic total hit $317.7 million, “Frozen” surpassed “The Lion King” to become the highest grossing Disney-produced animated film of all time, not accounting for inflation or re-releases.

World-wide, “Frozen” has now collected $712.3 million and has yet to open in a few major markets, including China.


Sunday, it won a Golden Globe award for best animated feature, helping make it a favorite for an Oscar.

As Ms. Wedde can attest, the movie’s popularity has also driven successful spin-offs that are often the real drivers of profitability for a Disney franchise. Her daughter owns dresses for both of the movie’s princess heroines, as well as the soundtrack album.

“We listen to the soundtrack every single day, multiple times a day,” said the married mother of two in Bethel Park, Pa.

In early January, “Frozen” was No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album-sales chart, only the fourth animated film soundtrack in the chart’s 58-year history to claim the top spot.

Family animation is one of Hollywood’s hottest genres. Eight such films were released by major studios in 2013 and all but two grossed more than $100 million. “Despicable Me 2,” the most successful of the bunch, was the most profitable film ever released by ComcastCorp.’s CMCSA +1.25% Universal Pictures.


None match the long-running enthusiasm that “Frozen” has generated, however. It collected $15.1 million at the domestic box office this weekend. No other animated movie released last year grossed more than $5 million on its seventh weekend playing nationwide.

The movie’s success caps a renaissance for Disney Animation Studios, based in Glendale, Calif., which has a separate staff from its sibling studio, Pixar Animation Studios.

Last year’s videogame-inspired “Wreck-It Ralph” and 2010’s Rapunzel story “Tangled” both did well, but “Frozen” is the first Disney movie to outperform a Pixar movie released in the same year—in this case, the prequel “Monsters University.”

For most of the 2000s, Disney Animation struggled in Pixar’s shadow with a string of forgettable underperformers including “Treasure Planet,” “Home on the Range,” “Chicken Little” and “Meet the Robinsons.”


Its transition from traditional hand-drawn animation to computer generated imagery, or CGI, was rocky and it struggled to establish an identity while Pixar andDreamWorks Animation SKG

Inc.DWA -0.03% prospered.

Pixar chiefs Ed Catmull and John Lasseter took over Disney Animation after Disney acquired their company in 2006, but the duo’s attempt to reinvigorate the studio while maintaining Pixar’s unbroken streak of commercial success took some time.

“There was a lot of angst and a big inferiority complex,” said Steve Hulett, business representative for the Animation Guild, which represents animators at companies including Disney.

“Frozen” was an unlikely candidate to mark the studio’s comeback. Loosely based on a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, the movie had been in development for more than a decade, originally under the title “The Snow Queen.” A series of directors struggled to find a successful take and successive executive regimes at Disney warmed and cooled on the concept over the years.

After “Tangled” grossed a solid $592 million, Disney decided to go ahead with a version of “The Snow Queen” as its next modernized princess movie.

But as with the Rapunzel movie, it changed the title to make it more boy-friendly, a practice the company has adopted since the box office failure of “The Princess and the Frog” in 2009.

With the success of “Frozen,” Disney Animation has re-established itself as the master of a subgenre that served it well in the 1990s with hits including “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Pocahontas”: Broadway-style musicals with female protagonists.

That element meant a lot for 28-year-old Ms. Wedde. “It was very nostalgic for the movies I loved as a kid,” she said.

In November, Disney will take a different turn with “Big Hero 6,” a superhero film that marks the animation studio’s first collaboration with corporate sibling Marvel. Only adding to the pressure is that 2014 will be the first year with no Pixar release since 2005, due to the delay of its troubled production “The Good Dinosaur.”

The top film at the box office this weekend was the military movie “Lone Survivor,” based on real events in Afghanistan. Starring Mark Wahlberg, it opened to a surprisingly strong $38.9 million, according to studio estimates, and earned a grade of A+ from audiences, according to market-research firm CinemaScore.

Universal Pictures released the movie, which was financed by independent company Emmett/Furla Films for just under $50 million.

“The Legend of Hercules,” a new version of the Greek myth, flopped with a weak $8.6 million opening. It was financed by Millennium Entertainment and released by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.’s LGF +0.87% Summit Entertainment.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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