What could easily play like another synergistic infomercial or glorified electronic press kit somehow trumps that with “The Story of Frozen: Making a Disney Animated Classic,” an ABC special touting its parent company’s valentine to warm the hearts of shareholders. Perhaps that’s because “Frozen” qualifies as a legitimate cultural phenomenon, plus the recollections of those involved – and how the film found its voice – are personal and enlightening enough to overcome the obvious fluff factor. Parents, in particular, should let their kids see the hard work underlying such an enterprise, since nothing here will spoil the magic.
For those unfamiliar with how labor-intensive the genre is, it’s stated right off the bat that the movie – now the highest-grossing animated film of all time – employed 600 people for 2 ½ years. More notable, though, are the contortions through which the story went before the signature song, “Let It Go,” “fundamentally changed the entire movie,” as Pixar/Disney animation mastermind John Lasseter put it, giving purpose and direction to the character of Elsa through that near-unavoidable anthem.
Narrated by Josh Gad, alter ego of the snowman Olaf, the special not surprisingly spends a fair amount of time with the stars, including Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell. But the producers (from an offshoot of ABC News, naturally) also have considerable access not just to the animators but all kinds of amusing details, including video of the artists frolicking in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in order to get the feel of animating snow; or how they used their own kids as inspiration for scenes involving the young princesses Elsa and Anna. There are other intriguing tidbits, like the fact “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?,” arguably the second-best song, nearly didn’t make it into the movie until a so-so test screening and several employees lobbied to reinstate it; or that animator Hyrum Osmond worked a small homage to his uncle, Donny, into one of the numbers.
Despite the concern that seeing the ice palace in unfinished form might demystify it, the effect even for small fry should rather be the opposite – heightening appreciation for the meticulous attention to detail that realized those soaring images. The same goes for heart-warming stuff about the movie’s global reach and its undeniably powerful hold over little girls, something co-director Jennifer Lee wryly notes will likely have to wait until those kids have grown up in order to fully comprehend why.
All of the major media conglomerates are periodically guilty of synergistic sins, and Disney — cross-collateralizing its parks, networks and merchandising apparatus — almost certainly indulges those impulses more than most. But even if “The Story of Frozen” (which includes plugs for future incarnations, among them an arc on ABC’s “Once Upon a Time,” along with teasing the upcoming movie “Big Hero 6”) helps with marketing and sells a few more DVDs, there’s enough justification to celebrate a title that truly earned the over-used designation “classic” to soothe a cynical brain – or maybe, melt a frozen heart.
Disclosure: My wife works for Disney, and my daughter has memorized the entire “Frozen” soundtrack.