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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Trouble at the Studios with 'Frozen'

I'm sure you've all heard, but Disney laid off a bunch of the hand-drawn animators a while back, and once again shut down the hand-drawn animation department. Obviously very sad, but something that Disney has done quite a few times in the past, and those animators had seen the writing on the wall since a short period before Tangled was released. Looking at past Disney history, I'm fairly confident they'll eventually re-open and close the department again in the future. CG is cheaper, easier and the company makes the excuse that CG films make more money, therefore ink and paint is a waste of the company's time. Truthfully, it's not so much the medium in which an animated film is created, but the social climate, advertising and content is what really sells or doesn't sell something. Maybe one day the suits will care enough to figure that out.

But perhaps the original way the company made feature animated films really was the better way to do things. Surprise surprise, Frozen, that upcoming CG animated feature to open in November, is apparently having some significant trouble right now. Apparently all of the people in the animation studio were asked to literally stop all the other work that they were doing to come and help fix this significantly troubled film.

Final artwork for Olaf, a sentient snowman that Elsa, the Snow Queen, created as her first attempt at making an evil snowman for her army. Olaf turned out more goofy and friendly than evil.

Is it really any wonder that they're having a tough time? The Snow Queen project has been in development at Disney for decades. It's the on-again, off-again fling Disney animation has been having. It was in development years ago, but when Disney felt that The Princess and the Frog underperformed with audiences because it was a princess film, they shelved it once more. But even then, they were having issues...issues with the Snow Queen's character, the plot, etc.

They have some strong people working on this project. They have the tools to succeed, although I think they should have given themselves more time and, well, focus. The feature film animation department used to work on only one project at a time. They didn't set severe deadlines on themselves, though admittedly that had plenty of drawbacks. Watch Waking Sleeping Beauty and you'll get the full story there.

Disney may be a powerful company, but their image will always be rather vulnerable because the public expects so much from them. Frozen could be a true powerhouse of a film, but it must have all the bells and whistles. Dreamworks continues to churn out films that make bank at the box office, but (at least in my opinion) they are nowhere near as good as most Disney films.

Advertising, Disney. Please, for the sake of your company, don't screw up the advertising!

Speaking of which, we still don't have a trailer for Frozen, and the film opens in about 6 months! I wonder if the negative feedback on the looks for Anna and Elsa (from those fake movie posters - I had a feeling they weren't genuine) have anything to do with that? Yes, the posters were fake, but the models were fairly accurate. Truthfully, the similarity in looks between Rapunzel and Anna were a bit disconcerting, not to mention the fact that she looked cross-eyed in the image. And then the Snow Queen, the character that admittedly everyone was honestly the most excited for, ended up looking like a fairy out of a Tinkerbell movie.

Last year at Destination D, there was a panel all about Frozen (that's where the image of the sentient snowman came from). And a little before that event, a video was composed as promotional material for the film - yet, interestingly enough, it was never shown at the D23 event. However, the video was leaked a week ago, and the internet was in a slight frenzy. The video has been pulled for the most part, but I still stumbled across it accidental today while doing a little research for this article. Some stills have been shared online, so I'll share some of them here now (and of course, if Disney wishes for me to take them down, I will do so). If you don't want anything spoiled (though I doubt you would have clicked to read this article then), get out of here now!

Here's a first look at one of the castles in the film. I am guessing that this is the castle that both Anna and Elsa grew up in, as they are sisters. Who knows if this part of the story is still the same, but from what was told at Destination D last year, a major coronation ceremony was taking place when Elsa's powers reveal themselves in a rather unfortunate way. This is even more tragic for her, as there is a prophecy that pretty much calls her out for ruining her kingdom in snow and frost. The girl flees, creates her own castle of ice and an army of evil snowmen, and hides inside from the rest of the world. Presumably Anna misses her sister and wants to make things right, so she goes on the dangerous quest of finding her sister with a "ragtag team."

Once can guess that this is Elsa in her icy palace. I really love this artwork with the stylization and the contrast between cold and warm, something emulated in the designs between Elsa and Anna.

Anna and Kristoff mountain climbing. This could be a set-up for a pretty interesting action sequence.

Another piece of concept art of Elsa. I'm fairly confident that this will not be how her hair looks in the final film (from everything I've heard, it sounds certain that she will have a long fishtail braid), but the dress is fairly close and if anything this just looks quite beautiful. Something that I have heard is that the snowflake motif is like the signature to Elsa's work.

This looks to be Elsa's ice castle. I feel a little bit of Maleficent's Forbidden Mountain Fortress in this, but not per say as ominous. Elsa is probably more misunderstood than evil - I like that.

More of Elsa's handiwork. What a spectacular image! I really hope we see this in the finished version of the film.

Note the color of Anna's hair. She's now more of a strawberry blonde while Elsa keeps the platinum locks, emphasizing warm vs cool colors. Her long cape is also shredded, yet she appears more free.

I'm sure many of you remember those fake movie posters. In the one featuring Anna, I noticed at least one significant white strand in her braid. While the image overall looked like unrefined CG, I don't think that was just a highlight - I'm wondering if the strand has any significance, as Elsa has white blonde hair that looks exactly like that. Anna and Elsa are sisters - is it just because they are related, or could this mean that Anna has some winter magic in her as well?

Disney created a few moments of unfinished CG animation for this video. Here are Kristoff and Anna running from something, only to come to the edge of a cliff.

Here is Anna, covering herself from Elsa's icy attack.

Elsa forming her snowflake trademark.

Actually seeing something makes me more excited about this film. Disney may be holding off any sort of promotion because they are hard at work fixing the film, but I really wish they would officially release something - anything. This leaked video might have been a mistake, but if anything I think it has helped the film. They need to start generating some buzz!

I figure that there will be a major Frozen panel at the D23 Expo this year, which I will of course be attending and covering. They had a big one for The Princess and the Frog, so why not this feature film? And it will be August, so whether they like it or not, they'll have to have something to show by then, as winter will be a hop skip and a jump away.

So, what do you think? How do you feel about Disney not sharing this promo video last year? Do you think that Disney will get Frozen's loose ends tied together nicely by the time the film opens in November? Are you excited for the film? How do you feel about the 2D vs 3D animation debacle? Talk about it here!

P.S. - Many thanks to The Rotoscopers for all their information and insight on this upcoming Disney release!


  1. "Frozen" has entered into my mind recently, with many of the same concerns you bring up, notably the lack of any early marketing or trailers even. I was surprised seeing that test footage of "Big Hero 6" recently (a film due out next year), yet nothing for "Frozen."

    If I recall correctly, even "Tangled" had promos released a year early (though I still despise that hip-n-edgy tone marketing took with that film. I was ready to write it off because of Rapuzel's smug grin, until people told me to look beyond the smart-alecky stuff).

    I also was in attendance at last August's 'Destination D' event, and saw the preview material for "Frozen." I still have some memories of the song "Let it Go" that they intend for the film. It was a piece that when heard, has a dual meaning: it's both a declaration, and a lament. In a way, it reminded me almost of the tone of "Beauty and the Beast's" Broadway song, "If I Can't Love Her."

    Last-minute fixes can lead to both good and bad. Lest we recall "Beauty and the Beast," where production was stopped, and the first concepts were thrown out, leaving the crew in that mad scramble to finish the film in under 2 years. And of course, John Lasseter and the crew and PIXAR almost went insane turning around and finishing the "Toy Story 2" we know and love in 9 months.

    Then again, one does wonder if Disney could even slam on the brakes and just push 'Frozen back by 2 years. One doesn't know just how much the company has invested in marketing tie-ins or toys (I don't think any of the characters even showed up at this year's Toy Fair in doll form!).

    Hand-drawn animation will live on elsewhere, but at this time, I don't think Disney will return to the format, notably if they can simulate it like they did with "Paperman." I still would love to know whose 'brilliant' idea it was to release "Winnie the Pooh" against "Harry Potter" in 2011. Almost noone I knew saw the film and it was sad, considering the film had me laughing more than most films that are deemed 'comedies' these days. One 'conspiracy theory' is that the move was intended to 'doom' hand-drawn animation.

    I really wanted to love "The Princess and the Frog," but it largely felt like the film was constrained by rules and guidelines on what they could do given the characters, making it a film that just couldn't reach its full potential.

    1. I hated the promo material that was released for 'Tangled' too - I was glad to see that it had more heart then it let on. I think Disney is trying to replicate the box office success that other CG animation studios have seen - and those films are very gimmicky in terms of advertising. People come to see those films, but that kid of marketing turns me off personally.

      Very excited for the music! 'let It Go' sounds like it's going to be a beautiful number. So glad that Disney cast Idina Menzel.

      Disney has turned around plenty of projects at the last minute, so they can definitely do it - but then I think about the amount of films where they didn't. I forced myself to watch 'Chicken Little' for the first time earlier this week - ugh. Next forced Disney film on my list? 'Home on the Range.' Valiant was on a few days ago, but I just wasn't ready. John Lasseter can turn a lot of things around, but he isn't perfect. But in any case, I'm crossing my fingers. I want this film to do well.

      'Frozen' dolls did actually make it to the Toy Fair. Images of the toys have been removed, but if you do a Google image search, you'll still be able to see preview images of the dolls. I find it interesting that Disney asked all those websites to take those images down...if they weren't ready for the world to see those dolls, they shouldn't have showed up at the Toy Fair.

      Very sad 'Winnie the Pooh' was pitted like that. Families just can't afford to see so many movies at the same time. It would be nice if the studios could space things out better. Pitting 'Pooh' against 'Harry Potter' was an obviously poor choice. The conspiracy theory is interesting.

      I'll agree with you on 'Princess and the Frog.' I like it, but it does feel a bit constrained. It kind of became a socially/politically-monitored thing. It's difficult to go all the way with something when you're constantly worrying you're going to offend someone.

    2. Going to correct myself (and I apologize for the error). It turns out that you were right, the dolls never made it to the Toy Fair. Here's a note from Jim Hill that I found today:

      "New York Toy Fair - Where is Frozen?
      Jim Hill:

      I actually asked Candance, the PR rep who gave Nancy and I our walk-thru of the Mattel pavilion on Monday afternoon the exact same question. Because — based on my experiences at the Toy Fairs I’ve previously attended — the prototypes for the dolls for Disney’s big holiday release for that year should have been on display. Candance explained that everything was fine. Everyone at Mattel is really excited about the “Frozen” product line. More importantly, that all of the dolls associated with this Walt Disney Animation Studios will be on store shelves six weeks ahead of Frozen’s November 27th release date.

      Reading between the lines here, I think that this was more a case that Mattel & Disney are just super-excited about the commercial possibilities associated with “Planes.” And rather than have this DisneyToon Studios production be overshadowed by Disney’s next Princess movie, they just opted not to bring those floor models & prototypes with them when they came to New York to do this year’s American International Toy Fair.

      If it’s of any consequence to you, last year while I was Walt Disney Animation Studios, I got to see a lot of concept art for the various characters & settings featured in “Frozen.” And that movie looks just amazing. And based on what I’ve been hearing from WDAS insiders about the way the music & the story are coming together (i.e. the second & third act of this movie are now ridiculously strong. They’re just making some minor tweaks to the first act now to make sure that all of the later story beats pay off to maximum effect), it sounds like a pretty amazing movie.

      So please hang in there. I know that you’re itching for “Frozen” news. But it sounds like this late November release from Walt Disney Pictures will really be worth the wait."

      However, you can still find those images through the Google image search. Kristoff is even included (and I actually found more today - there is a version of Anna in her springtime green outfit, as we see her pictured in one of the promotional photos).

      I do think it's possible that Disney and Mattel wanted to focus more on 'Planes,' but it's also possible that changes are afoot. Lasseter has been very particular about the way things are implemented.

      I'll tell you one thing's for sure - I really cannot wait to see the limited edition dolls Disney creates for Anna and Elsa.