The new “Frozen” fiefdom of Queen Elsa, Princess Anna and “counselor” Olaf in Disney California Adventure’s Hollywood Land in Anaheim is not just a way to solidify the already successful film franchise; it’s a whole new version of Disney’s most high-octane fuel-source: princess power.
And yet fewer than five years ago, Disney announced that it was done with princesses, at least of the traditional fairy-tale variety.
“The Princess and the Frog” had tanked, and company execs decided that a royal wedding as happy ending was out of date. Any self-respecting female over 5 had dreams beyond a fabulous dress and a prince.
On the other hand, those dresses still sold, as did all the ancillary merchandise. The best solution to the princess problem, then, was not revolution but re-education. Rapunzel became “Tangled,” featuring anti-prince Flynn Rider and adventures galore, while Pixar’s “Brave” side-stepped romance altogether to focus on mother-daughter issues.
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But it wasn’t until “Frozen” that Disney meshed the modern with the magic. Featuring not one princess but two, “Frozen” champions sisterhood and friendship to the point of satirizing traditional fairy-tale “lerve.” With Josh Gad’s goofy snowman Olaf drawing a large male audience, not to mention an Oscar-winning song, the film became the coveted cross-over hit.
Now the cross-over is literal.
On Jan. 7, after a three-week preview during the holidays, Arendelle officially annexed portions of Disney’s California Adventure resort, bringing with it character meet-and-greets, a sing-along, a night-time party and a wonderland of real snow.
Despite the Nordic quaintness that made Arendelle such a perfect fit in Fantasyland, officials at Disney resorts decided that Elsa (now a queen) and Anna (who previously greeted guests in Disneyland’s Princess Central, Fantasy Faire) belong in California Adventure. There, at least until May, park-goers can experience a little “Frozen Fun.”
Elsa and Anna are not the first royalty on the block. A spoonful of princess was the obvious answer to the initially foundering California Adventure. In 2012, Ariel’s Undersea Adventure took over the space where once the “Golden Dreams” played, and other princesses soon began making appearances at the nearby restaurant Ariel’s Grotto.
But the Arendellians will be the first royalty to have a quasi-permanent presence in both parks. Fantasy Faire’s vaudeville show will revolve around “Frozen,” the characters will continue to appear in the Disneyland winter parade and, perhaps most important, Arendelle is now part of the landscape of the Storybook Land Canal Boat ride.
“‘Frozen' has all the hallmarks of traditional great Disney animation,” says David Duffy, director of creative entertainment, “which allows us to celebrate the legacy of Disney. But there’s a contemporary feel to the story, which fits in with California Adventure.”
Indeed, “Frozen” made its debut at California Adventure in the 2013 revamp of the World of Color show, which, Duffy says, makes this more a homecoming than a migration. Still, he adds, a lot of the decision was based on space. “We have the facilities in Hollywood Land.”
Those facilities include the Muppets’ 3D Theater, now transformed into the Crown Jewel Theater, where two royal historians, interrupted occasionally by Elsa, Anna and Kristoff, take “Frozen” fans through a musical history of Arendelle called “For the First Time in Forever – a Frozen Singalong.” (If audiences at one day during the holiday sneak preview were any indication, singing “Let It Go” at the top of your lungs remains a passionate American pastime.)
When they’re not singing, Elsa and Anna hold court across the street in a stately side room of the Animation Building. (Which, with its sofas, floor space, air conditioning, electrical outlets and constantly streaming animation scenes, is one of the resort’s most peaceful respites.)
This being a cross-over event, the cross-over character is the center of the biggest addition. Studio 17 has been transformed into Olaf’s Snow Fest with, you guessed it, real snow. Not the sudsy stuff that Disney and other parks pass off as flurries during the holidays, but real cold, meltable snow. (Memo to moms: Bring spare pants for the little ones.)
Like so many things Disney, the new “Frozen” attractions work on several fronts. New is good, and “Frozen” is better – who doesn’t want to see snow and sing along with Anna and Elsa? (And if you don’t want to sing, at least the Crown Jewel offers a welcome chance to sit.)
More important, though, is the impact “Frozen” has on the park. The popular characters, and the whimsy, are certainly a boon to Hollywood Land, which still has some geographic challenges – much of it is tucked away behind storefronts – and an industrial feel not in keeping with the rest of the park (Silver lining: The Monsters Inc. ride rarely has a line).
The new “Frozen” attractions also might take some of the pressure off of Cars Land – where the wait for the FastPass tickets to Radiator Springs Racers is often as long as the line for an actual ride – while also proving that Disney princesses can break out of Fantasyland and don’t have to travel in packs. (Except, of course, during parades.)
Which raises the question: Though the Matterhorn has already claimed snow monsters, bobsleds and Alpine architecture, is there room at California Adventure for a “Frozen” ride?
Duffy laughs. “We’re staying focused on Frozen Fun,” he says. “At least until May.”