Disney’s new live-action Cinderella would make a zillion dollars this weekend without any additional help, of course. (And it should—as Katy Waldman notes, it’s lovely!) But parents of children who have spent the past 16 months belting out “Let It Go,” playing with the Frozen karaoke app, begging for Elsa and Anna dolls, and eating Frozen grapes have another reason to be excited about Cinderella: It’s preceded by a new short film, Frozen Fever, the first true followup to 2012’s gargantuan hit Frozen.
Well, chill out your overheated expectations, and start getting nervous about that sequel announced Thursday. Frozen Fever is not very good.
In the film, Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) is planning a birthday party for her sister Anna (Kristen Bell). She wants everything to go perfectly, because Anna’s never had a proper birthday party. Elsa leads Anna on a hunt through the castle, following a trail from thoughtful gift to thoughtful gift. But also, she’s left Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his reindeer Sven in charge of the birthday cake. And also, snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) is extremely interested in the cake. Oh, and also, Elsa has a cold, and she’s really worried that she’ll be too sick to give her sister the birthday she deserves. Additionally, every time Elsa sneezes, her magic causes little snow-gremlins to spring up out of nowhere, wreaking havoc. And also also also, they’re all singing a song, “Making Today a Perfect Day,” by Oscar-winning Frozen composers Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Oh, and all this happens in seven minutes.
It’s a real mess. The grand passionate drama of Frozen is already an uncomfortable mix with the second-grade-level storyline of a birthday party that simply must go right. Pile on Olaf and Wandering Oaken and sneezing and dancing and you’ve got an ungainly confection that, like the immense birthday cake Kristoff’s guarding, feels forever on the verge of toppling over. And those snow gremlins! They are adorable and disposable and look so much like minions that you can almost see development executives rubbing their hands together about the lucrative app possibilities.
And the song itself, while hummable, is fatally damaged by its need to do too much. Is “Making Today a Perfect Day” about Anna and Elsa’s relationship? About the joy of meaningful birthday gifts? About calling back to signature moments from the original movie? (“A cold never bothered me anyway,” Elsa cheekily reminds us all.) About making up for past slights? About the difficulty of finding rhymes for “ah-choo”? Yes, all of the above, and so it achieves none of the above.
Under John Lasseter, the animated shorts program at Disney has been a marvel of industry, innovation, and brand extension. They’ve produced Oscar winners like Feast and Paperman, as well as canny uses of familiar Disney characters like Get a Horse! (a lively new Mickey Mouse short) and Tangled Ever After. (Here, Disney’s following Pixar’s lead; under Lasseter the company has mixed creative original shorts with ones starring characters from its many franchises.) Frozen Fever is a real bummer, the first recent misfire from Disney’s shorts program, and thus the first serious misfire from the Lasseter-led Disney. Having seen the power that Frozen has on little girls, I’ve been hopeful Disney’s breakthrough story of sisters doing it for themselves might have a long and happy afterlife. It still might, but this overstuffed jumble of a short is not a great first step.