Walt Disney Studio’s PR and marketing teams are taking a nod from “Frozen’s” Elsa and letting it go.
The company slated a short film from the next installment in its highly popular “Frozen” franchise, “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure,” to run before Disney Pixar Studio’s “Coco.” Now, Disney is pulling the short from theaters—to the relief of many consumers who have complained.
Many turned to social media to complain that the 21-minute short was too long, and others said it felt like forced marketing.
Walked out of the theater to ask an employee how long the Olaf movie is that plays before COCO and laughed when they said 30 minutes because I thought it was a joke. I like FROZEN but this is my nightmare.
— thomas grabinski. (@DaveMatthewsBad) November 24, 2017
Pixar shorts have been great. Always look forward to them. Olaf long prior to Coco was so boring. Arrive late to see Coco. #OlafsFrozenAdventure
— Alex Aguirre (@alexinsocal) December 3, 2017
While it is traditional for the studio to run a short film unrelated to the main feature – some of Disney-Pixar’s best work has been found in shorts such as Lava, ahead of Inside Out, Sanjay’s Super Team, which ran ahead of The Good Dinosaur, or Finding Dory’s Piper – they are usually around five minutes long, and totally unrelated to other projects Disney is working on.
Most of the complaints have centered on the maddening length of the featurette. Before a Pixar feature film, we are accustomed to getting a charming short running five minutes or so — a warm-hearted masterwork in miniature that preps our heartstrings for the emotional depths of most Pixar films.
Instead, however, we get a small “Frozen” movie that begins to feel as if it will never end. We are creatures of habit, and “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” eventually feels like the grinning house guest who won’t leave, even though the party was supposed to clear out long ago. As each successive song in the four-tune reel cues up, moviegoers’ reactions can be heard to switch from laughing irritation to growing mockery to outright anger. (This is a very different era from the days of Disney’s 1983 Oscar-nominated “Mickey’s Christmas Carol,” which ran 26 minutes, when filmgoers were more conditioned to expect a featurette of that length before a Disney film.)
Though many complained about its length, others said “Olaf’s Frozen Adventures”—which features Caucasian characters from Norway—felt inappropriate before a movie starring Mexican characters surrounding a Day of the Dead celebration.
— Playgrounds Games (@Playgrounds504) November 25, 2017
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Some have theorized that Disney combined Olaf’s Frozen Adventure with Coco to get audiences unfamiliar with Dia de los Muertos to the theater. If that’s the case — it’s unclear if it’ll play again with Coco in the UK or in other locales with later release dates — the supposed scheming isn’t winning goodwill with those who appreciated Disney-Pixar’s attempt to make a movie about a Latino family with care and authenticity.
Disney isn’t removing “Olaf’s Frozen Adventures” from theaters due to the backlash: It was originally set to be a limited-time promotion in theaters before being released as a special on ABC.
“This was always promoted as a limited run so it’s not really a story — the end of our Olaf theatrical play is coming next week,” a Disney representative told EW. “All our ads and messaging called it as such.”
That messaging can be seen in posts such as this Disney tweet:
— Disney (@Disney) November 25, 2017
However, some theaters dropped the featurette before the end of its limited run due to backlash.
Olaf’s Frozen Adventure was originally supposed to air on ABC as a TV special around the holidays, but the final product felt too cinematic, according to the filmmakers, so Disney slated it for a theatrical run.
In Mexico, where Coco aired in October, an avalanche of complaints convinced some movie theaters to stop playing Olaf’s Frozen Adventure altogether. Interestingly, in the UK it aired in theaters with a re-release of the original Frozen and didn’t suffer the icy barbs of online hate. (Coco won’t be released there until January.)
The short film is also not winning over viewers’ hearts.
So, where did Disney go wrong—and what can PR and marketing pros glean from the situation?
First, you should carefully consider your audience’s needs. Those who complained might have enjoyed a “Frozen” featurette by itself, but when added to 20 minutes of other trailers and advertisements, viewers’ attention spans waned in the more than 40 minutes it took for “Coco” to start. Those with younger children especially struggled, with some kids falling asleep.
PR pros should also take care to anticipate potential misunderstandings or assumptions, and be prepared to answer backlash when branded messages conflict with consumers’ expectations.
What was probably seen by Disney’s PR and marketing team to be an easy promotion for “Frozen 2,” especially with the featurette’s heartwarming holiday message, was taken by some to be insensitive. Anger and disappointment aren’t feelings any PR pro wants to stir up—especially not from a company which normally delights.
What other lessons can PR pros take from this, Ragan/PR Daily readers?