Frozen Toys and Cultural Impact: Another Look at Modern Disney Merchandise and Movies

WDW - Frozen dolls

Recently, I wondered whether or not Frozen was the only recent animated movie that Disney mattered. It was just kind of a random thought I had really, as I was thinking one day, “y’know, ever since Disney’s bought Marvel and Star Wars and everything, it seems like the only animated movie they focus on is Frozen. I wonder if there’s any correlation to that?” and just sort of made a theory that they were mainly focusing on Frozen because their animated movies were no longer their only big franchise.  The original article sparked a conversation about movie merchandise that I would like to follow up on.

I know that what causes movies to get a lot of merchandise in the first place is demand. Of course I do, it all makes sense. Why make more merchandise for something if the merchandise you’ve made isn’t selling? That makes no sense! I guess what I was assuming though is that, even if sales weren’t as huge as they were for Frozen, the sales for Tangled, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, etc. were at least okay, enough at least to make more stuff, and the reason it seemed like Disney’s marketing department was neglecting these movies was more because they had other movies, like The Avengers or Star Wars that were, in addition to Frozen, making butt loads of money in merchandising as well, causing them to focus moreso on Frozen, Avengers, and Star Wars and not focus as much on those movies. Or at least I was wondering whether or not Disney would be putting more of its focus on its other animated movies if it wasn’t for the fact that they had these franchises.

However, I actually had no idea that some of the toys for these movies end up being put into clearance. Though can you really blame me for not thinking these movies had decent sales? Yes, I know kids don’t really care about box office receipts but at the same time kids are about 70-90% of the reason these movies do well in the first place. Therefore, in addition to being popular among children and adults, I just assumed kids were buying the toys for these other movies.

But now the question becomes, why is it that one billion dollar grossing movie can become a marketing phenomenon while the other can’t sell stuff, despite being popular? I mean, it’s one thing if a billion dollar grossing movie that wasn’t warmly received, like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, doesn’t become a marketing phenomenon but it’s a bit weirder when Zootopia or, maybe to a lesser extent, Big Hero 6, both of which were well received by both critics and audiences, can’t sell any toys. The big answer is sometimes obvious. Yes, there are movies that, no matter how well they did, just wouldn’t lead themselves to toys. For example, no kid is going to want buy a toy of Carl from Up. Maybe an adult would buy a pop figure of him but that’s not going to be strong enough for them to continue making Up merchandise. And there are also movies that are going to lead themselves to toys. Frozen has a princess with ice powers. Are you really going to tell me 5-year-old you wouldn’t buy that toy?

But sometimes, as with the examples I mentioned above, it’s not very clear why some popular movies become marketing phenomenons while others don’t. I mean, Big Hero 6 has superheroes and Zootopia has cute animals-why wouldn’t kids buy the merchandise for that? Well, I guess the thing is, you can’t really blame it all on one thing-it might be a general “it just depends on the movie” thing. Despite the fact that they made the same amount of money, what might’ve stopped Zootopia from being the same phenomenon that Frozen was it that it has no real sticking point for the merchandise, despite having cute animals. It doesn’t have a “Let it Go” nor does it have Minions-like characters to market. It TRIED to have a “Let it Go” with Shakira’s song, “Try Everything”, but that song didn’t exactly catch on. Same thing with Big Hero 6-it probably just doesn’t have something for people to really remember and obsess over, causing it to not really convince people to buy its merch. I mean, it has no “Let it Go” at all (there’s a theme song by Fall Out Boy but Fall Out Boy doesn’t really appeal to Disney fans). This also goes with Tangled and Wreck-it Ralph!

It could also depend on the country, though. What I’ve been looking at, when I say I can’t believe these movies wouldn’t lead to a lot of merchandise due to how well they did, is worldwide box office numbers. But maybe the reason other modern Disney movies don’t sell as much merchandise as Frozen did is that their just more popular in other countries than they are in America. I have heard that Wreck it Ralph is big in Japan and Baymax is not only popular in China but Zootopia was so popular in China that a character that only had 3 lines became so popular that children wanted his species as their pet. Somehow, and I could be wrong, a lot of those film’s merchandise might be over there, seeing as the merchandise might sell better in those countries.

This might also explain why movies that may not do as much business worldwide as another movie can still have more merchandise based off of it, if it’s more popular in a certain country. For example, Secret Life of Pets made more money in America than Zootopia did but it made less money internationally. That being said, guess which movie I saw them promoting the beanie babies for in a drug store? Oh yeah, The Secret Life of Pets! Guess which movies I’ve never seen being promoted anywhere months after it’s release? Zootopia, which probably has to do with, despite the fact that the latter got better reviews, the fact that the more people in America ended up paying money to see Pets than they did Zootopia. For all we know, it’s the opposite in China and Zootopia is the one that’s starting to get more of a marketing push than Pets is.

Of course, it could also just be time. I think it’s a little late for Tangled or Wreck-it Ralph to become marketing phenomenons and I also think it’s probably a little late for Big Hero 6 as well but, for all we know, the merchandise for Zootopia might’ve sold well and their just in the process of making more. After all, the merchandise for Frozen didn’t really become so abundant until about a year after it came out. Not only that but Minions didn’t really become as big as they were until Despicable Me 2 came out, as that was around the time Minion merchandise became more abundant (at least from my experience). That being said, considering Disney has another Disney princess movie coming out, Moana, I kinda doubt that’s going to be the case. If anything, that movie will probably just cause Zootopia to slip further into obscurity.

Yet, I can’t really say this phenomena extends to just modern animated Disney movies. Pretty much every major Disney franchise has one movie they like to promote while the merchandise for the other movies tend to be more quiet. Marvel? Well, we see a lot of Avengers merchandise but Guardians of the Galaxy merchandise seems more slim. It’s also been a year since The Force Awakens came out and, let’s be honest, were probably still more likely to see Luke and Leia on merchandise than we are Rey and Finn, despite the fact that everyone and their mother saw Rey and Finn’s movie. And pretty much everything from Pixar that isn’t named Toy Story or Cars tends to be low on merchandise. At the moment, Finding Nemo/Dory also seems to have gotten a boost in merch but who knows if that’s going to continue?

I guess the thing is, though, Marvel and Star Wars does tend to have more of a lasting cultural impact than anything new from Disney and Pixar. Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy‘s merchandise is so low that, despite being a popular movie, it only has 23 items being sold at The Disney Store. However, even if the movie’s merchandise hasn’t really sold like hot cakes, the movie’s made an impact in other ways. It has a ride coming out, there’s a cartoon out right now, it has a sequel coming up, and everyone now knows who Star Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot are, even 2 years after the movie came out. While Rey and Finn action figures may not be highly in demand, The Force Awakens re-invigorated the public’s interest in Star Wars and there are sequels and prequels to Star Wars coming out every year.

The popularity for movies from Pixar and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Modern Disney, on the other hand, don’t really seem to last. It seems like the movies are really popular when they first came out but, after a few months, people move on from them. Sure Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles are still very popular but it doesn’t seem like many people really talk about Ratatouille, Up, Wall-e, or even Inside Out, which came out just last year, anymore. Same thing goes with Modern Disney-yes, Tangled is getting a cartoon and Wreck-it Ralph is getting a sequel but, otherwise, no one really talks about those movies anymore. Sure, their not completely forgotten, and they still get some representation, either in the Disney Store or the parks, but their definitely not as popular as they used to be.

WDW - Frozen Gift Shop

So the question isn’t why aren’t Modern Disney movies creating more merchandise but, besides Frozen, why don’t they have a strong cultural impact?

I think the problem is that, most of the time, modern movies in general don’t have any sort of long-lasting impact unless they become a major franchise. Gone are the days of movies like E.T. or Citizen Kane, movies that can make a lasting impression on people without having to make a bunch of sequels just to remind everyone they exist. It seems like everything, no matter how popular it is, tends to fade into obscurity after a while unless it becomes a franchise. I mean, think about it-when’s the last time anyone’s talked about any Best Picture Winner/Nominee/etc. from the last 10-15 years? When has Birdman ever come up in a conversation in 2016, besides maybe people talking about how it’s made by the same guy who did The Revenant?

And I think that, unfortunately, the same thing has happened to Modern Disney movies, as well as a lot of Pixar movies. Because Disney hasn’t made sequels upon sequels for them, people kind of forget about them after a while seeing as Disney hardly does anything to remind people they exist (yes, a couple of them are getting spin-off cartoons but who cares about spin-off cartoons?).

But, you might be saying, Frozen doesn’t have a sequel (unless you count Frozen Fever). And sure, Frozen may not have a billion sequels yet, in fact the only sequel it has hasn’t even come out yet and keeps getting delayed, but the merchandise empire it spawned pretty much helped make it stay in people’s minds and not fade somewhat into obscurity like the other new age Disney films have, causing it to become a franchise on its own, even without multiple sequels.

That’s why I was using merchandise as an indicator for popularity last time-because it seems like Frozen, which has the most merchandise of the new age Disney films, has also had the most lasting appeal than the other movies, even if there has been somewhat of a backlash towards it.

But, now that I really think about it, I think the reason Disney cares more about Frozen than the other movies is thanks to the fact that the merchandising sales were so great, they’ve just done more with it, including announcing an upcoming sequel and no modern Disney movie, before or since, has really topped it.

What will be interesting to find out is if Moana might change that. I doubt it’ll have quite as strong of a cultural impact, or an even stronger cultural impact, but, considering it’s Disney’s most Frozen-like film since Frozen, I wouldn’t be surprised if, when it comes to the merchandise at least, it becomes as big as, I dunno, Cars did. But time will tell!


Posted on October 21, 2016, in Movies and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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