1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

How Frozen conquered the US

Jessica Walker / pad
February 9, 2015

Disney's animated box office hit "Frozen" sent the US into a frenzy. Even two years after its release, the Mouse Company continues to cash in on everything from Elsa dolls to mouthwash.

"Frozen" merchandise
Image: Getty Images for FELD Entertainment

Blizzard "Juno" left New York's Central Park looking like a white winter wonderland. An air of serenity descended on the Big Apple, as a thick blanket of snow muffled the cacophony of the city. The only exception, a little hill close to the statue of Hans Christian Andersen, a Danish poet and fairy tale author, where the sounds of children giggling rang out as their sleds swooshed down the slope.

Even though eight-year-old Anja said she had never heard of Hans Christian Andersen, let alone that her favorite film "Frozen" is based on his famous fairy tale "The Snow Queen," she succinctly summed up the plot of the Disney movie in a single sentence: "It's a great movie about two sisters, who eventually break up and then have to find their way back together."

Powerful princesses and catchy songs

"Frozen" tells the tale of Anna and Elsa, the princessly sisters of Arendelle, whose parents struggle to keep secret Elsa's magical icy powers - and gift and a curse she can't control. When the royal couple suddenly dies, newly-crowned Queen Elsa accidentally loses control of her frosty power, unleashing an eternal winter on the kingdom. Fleeing the angry citizens of Arendelle, she hides in the mountains. All eyes are now on Anna, a fearless optimist, who sets off on an epic journey to find her sister, thaw her frozen heart with her sisterly love and save their kingdom.

A smart princess, an ice queen with magical powers, a talking snowman and dancing animals - garnished with a love story and award winning music. Becky Shofner said the long-lasting success of "Frozen" didn't surprise her. She has been working for the Mouse Company for 20 years and is now the general manager of the Disney store at New York's Times Square. "It is just such a great story and it has a great soundtrack. To this day we have people who will come into the store and just sing the Frozen Song 'Let it Go'."

Beats "The Lion King"

Last year, "Frozen" was honored with an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a British Academy award for the best animated film and best original song ("Let it Go"). As a cherry on the ice cream cake, the soundtrack garnered more than a million album sales and seven million Spotify streams.

Since its release, the blockbuster has earned more than $1.2 billion (1.05 billion euros) worldwide, becoming the fifth-highest-grossing film of all time and by far the highest-grossing animation. It even outgrossed the 1994 hit "The Lion King," which raked in about 988 million US dollar. In Germany, "Frozen" earned $45 million (about 40 million euro) under the bulky title "Die Eiskönigin - Völlig unverfroren."

Even a seasoned Disney veteran like Becky Shofner said she was overwhelmed by the penetrating power of the movie. "I think we all expected it to do well, but it exceeded everyone's expectations in just how well it did. It was just popular beyond anyone's imagination."

Frozen mouthwash and soup

But it is about more than the movie and the music. In addition to industry stables like games and clothes, it is the broad palette of products, ranging from Frozen mouthwash to Frozen soup, that has parents emptying their pockets. According to Shofner, "Frozen" merchandise drives about 18 percent of sales - though they do not carry the soup in the Disney store.

On Tuesday, the entertainment giant reported a 9-percent jump, or $13.4 billion, in revenues in the first quarter ending December 27, 2014, while consumer products sales for the quarter climbed 22 percent to $1.4 billion.

Heroines sell

Film critics and psychologists say movies that deal with complex themes and characters do better at the box office than those that play it safe - especially if the protagonist is an adolescent female.

One such example is "The Hunger Games" trilogy, starring actress Jennifer Lawrence. Combined, the movies have grossed a staggering $2.27 billion worldwide to date. Meanwhile, Tim Burton's remake of "Alice in Wonderland" earned at least $1.02 billion.

When it comes to sales, cultivating a strong emotional link between the heroine and the audience pays off. "Every little girl wants to be Anna and Elsa," Becky Shofner told DW at her Times Square Disney store. "So our costumes for Anna and Elsa are one of the top sellers that we have in the store with all the accessories like the crowns and the shoes and so forth."

Doll smackdown

"Frozen" dolls are another gold mine, says Shofner. The "Frozen"-frenzy has hurt the competition, including toy manufacturing giant Mattel, which saw global sales of its popular Barbie dolls drop twelve percent in the fourth quarter of 2014. The company has also come under increasing pressure from smaller, nimble toy manufacturers like Jakks Pacific, which created some of the best-selling Elsa dolls. Jakks Pacific's success saw year-on-year net sales for the third quarter of 2014 surge 12 percent, while net income for the same quarter rose 16 percent.

"Frozen" was also one the most-pirated movies last year, topping some 30 million downloads worldwide. Plagiarism is plaguing online marketplaces like Amazon.com or Etsy.com as well, which are trying to shut down sales of unlicensed "Frozen" merchandise. And just before Christmas, British Trading Standards officers seized several hundreds of fake Frozen dolls, including sold-out Elsa, warning parents to be on the lookout for potentially poisonous copies in circulation.

Frozen is hot

That Snow Queen Elsa is the hottest doll on the market, is something the children back in snow-covered Central Park can testify to. Eight-year-old Anja loves her, because she loves ice and snow. 16-year-old Ella said she admires Elsa's magical powers and her amazing character. Even though in the movie it is Anna who ends up saving the day, her sister and the entire kingdom - using love instead of magical powers - it's Elsa who's the most popular. What gives?

Still, that doesn't mean Disney has any reason to worry about its bottom line: Anna and Elsa toys are often bundled in the same box. As New York continues to be covered in snow, "Frozen" is sure to keep cash registers red hot.

Skip next section Explore more