Disney’s Distribution Dilemma: Coco Needs Some Frozen Fever

What happens when movie fans become upset with your upcoming release and you are worried about the potential loss in ticket sales? You slap some Frozen on it and call it good. This is, in my opinion, exactly what Disney has done with its upcoming release of Coco. They are able to use this technique to support Coco mainly because Frozen is such a coveted property.

FrozenWhile, as I will discuss later, using this method of premiering shorts in front of films is not something new for Pixar, it is becoming something new for other distribution and film companies particularly within the independent arena. Utilizing this method could lead to additional revenue sources for these companies.

Before we get into the thick of things with Frozen and the other companies, let’s discuss Coco and why fans are so upset with Disney. Some of you may remember a certain 20th Century Fox film titled The Book of Life.

According to reporting from Polygon, it’s a colorfully animated film that tells the story of “living characters venturing into the Land of the Dead” based around the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos. Music also plays a huge role in this film. What’s the issue with Coco? It’s basically the same.


Disney’s Pixar actually announced their concept for Coco slightly ahead of 20th Century Fox, they just beat Pixar to the box office. While this fact may help Pixar’s reputation slightly, it is hard to change audiences’ minds once a rumor takes hold.

Another reason fans are upset with Walt Disney and Pixar over Coco involves the composition of the production crew. The Book of Life had “several Mexican producers and animators onboard” while initially Coco had an all Caucasian team lined up. After some additional outrage by fans, Disney enlisted an all Latino cast for the film along with a “coalition of cultural consultants.”

Additionally, the Walt Disney Company did not do itself any favors in the publicity department when it attempted to “trademark ‘Dia de los Muertos’” as the original name for Coco. Not a smart move, but if Disney knows how to do one thing right it is to use magic. In this case, hopefully to save a movie from flopping at the box office.

This is where Frozen comes into the equation as a saving force for Coco. The third installment in the Frozen series, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, will premiere exclusively in front of Coco in theaters. This may seem normal for Pixar as it has been a tradition since A Bug’s Life was released to include an original short at the beginning and/or a feature short included in the credits as “outtakes”.

Some examples of these include: For the Birds released with Monsters, Inc.; Blue Umbrella released with Monsters University; Piper released with Finding Dory; and Jack-Jack Attack that was in The Incredibles credits.

For a full list of films and their accompanying shorts click here.

Frozen  Frozen

Normally these shorts are created by so called amateur animators and generally are not directly affiliated to any major property. Coco’s short, on the other hand, is a well-known Disney property that had a lot of effort put into it.

The point of contention occurs regarding the originally planned distribution method for Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. Early in its development it was said that ABC, which Disney owns, would premiere it as a television special. Eventually deemed “too cinematic” it was decided the short film would become a theatrical featurette instead. For more on this click here.

While this may seem a coincidence, I feel as though the Walt Disney Company realized they wouldn’t fully recover from the lingering “ghost of The Book of Life” and their “ill-fated ‘Dia de los Muertos’ trademark attempt” without taking additional measures. Can you say oops?

FrozenAll in all, the Walt Disney Company realized that Coco’s box office performance wouldn’t be at par with what they needed, so they altered the distribution pattern for Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. Now having it paired with Coco in theaters not only gives the feeling of exclusivity, but it will also draw all of the Frozen fans to the theaters to see the next installment in the very well established franchise.

Interestingly enough, the Walt Disney Company is not the only one putting exclusive content in the form of short films ahead of major releases. Within the independent film business, Neon is a company that is starting this trend up again.

Neon, the “distribution shingle launched by Tim League and Tom Quinn” (Winfrey) buys independent short films and places them with their other independent properties for distribution. The first installment for Neon was 5 Films About Technology which premiered alongside Colossal. As of now, Neon only places shorts in front of its own properties, but only time will tell if they decide to sell the rights to short films to other distributors.

Is placing short films with major releases an effective method of distribution for major film studios to use in the future to get a larger audience in attendance?

-Piper Davis

4 thoughts on “Disney’s Distribution Dilemma: Coco Needs Some Frozen Fever

  1. From a fan’s perspective I could understand being upset with removing Olaf’s Frozen Adventure from its TV premiere, I think it was a smart move on Disney’s part. With their mistakes, they had a lot of damage control to do with Coco, and part of the damage was understanding that Coco would not do as well as they would have hoped because of their mistakes. By bribing their audiences to the theater with a Frozen special, Disney hopes viewers will stay for the movie Coco and enjoy the film. Smart marketing strategy, however it may only work for die-hard fans. Personally, I thought Frozen was a cute enough movie that I wouldn’t mind seeing the new one, however I do not plan to pay for an entire movie (that I don’t really want to see) just to see the new Frozen special.

    I also think it is interesting that they removed it from ABC’s lineup “Because it is too cinematic”, as that has never seemed to have stopped them before. I see this as a lame excuse to cover up their back-tracking efforts to save Coco.

  2. By pairing “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” as a short before “Coco,” it follows the Disney tradition as you mentioned in your article. I don’t think that was their original intention, as you cite a few missteps and a restructuring of the Olaf release from TV to Film.

    However, as Coco has been released, it’s numbers are soaring. Comparing it to Tangled, it surpasses Tangled original Original Opening Weekend and 5-Day total according to Box Office Mojo. Coco–in its current, ongoing run, has $72,908,930 for its five-day total, just inching ahead of Tangled: $68,706,298. Tangled’s Opening Weekend numbers has a $2,000,000 deficit compared to Coco’s Opening Weekend at $50,802,605 (http://www.boxofficemojo.com/showdowns/chart/?id=tangledcoco.htm).

    Your article brings up influential elements that were a factor to the final decision of placing the Frozen short in front of the film. It seems though that Coco is able to stand on its own two feet, the question remains: how influential was Olaf’s Frozen Adventure?

  3. It is interesting to me to analyze Coco before and after it was released. Because reading this, I had doubts about the movie. Having an all Caucasian team is definitely not what I want to see when I want to go see a movie about authentic Mexican culture. The fans were rightfully angry, and though I’m happy that Coco changed the cast, it felt a little sad that they needed a force of people to tell them that what they were doing was wrong. If you want representation in media, you need to have the people you’re representing actually making it.

    That being said, I saw Coco in the theater, and I loved it. It felt like I was right back in Mexico, and it was filled to the brim with authentic Mexican culture and language. It felt drastically different from Book of Life in content, and it was only felt similar in the fact that it was during the Day of the Dead. And personally I don’t think any of this success is because of Frozen. If anything, from what I’ve heard, the Frozen short (that wasn’t short) promotion wasn’t as successful of a business strategy as opposed to actually having a good movie.

  4. I’ve been seeing so much lately in the news and on Twitter about the Frozen short before the film. Critics have been raving about Coco but everyone seems to be in agreement that the Frozen short before the film is strange and misplaced. I understand what Disney was trying to do, it just was not their brightest toss.

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