4:50 pm - 01/13/2014

Disney CEO: "Frozen has restored our mojo".

When Walt Disney CEO and Chairman Bob Iger showed up at the premiere of filmFrozen on Nov. 27, he was already sure that the animated musical about two sisters was something special, a return to the magical essence that made Disney, well, Disney. By the time he got to the credits, he had choked up. "I was glad I was wearing [3-D] glasses," he says. "It was my proudest moment as the CEO of the Walt Disney Company."

Frozen is melting Iger's heart not just because of the cold, hard, cash it's generating -- it has grossed $669 million so far, and it hasn't even opened in China or Japan -- but also because the success of the film, the third in a row for the studio after years of disappointment, appears to show that Disney Animation Studios is finally, finally back in the groove. "I realized, 'My goodness, Disney Animation is where it rightfully belongs,'" he says. "The exhilaration was profound. It's not about the bottom line. The bottom line is for the quarter. This is for something bigger and longer."

The tale of two estranged sister princesses who must come together to de-ice their homeland,Frozen is racking up the big numbers. It was the No. 1 all-time Disney animation debut, and it is expected to soon pass The Lion King in overall box office; it's been nominated for two Golden Globes and may get an Oscar nod; it's the No. 1 album on both Amazon and iTunes. (Apparently, the "polar vortex" helped; people didn't seem to mind watching a story about an icy world when they were actually living in one.)

Frozen also has what Disney (DIS) calls "franchise" potential, which means that its characters and themes will translate across the company to everything from toys to theme park rides to interactive characters. It's a big deal, because there are only a relative handful of franchise brands at Disney. "They're not just making money inside of that film window," says Tony Wible, senior media and entertainment analyst at Janney Capital Markets. "In that Disney fashion, they set it up across the whole spectrum."

In the Michael Eisner/Jeffrey Katzenberg heyday between 1984 and 1994, Disney Animation rolled out one musical blockbuster after another. There was The Little Mermaid, The Lion King,Beauty and the Beast, and many others. And then the pixie dust dried up. For years, the offerings were listless and underperformed. Morale dropped and talent departed as companies like Dreamworks and Pixar took the lead in animation. Says Iger: "We went through a long period where, for a variety of reasons, we weren't making the films that drove the perception of the company and the brand." That was a major reason why Iger's first big move as CEO was to spend over $7 billion to buy Pixar in 2006. (See "Bob Iger: Disney's Fun King.")

And so, starting seven years ago, two of Pixar's co-founders, John Lasseter (now chief creative officer of both Disney Animation and Pixar) and Ed Catmull (now president of both studios), began to split their time between Pixar and Walt Disney Animation, commuting between the Bay Area and Anaheim every week in hopes of rekindling that Disney magic. Rather than trying to graft Pixar's thriving culture onto Disney's struggling one, they determined that the goal was to resurrect what had made Disney so special in the first place -- the technically audacious, yet magical, fairy tale. But while they screened films for each other to get feedback, Pixar employees and Disney employees didn't actually work together on films, even during crunch times. Lasseter and Catmull believed it was critical to keep the two identities separate.

They did, however, import one key Pixar attribute: They put the director, rather than the studio chief or the animation head, in charge of the story. Unlike many studios, Pixar lets the director determine the arc of the narrative. Technology is used in service of the storytelling rather than as its starting point. "It was an executive-driven studio," says Lasseter. "Now it's a filmmaker-driven studio." It was a major shift -- and one that took a while to catch on; first used with The Princess and the Frog, a well-reviewed film with disappointing sales, it began to catch hold with Tangled(2010) and Wreck-it-Ralph (2012), each of which outperformed financial and critical expectations. "Disney Animation has done three years in a row of really great stuff," says analyst Wible.

Then came Frozen, based loosely on Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen, an idea that had kicked around Disney since the 1940s. Lasseter, whose first job was at Disney Animation, remembered a series of paintings of a frozen world and dug them out of storage when he came back. "I never forgot those paintings," he says. "They were so incredibly beautiful." Lasseter showed them to Chris Buck, the director of Tarzan, who had left Disney in the dark years, and helped convince him to come back. Later, he brought in Jennifer Lee, a screenwriter on Wreck-it-Ralph who is also the first woman to direct an animated Disney feature. Frozen's story is both timeless, as a classic Disney tale should be, and modern (both sisters are strong protagonists with a modern sensibility rather than passive females awaiting a man).

Frozen's impact goes far beyond the movie theater, making it a key example of the synergy Iger has become known for during his Disney tenure. Anna and Elsa, the lead characters in the movie, have already become top-selling toys, as has Olaf the snowman, and a Frozen attraction at Disney's theme parks would be another logical step. Its music, written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, is a natural for Broadway. In my house, for example, the movie's songs, such as "Let It Go," and "Do You Want To Build A Snowman?" have become the soundtrack to our lives, thanks to my daughters.

In his interview with Fortune, Iger confirmed for the first time that Disney is in discussions to develop a show, though there is no set time frame. "We're not demanding speed," he says. "We're demanding excellence."

What this means for morale, says Iger, is harder to quantify, but also important. Disney Animation is no longer the frumpy second fiddle to Pixar. "I was very lucky that I came into an environment where the number one creative process is the story," Lee says. "It was like a startup because of this creative freedom and this energy." Although the impact of one film won't rock Disney's gargantuan bottom line -- especially since ESPN contributes so much of the profit -- animation is, and will always be, the emotional core of the business. Says Iger: "If you think long term about what Disney is and the success and the vitality of the brand, this is a very, very important event." Is it me, or is it getting warm in here?


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meudail 13th-Jan-2014 10:53 pm (UTC)
Get it, IDEC.
mekania 13th-Jan-2014 10:55 pm (UTC)
How can they say "I was very lucky that I came into an environment where the number one creative process is the story,"

when Frozen's story seemed so cobbled together.
sandstorm 13th-Jan-2014 10:56 pm (UTC)
It could have been their main objective and they just weren't very good at it.
mekania 13th-Jan-2014 11:04 pm (UTC)
Oops first reply was meant for a different comment. Lol yeah, they could just suck at their jobs. It's not like they have anything from the last few years to disprove it, even though I love Wreck-it Ralph

Edited at 2014-01-13 11:06 pm (UTC)
blue_birds 13th-Jan-2014 10:59 pm (UTC)
They had the right idea but it's execution was sloppy imo.
justrachna 13th-Jan-2014 11:02 pm (UTC)
yes! i agree. it felt like they made it in a rush. it felt really under-developed. i'm happy for kristen bell though, she at least got to show off her singing skills
zonoscope 13th-Jan-2014 11:06 pm (UTC)
Frozen cut out a section of the plot that wasn't working (a "prophecy" plot plus Elsa being more of a villian) to focus on what was (Anna and Elsa's relationship). It lead to a rushed second act and pointless trolls but I think it was a good course correction.
ellecain 13th-Jan-2014 11:17 pm (UTC)
guyawks 20th-Jan-2014 01:47 am (UTC)
I thought I was the only one who thought this.

I was expecting to be blown away story-wise like with Tangled but the story was more muddled than PATF. The ending just didn't have any impact because the story was so blah.
milotic2 13th-Jan-2014 10:56 pm (UTC)
it was a good movie, i went into the theater decided to hate on the snowman but it was really cute
ionadelfina 13th-Jan-2014 11:04 pm (UTC)
Me too. He ended up being one of my favorite parts.
cloudsnberries 14th-Jan-2014 12:08 am (UTC)
he's adorable I couldn't get over it
littlepunkryo 13th-Jan-2014 10:56 pm (UTC)
kinda OT but I was at the store around Christmas and the Frozen figures for Disney Infinity were a lot cuter than the regular toys, but no way would I pay that much for them.
sandstorm 13th-Jan-2014 10:57 pm (UTC)
I want a Vanellope one and I don't even have Infinity.
fight4thislove 13th-Jan-2014 11:05 pm (UTC)
I bought the Infinity just to play as Anna and Elsa lol
therearewords 13th-Jan-2014 10:57 pm (UTC)
I'm just going to keep rewatching PatF until I know every lyric though

cricketgrl 13th-Jan-2014 11:15 pm (UTC)
I really love the cartoon eventhough ONTD has so many issues with it. :(
therearewords 13th-Jan-2014 11:24 pm (UTC)
What? Urgh, of course.
greenfairy_87 13th-Jan-2014 11:40 pm (UTC)
I love it too, just wish Tiana was human longer, Facilier got more scenes, and anyone but Randy Newman did the music.
andres01234 13th-Jan-2014 11:16 pm (UTC)
this movie is so underrated
the colours and the lights are everything!
backwardsjoker 13th-Jan-2014 11:26 pm (UTC)
IDEC, this is one of my favorite movies Disney recently did. Like, I understand the many criticisms it got, but Tiana was such an amazing protagonist. I hate the movie gets swept under the run because of other parts of it
cryinonthemetro 13th-Jan-2014 11:30 pm (UTC)
I loved this movie.
megalixer 13th-Jan-2014 11:35 pm (UTC)
I loved the story + characters in Princess and the Frog and the animation was gorgeous but I think that the songs were ultimately 'meh' tbh :/
joe_pwnz_pete 13th-Jan-2014 11:57 pm (UTC)
almost there is my fucking jam
endingonfire 14th-Jan-2014 12:02 am (UTC)
I love this film.
princess1404 14th-Jan-2014 12:24 am (UTC)
I loved this movie. Yeah there were problems. But it was all around entertaining. Frozen had no urgency for me so it didn't work. Definitely does not deserve all the hype its getting.
dropthecrates 14th-Jan-2014 04:41 am (UTC)
the squash and stretch in bb!tiana's face is killing me. she is so precious :') i don't completely love the movie as a whole but i love her unreservedly.
zonoscope 13th-Jan-2014 10:57 pm (UTC)
I like Tangled, Wreck-it-Ralph and Frozen more than any pixar film since Up. so keep it up Disney. Let's hope Moana slays in 2018.
andres01234 13th-Jan-2014 11:17 pm (UTC)
IA with your taste
jediknightmuse 13th-Jan-2014 11:30 pm (UTC)
I haven't seen Wreck-It Ralph (which I need to fix, I just need to get to it in my netflix queue behind the bunch of other things I have in it) but I agree. I liked UP but didn't fall in absolute love with it. I think part of it is because the old guy looks like my grandfather (who died) if you got rid of the huge nose and bow tie so it just makes me kind of sad. But I didn't ~connect~ with it as much as I have other Disney movies (though I don't usually ~connect~ with Pixar movies anyway).
princess1404 14th-Jan-2014 12:24 am (UTC)
U need to watch Wreck it Ralph. It's sooo good.
sillycucumber 14th-Jan-2014 01:51 am (UTC)
I watched wreck it ralph with such low expectations and I loved every minute of it!
faradayconstant 14th-Jan-2014 03:15 am (UTC)
i like Up, but i wish they got rid of all that ultra smart talking dogs / bird / that stupid ~villain subplot and made the story about the old guy and the boy trying to get to paradise falls.
lestat 13th-Jan-2014 11:31 pm (UTC)
wreck it ralph was the best imo
megalixer 13th-Jan-2014 11:38 pm (UTC)
Toy Story 3 was amazing but after that IA completely. Pixar's last few have been okay but nothing amazing where Disney's been on a roll.
lunarskye 14th-Jan-2014 12:00 am (UTC)
Replace Up with Toy Story 3 and this is me.
xdecadentx 14th-Jan-2014 01:43 am (UTC)
I liked Toy Story 3, but IA Disney is doing better atm.
ts231 14th-Jan-2014 06:22 am (UTC)
more than any pixar film since Up

ectypes 13th-Jan-2014 10:58 pm (UTC)
did this movie win anything last night?
sandstorm 13th-Jan-2014 11:00 pm (UTC)
The Best Animated Picture, mainly because the competition was even worse.
silentsymphonie 13th-Jan-2014 11:02 pm (UTC)
Yeah the competition was terrible
rarkon 13th-Jan-2014 11:02 pm (UTC)
your icon... last year's awards season... my blood pressure... ugh
princess1404 14th-Jan-2014 12:25 am (UTC)
You didn't like The Croods or Despicable Me 2?
chicaintcheap 14th-Jan-2014 01:20 am (UTC)
and there were only 3 movies in the category iirc
nabuch 13th-Jan-2014 10:59 pm (UTC)
Absolutely ITA. It was the best Disney movie since their 90s classics. Now it has to win the Oscar. It must. Fingers crossed and praying hard!
whitefox 13th-Jan-2014 10:59 pm (UTC)
I didn't really like this movie. Meh. The songs were kinda lame.
I mean, it was just ok
princess1404 14th-Jan-2014 12:25 am (UTC)
I agree. I don't understand all the hype.
pinkjaffa 13th-Jan-2014 10:59 pm (UTC)
I loved Frozen so much. I'm having to stop myself from buying all of the merchandise
meudail 14th-Jan-2014 12:33 am (UTC)
I claim it's all for my kids TBH.

pinkjaffa 14th-Jan-2014 12:37 am (UTC)
lol I should try that! I've only gotten stuff from Disney online so far, but I'm still super tempted to pick up a few things at Target
blueboatdreams 13th-Jan-2014 11:01 pm (UTC)
nah it was pretty mediocre
justrachna 13th-Jan-2014 11:01 pm (UTC)
i wasn't a fan of frozen. it was cute but it was seriously under-developed. it felt like it was made in a rush
silentsymphonie 13th-Jan-2014 11:02 pm (UTC)
Yeah I felt like there was a lot of potential but the ending was too quick
xxxquothxxx 13th-Jan-2014 11:01 pm (UTC)
i'm placing all my 2014 animated hopes on laika and dreamworks. disney/pixar just isnt cutting it anymore
blue_birds 13th-Jan-2014 11:03 pm (UTC)
lol Dreamworks would be right there with them if it wasn't for HTTYD 2 tbh.
xxxquothxxx 13th-Jan-2014 11:06 pm (UTC)
dreamworks has home coming out this year (an adaption of smekday) with black female lead. if they can pull it off it could be a real contender

sandstorm 13th-Jan-2014 11:11 pm (UTC)
Word, but I'm still here for Big Hero 6.
razetora 14th-Jan-2014 12:19 am (UTC)
Boxtrolls <3___<3
milkradio 14th-Jan-2014 03:56 am (UTC)
Laika is killing it with their movies, ugh! I loooooove Coraline and I think The Boxtrolls looks super cute :')
cyberghostface 13th-Jan-2014 11:02 pm (UTC)
I liked it but I thought Wreck-It Ralph was better. I teared up three times during that movie.
therearewords 13th-Jan-2014 11:11 pm (UTC)
I was surprised by how much I liked WIR.
brucelynn 13th-Jan-2014 11:13 pm (UTC)
Wreck It Ralph was amazing
rarkon 13th-Jan-2014 11:14 pm (UTC)
I liked Wreck it Ralph, but i felt it was all over the place. At first it's about Ralph, but it's like the screenwriter(s) thought "hey, Vanellope is a much more interesting character!" and we don't get back to Ralph's story until the very end.

And tbh, i was mad @ all those posters showing Sonic, PacMan, Q-Bert, etc, when we got only very poor cameos in the film.
sillycucumber 14th-Jan-2014 01:53 am (UTC)
what no! it was always about ralph, vanellope was him!
lestat 13th-Jan-2014 11:32 pm (UTC)
backwardsjoker 14th-Jan-2014 12:02 am (UTC)
Loved me some WIR. The details and efforts put into that movie still blow me away
endingonfire 14th-Jan-2014 12:09 am (UTC)
This doesn't hold a candle to wreck it Ralph.
blue_birds 13th-Jan-2014 11:02 pm (UTC)
Box office wise? yes. Animation wise? hmm I don't know.
Hopefully Moana is good.
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