A Christmas trifle one can add to a long roster of somewhat forgettable holiday specials.
There are two ways of looking at Olaf, the ostensibly adorable snowman sidekick from Frozen: One may view him as an impish little sprite, a Puck, present in order to bring humor, support, and childlike wonder into an otherwise more mature story. One may just as easily view him as a grating cuteness factory, the latest in a long inauspicious tradition of “wuvable” Disney animated sidekick characters that includes such nightmare-inducing figures as The Black Cauldron’s Gurgi.
If you’re already in the latter camp, then Olaf’s Frozen Adventure – the short Frozen sequel that came packaged with the theatrical release of Coco – will do nothing for you. At a whopping 21 minutes – the longest of any of Disney’s theatrically-released animated shorts in recent memory – Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, even with its trim premise, feels unbearably long.
Unlike the 7-minute Frozen Fever (the short Frozen sequel that played before the live-action remake of Cinderella), this new film has an elaborate setup that includes four new songs, flashbacks, visits to all the recognizable characters from Frozen, and a fast-paced action sequence involving a flaming sleigh.
And while all of these things are animated impeccably, and the production values are first rate (as one can expect from Disney Animation), the entire film feels like padding; like Disney its spinning its wheels – and making a few extra bucks off their Frozen brand – until Frozen 2 comes out.
It’s Christmastime in Arendelle, and the season begins when Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) and her sister Anna (Kristen Bell) ring the town’s outsize Yule Bell, an annual practice that feels vaguely authoritarian. You cannot begin your household’s unique tradition until the Queen gives permission. The Queen’s intent is to invite her citizens into the castle for a Norwegian feast, but they all head home to celebrate in their own particular idioms. Anna and Elsa realize that, since they had been separated as children (as dramatized in the prologue of Frozen) they have no traditions of their own. Witnessing this, their living snowman sidekick Olaf (Josh Gad) leaves the castle in a sleigh to collect local traditions from the citizenry.
Arendelle, in that inimitable Disney fashion, is a clean and diverse place that contains some of the expected Norwegian Jul traditions (the queendom is based primarily on the Norwegian cities of Arendal and Nærøyfjord), but also features some more modern Christmas trappings (candy canes and the like). There are also, perhaps curiously, people celebrating Hanukkah in this 1840s Norwegian city state. It’s a very general holiday mishmash. Olaf resolutely knocks on every door, gladly taking donations from the people in order to pass them on to Elsa and Anna in the hopes of kickstarting some castle traditions they can grow to love. Olaf’s quest, to skip ahead a bit, will end in flames.
There are also roles for Sven the reindeer (who is still not nearly as funny or as entertaining as Maximus the horse from Tangled) and for Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) a character so forgettable, I had to look up his name twice in the course of writing this review. Remember the trolls from Frozen? Few do.
Olaf’s bubbly attitude and cheery naïveté is the centerpiece of Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, primarily expressed in the song “That Time of Year.” The songs were composed by Kate Anderson (the sister of Frozen’s songwriter Kristen Anderson-Lopez) and Elyssa Samsel, and they are hummable and affable in a Broadway vein. They don’t match the bold, barn-burning qualities of “Let It Go,” but then what does? They communicate a bright breeziness that may keep your attention, but don’t really lift the film as a whole. Indeed, even with all its slick design, great animation, and professional songwriting, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure is largely insubstantial. A sweet little Christmas trifle that one can add to a long roster of somewhat forgettable holiday specials.
Olaf’s Frozen Adventure was released theatrically, but played on ABC on December 14th, 2017. It belongs on TV. Indeed, the short was originally conceived as a TV special, but during production it mushroomed into something more ambitious. The story, however, never elevates beyond the realm of holiday treacle. To be sure, there’s a place for holiday treacle, but if one must unexpectedly endure 21 minutes of it on the way to a rather good Pixar film, then it becomes an unwanted meal.