Since “Coco” was released last week, fans have been vocal in their vitriol for the 21-minute featurette, “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure,” running before the film. And the hue and cry has largely been over what a disservice the short is to viewers.
Yet Walt Disney Animation might also be doing a creative disservice to “Olaf.”
Most of the complaints have centered on the maddening length of the featurette. Before a Pixar feature film, we are accustomed to getting a charming short running five minutes or so — a warm-hearted masterwork in miniature that preps our heartstrings for the emotional depths of most Pixar films.
Instead, however, we get a small “Frozen” movie that begins to feel as if it will never end. We are creatures of habit, and “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” eventually feels like the grinning house guest who won’t leave, even through the party was supposed to clear out long ago. As each successive song in the four-tune reel cues up, moviegoers’ reactions can be heard to switch from laughing irritation to growing mockery to outright anger. (This is a very different era from the days of Disney’s 1983 Oscar-nominated “Mickey’s Christmas Carol,”which ran 26 minutes, when filmgoers were more conditioned to expect a featurette of that length before a film.)
No matter the length, you only do it when you have a great story, goes the Pixar philosophy on sequels. But such an approach to length should not apply the same way to theatrical featurettes, lest you rile up the audience before the headliner has even taken the stage.
But for reasons distinct from length, the placement of “Olaf” ahead of “Coco” unfairly puts the featurette in a position to fail with audiences.
For instance, the animation within “Olaf” is beautiful — which actually factored into Disney/Pixar’s backfiring decision. “Olaf,” which takes place during the first Christmas after the film “Frozen” ends, was originally intended to air as a holiday TV special, Pixar co-founder and Disney Animation chief John Lasseter told Entertainment Weekly last summer. The reason for the switch to the big screen for a limited run? Because “Olaf” was deemed “too cinematic” for the small screen.
Rather than edit the featurette down more to the standard length of a modern theatrical short, “Olaf’s” filmmakers preserved the integrity of the 21-minute work, which is laudable. But they also misjudged what Pixar theater audiences are prepared for.
For one thing, Pixar and Disney Animation might be creative as well as corporate cousins, but many filmgoers view them differently, judging Pixar to generally offer more emotionally complex work. And so a featurette that centers on truly silly jokes and big, showy production numbers — even animated — is a bit of a tonal shift. That’s not a deal breaker, of course, but it does the placement of “Olaf” no favors.
Lasseter told EW that the themes of family and holiday made for an apt fit between “Olaf” and “Coco.” (In the featurette, Olaf, voiced by Josh Gad, ventures in search of new holiday tradition for the royal sisters of Arendelle.) Yet the two works are so widely divergent in terms of tone.
“Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” currently gets a mere 41 percent “liked it” audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Were the featurette debuting as a TV special as planned, the audience score would surely be considerably higher.
Sorry, Olaf. It’s not entirely your fault.