It’s not fair, two princesses ganging up on one commoner. But Anna and Elsa have caught Katniss.
Frozen, Disney’s animated feature based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” passed The Hunger Games: Catching Fire this weekend in cumulative worldwide box office, $864.4 million to $859.6 million. Neither film will come close to the $1.2 billion earned by Iron Man 3, the top-grossing picture released in 2013. But Frozen, which has yet to open in Japan or the much vaster market of China, could conceivably overtake the year’s worldwide runner-up, Despicable Me 2. At the moment the Disney cartoon is almost exactly $100 million behind the Universal cartoon. Gru, you’ve been served.
Since Pixar stole the animation thunder, beginning with the 1995 Toy Story, and broke Disney’s six-decade monopoly on the format, the parent studio has seemed an irrelevancy. For a decade or so it floundered between 2-D and 3-D. As late as 2009, with The Princess and the Frog, the studio was thought behind the times by focusing on female-centric stories. (Pixar, which earned the billions and the Oscars, preferred guy fables.) But Tangled, Disney’s take on Rapunzel, made money when released in 2010. And now Frozen, the first Disney animated feature with two princesses, has become the studio’s all-time animated moneymaker, passing The Lion King (in inflated dollars).
Since opening in late November, Frozen has remained in the top five each weekend, earning more than $360 million at the domestic box office and another $500 million abroad. And to put a ribbon on the money bag, the movie won five big prizes at last night’s Annie Awards, honoring film animation: feature, director, voice actor (Josh Gad as Olaf the Snowman), production design and, not least, music. Putting a sing-along version in 2,500 theaters this weekend was a smart idea for a property that is as much a musical as a movie phenomenon. Last week Frozen returned to the top of the Billboard charts, making it the first soundtrack to be the No. 1 album for three weeks or more since Zac Efron’s High School Musical 2. And in a year or two, the show will be headed to Broadway.
Even if Frozen doesn’t overtake Despicable Me 2, it and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire have proved the power of movies focused on strong young females. Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen will be saving Panem next November, and Anna and Elsa will surely be back, in sequels and theme-park attractions. All three women are elemental. But this time, Frozen is the victor. It’s beaten fire with ice.