Breaking with tradition, Walt Disney Animation Studios will make a sequel to its blockbuster animated film “Frozen,” marking a rare instance in which the company will release a theatrical follow-up to one of its movies.
Walt Disney Co., the parent of the animation company, used its annual shareholder meeting Thursday to announce “Frozen 2,” which follows the 2013 smash hit about the adventures of princesses Anna and Elsa that grossed more than $1.2 billion.
The Burbank entertainment giant also revealed details about two planned “Star Wars” films, while investors reelected all 10 members of the company’s board of directors and voted down two proposals brought by shareholders.
But “Frozen 2" was the surprise star of the event, a polished affair emceed by Disney Chairman and Chief Executive Robert Iger that featured clips from several forthcoming movies and a video montage that touted various media properties in the company’s stable.
“Frozen” was the highest-grossing animated picture of all time, spurred a merchandising craze and collected two Oscars. At most movie studios, including Disney Animation’s corporate sibling, Pixar, such a film would be an obvious candidate for a big-budget sequel.
But Disney Animation has historically relegated most of its sequels to DisneyToon Studios, the company’s direct-to-video arm, where they were produced more inexpensively and viewed as lesser in quality to the main studio’s product.
“It used to be that if Disney had a hit they would turn the sequel over to the second-string team,” said Tom Sito, a professor at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts who was an animator and storyboard artist at Disney Animation in the 1990s. “The reputation of sequels was never very good.”
Even as DreamWorks Animation’s “Shrek” movies and Blue Sky Studios/20th Century Fox’s “Ice Age” films proved massive hits, and Pixar produced successful sequels to the “Toy Story,” “Cars” and “Monsters Inc.” movies, Disney Animation was the lone holdout to not make sequels.
However, the company’s recent success has been partly attributed to its efforts to create new intellectual property and not turn to sequels — which are sometimes maligned by Hollywood’s creative community but can be lucrative because audiences are already familiar with the world and characters of the follow-up films.
Besides “Frozen,” a string of successes — “Tangled” (2010), “Wreck-It-Ralph” (2012) and “Big Hero 6" (2014) — revitalized Disney Animation after a slump in the early 2000s that saw the company release duds “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” and “Treasure Planet.”
Disney Animation has produced only a few sequels, among them 1990’s “Rescuers Down Under,” a follow-up to 1977’s “The Rescuers.”
After Disney acquired Pixar in 2006, and Pixar executives John Lasseter and Ed Catmull took over Disney Animation, they expressed concern that DisneyToon was undercutting the value of the main studio’s features. Lasseter and Catmull canceled Disney Animation’s in-progress direct-to-video sequels, redirecting that studio to focus on spinoffs and original films such as the “Planes” series. By that point, home video sales also were becoming less lucrative due to the rise of new platforms including video-on-demand services.
Even Walt Disney himself had a well-known disdain for sequels.
After the success of his 1933 cartoon “Three Little Pigs,” exhibitors demanded a follow-up, and Disney produced several, none as successful as the original. In a speech to exhibitors in the 1960s, Disney asked whether any of them remembered the “Three Little Pigs” sequels. When none did, the animation mogul said, “See? You can’t top pigs with pigs.”
Given this, there had been considerable internal debate over the decision to make a “Frozen” sequel, according to a person close to Disney Animation.
But JP Morgan analyst Alexia Quadrani said “Frozen’s” success must have swayed Disney executives.
“‘Frozen’ is in its own category, in the sense of breaking all records for animated films and having incredibly long-lasting success,” she said. “That would make anybody revisit a historic policy.”
Iger was joined on the stage of San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts Theatre by Lasseter and “Frozen” actor Josh Gad to make the sequel announcement. “Frozen” filmmakers Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, as well as the character Olaf, who was voiced by Gad, will return for the sequel, Iger said. No release date or other details were revealed.
“Frozen” fans won’t have to wait for the sequel to get their fix of Anna, Elsa and Olaf: On Friday, A new short film, “Frozen Fever,” will screen ahead of all showings of Disney’s live-action remake of “Cinderella.”
Iger kicked off the meeting with a bit of “Star Wars"-related news. He said that the first in a series of spinoffs in the franchise would be titled “Rogue One.” He said the picture would begin filming this summer and would be released in December 2016. Also, Iger said that “Star Wars: Episode VIII” would be released May 26, 2017.
But Iger had little to share about “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the first new film in the franchise since Disney acquired Lucasfilm, the production company behind “Star Wars,” for about $4 billion in 2012. “Secrecy is a long-standing Lucasfilm tradition,” Iger quipped.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” will be released in December.
Iger, dressed in a blue suit and white open-collar shirt, also addressed matters of corporate governance. The 10 board members were reelected handily and investors also followed the board’s recommendations to reject two proposals brought by shareholders.
The first asked shareholders to consider a policy that would have separated the chairman and chief executive positions after Iger departs the company. In the second measure, shareholders voted on whether to limit accelerated executive pay.
There were several lighthearted moments during the question-and-answer portion of the meeting.
One self-professed Disney “super fan” asked Iger to name his favorite theme park ride. (He singled out Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean.) Another man told Iger they were distant relatives, drawing guffaws. (Iger said they should chat after the meeting.)
Disney’s stock closed at $107.17 on Thursday, a new all-time high.