Coco is one of Pixar’s best films in recent years, but it’s also the victim of one of the most painfully meandering animated shorts I’ve ever been forced to watch. Seeing the movie in the theater means that you’ll be subjected to a seemingly endless Frozen short film that plays before the movie begins.
“Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” is a made-for-TV special that Disney and Pixar decided to attach to Coco’s theatrical screenings. The 22-minute short feels excruciatingly long while pandering to fans of the original movie, who likely didn’t need to be reminded that there’s a sequel in the works. (“Olaf’s Frozen Adventure,” of course, sets up Frozen 2.)
Even if the short was good — and as someone with zero patience for Frozen, it’s not — the opportunity cost would still be prohibitive. Pixar usually runs inventive, and sometimes visually eccentric, shorts before its movies, which tend to play it much safer. The shorts gives the company an excuse to try new things in a format where the commercial stakes are much lower.
“[These shorts are] a signal to the audience that we’re giving them more than they’re paying for, a signal to the artistic community that Pixar and Disney are encouraging broader artistic expression, and a signal to our employees that we’re doing something for which we don’t get any money,” Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios president Ed Catmull explained in a 2016 interview with The McKinsey Quarterly. “While they all know that we have to make money and want us to, they also want a signal that we are not so driven by money that it trumps everything else.”
Where its feature films usually walk the fine line between broad commercial appeal and artistic storytelling, Pixar’s shorts can stray from the usual styles and themes that are a proven way to make money. For the most part, these shorts are a wonderful appetizer that often surprise viewers in their tone or aesthetics before the more expected experience of the main event.
They have the power to make one of the studio’s lesser offerings just that much better, too. Cars 3 wasn’t exactly Pixar operating at the height of its power, but its Merrie Melodies-esque, wordless short “Lou” is still a fascinating look at how physics work in computer animation.
“Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” doesn’t test the potential of animation. It doesn’t challenge the viewer, their patience aside. The tacked-on TV special’s lack of charm and excessive runtime indicate a corporate mandate instead of an artistic opportunity. It doesn’t feel like it was made by people who were inspired by anything outside of a paycheck.
The quality of Coco itself proves that Pixar is still in capable hands, but the inclusion of this bloated Frozen short is troubling. We don’t need a middling TV movie in front of a film as good as Coco, and Frozen certainly doesn’t need the promotion. We’ll never know what could have been created and put in that space, and that’s a tragedy.