SEOUL – As Frozen became the highest-grossing animated film of all time on Sunday, the Oscar-winning Disney movie’s producer Peter Del Vecho was landing in Seoul to take part in a seminar hosted by South Korea’s culture ministry. Why Seoul? With a population of just 50 million, South Korea was easily Frozen‘s most successful market outside of North America, contributing $77 million of the film’s record $1.06 billion haul and setting a slew of local box-office records.
Shortly before his talk, Del Vecho sat down with THR in Seoul to discuss Frozen’s remarkable resonance with Korean viewers, how the film’s success might shift Disney’s strategy, and whether fans can hope for a Frozen franchise.
Why do you think Frozen was such a smash hit in South Korea?
The film has resonated on such a personal level with so many people. I think they identify with the characters and the music – as I understand it, Koreans love music and musicals, and [Frozen‘s] music certainly brings a lot of heart and warmth as well as humor to the movie. I think all those things combined [contributed to the film’s success here]. We feel very honored.
Korea has always been an important country for us in terms of our films. Korea is the number one market for Frozen outside of the U.S. Other countries are working hard to take that title but we are very pleased that it’s Korea. … I also know that Avengers [Age of Ultron] is shooting here; in fact I heard they shot yesterday.
After a movie has its run — and we’ve had time to take a vacation — we do take the time to analyze the success factors in the U.S. and other countries. Distribution and marketing are also important in how films reach certain markets.
The film reached out to audiences of all ages in Korea and other markets. What is Disney doing to ensure a wide demographic appeal?
John Lasseter at the studio constantly reinforces that we make movies for everyone, and that applies not only to the story but the actual animation itself. Tangled, a very successful movie for us, took animation to the next level. We focused a lot on the facial expressions so that audiences could read subtexts even when there is no dialogue. We did a lot of research on this. This all gives a richness, coupled with many layers, and speaks out to adults and teens alike. It’s something we always strive for, and, fortunately, it has resonated with all demographics.
There seems to be a significant change in the characterization and sense of humor, compared to past Disney films.
We love the Disney movies of the past, and they were made based on what was current for their times. It was important for us to have a main character that was relatable and funny, and we asked how we would want to be surprised when we go to the theater. We wanted to make something more relevant to us, and have more universal themes that everyone could relate to.
How do you feel about Frozen overtaking Toy Story 3 to become the highest-grossing animated film of all time?
It is overwhelming to watch the movie take off; I feel like it’s taken on a life of its own. Yes it’s become the highest-grossing animated movie in the world box office. But pride comes from how the world has embraced the film more so [than] from the numbers, though the numbers are certainly wonderful.
Do you think the global success of Frozen will affect the way Disney produces films in the future?
Each of the films is very different, but something changed fundamentally six years ago when John Lasseter came on board [as chief creative officer of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios]. From Tangled to Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen benefited from what we learned and we hope that continues. The biggest change is that [Disney] is becoming a filmmaker-driven studio. The filmmakers are responsible for making the decision. Oftentimes the decisions can be made outside of the film, which aren’t necessarily best for the film itself.
The other important distinction is that all of the filmmakers at the studio have a certain responsibility for all of the films. We give criticism to one another to make sure we can all be successful as a whole studio, not only as individual films.
What’s your outlook on the global animation industry?
Unlike in the 1990s when Disney had its first renaissance, there is a lot of competition. It’s a good thing; it shows the health of the industry. It makes us work harder to compete and we are inspired by other films — and it’s also encouraging for where the industry is headed. We felt like an entrepreneurial company since John Lasseter came on board, and it’s the competition that makes us look for ways to revitalize ourselves.
Do you have set future projects, and can Frozen fans look forward to spinoff franchises?
I don’t have an exact movie in mind that I will go on to next, but I feel that this team — myself, along with Chris Buck and Jen Lee — we work very, very well together, so I believe we will be developing a new project. But I don’t know what that is right now.
Right now Frozen‘s characters are already at Disneyland, and there are discussions on how we can support the characters at other locations. We are also discussing making a theatrical [musical] version of Frozen, but these things take time.
What happens to Elsa’s castle at the end?
We had many discussions as to what happens to it. After the credits roll, the marshmallow-like monster appears to be living there. It’s still there, a tourist location, and everyone visits probably. (Laughs.)