The massively successful Disney hit Frozen—based confoundingly on the true and terrifying story of the 19th century pioneer group the Donner Party, who were stranded in the Sierra Nevada mountains and decimated by illness and cannibalism—has now grossed over one billion dollars worldwide in ticket sales. With success comes hardship, and The Disney Store in Times Square, like stores across the country, has apparently run out of plush Frozen paraphernalia, and parents are starting to take matters into their own hands.
The real money, as always, is in the merch. In a lengthy New York Post profile, the Tabloid of Record discovers some eerie parallels between the scarcity of Frozen goods and the existence of nothing but frozen goods among those infamous cannibal Manifest Destiners. Why, it was just one day and 168 years ago, on April 14th, 1846, that the 87 strong Donner and Reed families set out from Springfield, Illinois, on their journey west to California.
Much in the same way, tourists from around the world converged on the Disney Store in Times Square, hungry for gilded plastic products to placate their wee consumers. "I can’t believe in a great big store, this is all they have,” Scotland's Pauline McDougal told the Post. Her daughters were hoping for a frozen Elsa dress (authentic wool for the winter in the Donner Pass) and an Elsa doll (made from oxhide webbing, for food). Elsa is the story's main protagonist, who nearly kills her sister by freezing her to death.
“We’re now at the stage where the demand is almost being driven by the scarcity because of the social status attached to being able to find it,” Sean McGowan, an industry analyst, said. Stranded in a mountain pass, the Donner party built crude log huts and faced a long, harsh winter with almost no provisions whatsoever. Were they alive today, they could surely relate to these harrowing reports of scarcity and depravation.
Gothamist co-founder Jen Chung is also a successful parent who bought her daughter an Elsa dress, and told us that it wasn't until the Oscar win (and the rapidly dwindling food supply) that things got really hairy. It happened before with Toy Story, Cabbage Patch Kids, Tickle-Me-Elmo, the 1972 Andes Flight Crash, and it will certainly happen again. "It's embarrassing but my daughter is really happy when she's singing the song so it's sort of worth it."
"It’s a buy-or-die mentality," the Post reports, noting that the fierce competition strangely mirrors the internal struggle for leadership between James Reed and Tamsen Donner, as well as the later trials of preserving warmth, rationing food, and maintaining hope in the face of certain death. From a diary of one of the Donner Party members:
“The kids cry, but the parents are the problem. They try to guilt us, say their daughters are sick. They have no shame. But I can’t make it magically appear!”
In an attempt to cope with both the lack of merchandise and the reoccurring nightmares of children too young to process the horrors of the Frozen/Donner Party musical, parents are setting up Facebook support groups. One such group, "Unfrozen Trading Friends," exchanges tips on how to explain cannibalism in kid-friendly terms—as well as shares locations on hot ticket items.
An anonymous Disney store employee, citing a passage from the diary of camp member Patrick Breen, explained that things are at their worst when folks wake up. "“People have gotten into physical fights in the morning,” noting that the hunger pains are felt most acutely at first light.
Perhaps the success of Frozen can be explained by this starkly beautiful portrait of early American life and expansion. These themes of unrest, danger, civility and fortitude are yet again packaged masterfully by Disney, a powerfully hybrid entertaining teaching moment. As author Ethan Rarick put it so beautifully: "More than the gleaming heroism or sullied villainy, [Frozen] is a story of hard decisions that were neither heroic nor villainous."