Let’s Look Back at That Time Disney Got Serious With Another Marketing Campaign

Chances are by now you’ve watched the Frozen II trailer. Heck, you may have done so ten times! And your reaction was probably something along the lines of “Well, this wasn’t what I was expecting.” Instead of songs and snowman jokes, what we got was action, action, and more action!

It’s a great trailer.  But it’s also not the first time Disney has attempted to market one of their animated movies as ultra-serious. That title would go to 1998’s Mulan.

Now, if you aren’t of a certain age, you may not know that during the Disney 90’s boom, they were marketing almost all of their movies the same way, emphasizing the songs and the jokes more than anything (this was true even for The Hunchback of Notre Dame). “Join the fun!” was a tagline they repeated for almost every preview. And hey, given the money the Mouse House was making during the 90’s, there’s no point in arguing with success.

Then along came Hercules, which became the first Disney animated movie since 1990’s The Rescuers Down Under not to cross the magical $100 million mark stateside. Even though it was still a hit (it made “only” $99 million), the blame game began, with people complaining the film was too modern, the comedy too hip, among other things (in a way, I would argue that Hercules has gotten better with age, in that the things that dated it at the time are the very same ones that make it a timeless 90’s nostalgia trip now).

Now, this is all guesswork. The internet was still barely a thing most people had when Mulan was new, and as such, finding entertainment articles about it at the time are harder to come by as a result. But I think it’s safe to say that Disney apparently desperately wanted to market Mulan as something that wasn’t like Hercules at all, a tricky task considering one of the film’s most major characters is an insecure little dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy.

So what to do? Simple. Market Mulan as a straightforward drama. Don’t show the songs. Don’t show the drama. Just show the world this

Ten year old me was blown the fuck away!

And they didn’t stop with the teaser trailer. The entire theatrical marketing campaign was done that way, including with this rarely seen full trailer…

Again, no jokes. No songs. No friendly announcer reassuring the audience that they were in for some good old fashioned Disney FUN! Just. Fucking. Action. And. Drama.

Here’s the thing, though. If you’ve seen Mulan (and you probably have), this campaign wasn’t entirely accurate…

The film, of course, has plenty of jokes. Heck, Mulan probably has more comedy in it than many of today’s Disney movies. And while the movie certainly has plenty of dramatic moments (many showcased in the trailers, but also that devastating fallen village scene), it also has jokes about spit, nose-picking, nudity, and the aforementioned (and actually pretty hilarious) Eddie Murphy dragon.

So what does this mean for what Frozen II will be like? Well, maybe not much. It is curious that Disney is going for a Mulan marketing direction with the first trailer, when the main preview for the original Frozen was heavy on puns and made Olaf look like the star (The Mouse House, similarly, also had a heavily comedic preview for Tangled, featuring a scene in which Rapunzel beats up her future boyfriend with her hair which wasn’t even in the final movie!).

At the same time, it’s refreshing that Disney is treating Frozen II like an “event film” given how phenomenally successful the first film was, and I like that they haven’t given much of the story away at all so far. It remains to be seen what the studio will do with future previews, but for the time being, it is cool to see them giving the old “market it as an action epic” campaign a whirl again.