Frozen made Lisa Rosenberg want to be a princess--which, considering that it's a Disney princess movie, isn't all that strange. What's surprising is that Rosenberg is 23 and that the film has inspired lots of adult women just like her. When she and her friend Meagan Marie Vanburkleo, 28, announced online that they were making versions of the heroines' costumes, they were immediately invited to a Facebook group for people who had the same idea. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Since its limited release on Nov. 22, Frozen has raked in $914 million at box offices worldwide, outstripping The Hunger Games: Catching Fire as the third highest grossing film of 2013. Critics adored it, it has two Oscar nominations--Best Animated Film and Best Original Song--and its soundtrack has topped Billboard's album chart in four different weeks, the first time that's happened with a soundtrack since Bad Boys II in 2003.
Disney has already announced plans to bring a musical version to Broadway, and theme-park incarnations have been hinted at. Two weeks ago, the movie was rereleased in a sing-along version, which has drawn a mix of adults and children.
The cold, hard fact: it's the highest grossing Disney Animation movie ever in the U.S., and as Disney execs told investors during a Feb. 5 conference call, Frozen merch is the hottest seller at Disney's stores.
There's no denying that Frozen has a certain je ne sais froid, but not everyone agrees on what exactly it is. "For me, it's the characters," says Rosenberg, who spent weeks working on her insanely accurate Princess Anna costume before commemorating the effort with an elaborate photo shoot. "It's how they relate to me that makes me want to be them."
Based on Hans Christian Andersen's 1845 story "The Snow Queen," the film offers compelling heroines who face dilemmas that have strong modern-day parallels. Queen-to-be Elsa has the power to control ice and snow, but everyone she loves tells her to hide it, lest she tear her kingdom apart. Her sister Anna doesn't have mystical gifts but is so dedicated to her older sibling that she comes on like an avalanche when Elsa finds herself in a tough spot. The message is about being yourself--even if your family doesn't get you--and the value of sisterhood. There's a charming prince and a plot point about the power of true love, but neither is what audiences might expect from the studio that made marriage-plot classics The Little Mermaid and Sleeping Beauty.
The experts agree, and Peggy Orenstein, the author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, is one of them. "There were things that [the filmmakers] were clearly thinking about to be contemporary about girls and women," Orenstein says. She sees it as a step forward, even though she quibbles with how Elsa's story links female empowerment with "getting hot." When Elsa finally accepts her magical powers, she "suddenly comes out looking like a country singer onstage, like Taylor Swift," Orenstein says.