Disney's 'Once Upon a Snowman': Inconsequential as a Story But Useful as a Learning Tool

Olaf looks at friends
Olaf looks down to see some people he hasn't met yet in ONCE UPON A SNOWMAN.
Image via Disney.

It's no secret that kids can't get enough of the Frozen franchise. After two feature-length films, various shorts, and an assortment of video games, love for Anna, Elsa, Olaf, and Kristoff still remains constant. Now subscribers to Disney Plus can enjoy Once Upon a Snowman, an almost eight-minute short featuring everyone's favorite hug-loving snowman, Olaf. 

Although Olaf has been in every Frozen film thus far, he's normally relegated to role of supporting character, aiding those sister of Arendelle in their quests and adventures. This time, the roles reverse and Olaf takes center stage, getting the "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" treatment. We see what happened to Olaf before he becomes the bosom companion of Anna in Frozen. The story opens as Elsa sings "Let it Go," thoughtlessly projecting magical icy beams into the air. One of these beams results in the birth of Olaf -- minus his nose. 

Like the monster in Frankenstein, Olaf feels confused about his identity and purpose and must discover who he is without help from anyone. Lost, confused, and in a true existential crisis, Olaf goes in search of answers and a nose. Without a moment to spare, Olaf's story moves quickly, with enough action and humor to keep attention. 

Olaf talks to shopkeeper
Oaken tries to help Olaf in ONCE UPON A SNOWMAN. Image via Disney.

The animation and character voices are of the expected quality, and of course, Josh Gad plays the now familiar voice of Olaf.  

While the story adds nothing to the Frozen mythos, what make the story unique is the way it intersects with the plot of the first Frozen movie. Throughout the story, identifiable moments appear, whether in the main stage or in the background. A piece of dialogue can be heard off screen or a character exits a room right before Olaf enters. Die-hard fans will have no trouble identifying these plot points and enjoy pointing them out. 

This makes Once Upon a Snowman useful as a discussion tool for adults who want to encourage story literacy in their kids. These are concepts they will eventually learn in a school environment, but why wait? The brevity of the movie allows it to be watched multiple times, and kids will more than likely beg for multiple viewings. The trick is to introduce these topics in a way that feels unlike school. 

Olaf tries a new nose
Olaf tries on a nose in ONCE UPON A SNOWMAN. Image via Disney. 

Here are some tips to keep in mind.

  • Let them watch it at least once just for fun without asking questions. 
  • Keep it light and fun. Ask questions but don't push kids to come up with particular answers.
  • Everyone develops at different rates. Allow kids to explore things when it's natural. 
  • If at any point the child seems frustrated or bored, stop immediately. This only works when kids are naturally curious. 
Here's how to try the discussion prompts:
  • Would you like to watch it again? Let's see if this time you can point out all the moments in the movie that happened in the Frozen movie. If your kids can write, ask them to write them down.
  • How many moments did you count and what were they?
  • Think about the moments you remember from Frozen. Can you remember what happened either right before or after that moment to Ann or Elsa? Don't be surprised if they want to watch Frozen to remember better or test their memory. 
  • Usually Olaf is a side character in these stories. Did this movie make you think about Olaf differently? Why do you think that is?
  • If you were going to make a story about Olaf, what would you have him do?
  • In a story, how do you tell who is the main character? 
  • If they really seem to get it. Try this: Pick a different movie or book that is a favorite. Name the main character(s) and think of a side character. What do you think happened to that character right before or after they joined the main character. 
Release info: On Disney+ starting October 23, 2020

Final rating: 3 out of 5