Emails unearthed by The Hill show Disney’s leadership was frustrated and annoyed by an Obama administration official’s public statements suggesting it was considering using characters in the popular film “Frozen” to teach children about climate change.
Robert Papp, a State Department official, spoke twice in 2015 about the possibility of Disney agreeing to let the department use Olaf the snowman and other characters from the film as part of an effort to warn about the dangers of global warming.
The effort to use “Frozen” for climate messaging was part of an extensive plan by the Obama administration to convince Americans and the world that climate change is a major issue with enormous consequences.
Global warming impacts the Arctic more severely than other areas. A report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2016 found that the Arctic warms at least twice as fast as the rest of the world.
As a result, the Obama administration saw the United States’s chairmanship of the Arctic Council as a prime opportunity to warn of the dangers.
Papp in a January 2015 event in Norway had praised “Frozen” for teaching children about the Arctic. He said he had met with Disney officials and that he had told them they could do much more to bring attention to climate change.
“I said, ‘You’ve taught an entire generation about the Arctic,’ ” Papp said. “Unfortunately, the Arctic that you’ve taught them about is a fantasy kingdom in Norway where everything is nice. What we really need to do is educate the American youth about the plight of the polar bear, about the thawing tundra, about Alaskan villages that run the risk of falling into the sea because of the lack of sea ice protecting
Papp, a retired Coast Guard admiral, said Disney wasn’t interested in using its characters to tell sad stories.
“As I continued to talk, I could see the executive getting more and more perplexed, and he said, ‘Admiral, you might not understand: Here at Disney, it’s in our culture to tell stories that project optimism and have happy endings,’ ” he said.
But he suggested talks were continuing.
“We’re regrouping on our storyline and we still have Disney engaged, but there’s more yet to come there,” Papp said at the time.
In March of that year, Papp at a Washington, D.C., event said that State is “continuing discussions with Disney,” and he was “hopeful” they could come to a deal to use “Frozen” for climate messaging.
Reached Monday by The Hill, Papp in an email said that the controversy was overblown.
“This is an old (very old and tired) story that I believe was misrepresented in the press,” he said. “It was a simple meeting between me and a Disney representative. I proposed a PSA using the ‘Frozen’ characters; they declined. I didn’t keep the story alive, someone in the press did,” Papp said.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s case closed,” said Papp, who is now head lobbyist for Eastern Shipbuilding Group Inc.
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