Energy & Environment

Emails: Disney annoyed by Obama push to use ‘Frozen’ brand

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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.

Disney officials felt they had previously closed the discussion at a meeting in the fall of 2014 with Papp, the State Department’s envoy for the Arctic.

{mosads}“We felt Admiral Papp misrepresented the informational meeting that was held at Disney in October of last year,” a Disney employee wrote to State, according to documents obtained by The Hill through a Freedom of Information Act request.


The name of the Disney official writing the email has been redacted, though Paul Baribault, the senior vice president of marketing for Disney, had met with Papp in November 2014. Other emails in the chain obtained by The Hill are signed by a “Paul.”

“It is frustrating to see these types of comments continue,” the Disney employee wrote to Erin Robertson, a State public affairs officer who worked for Papp, in the March 12, 2015, email.

Robertson emailed back to the Disney official that a reporter at a Washington, D.C., event had asked about the issue. Robertson said the question “put the Admiral on the spot” and “it would have been very difficult for him to avoid answering.”

The Disney employee then reiterated the company’s dissatisfaction.

“It’s too bad he felt the need to say that he’s continuing discussions with Disney when that simply hasn’t been the case,” the employee said, adding that what he said “is a mischaracterization of the situation” and “happens to be untrue.”

The Disney employee asked that Papp clarify the issue if he’s asked again.

Papp’s outreach generated extensive media coverage at the time and attracted mockery and criticism from conservatives who already thought then-President Obama’s climate agenda had gone too far.

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
their shores.”

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.

Disney didn’t respond to a request for comment, and State declined to comment.

The records released by State show the numerous steps the department took to woo Disney.

Besides Papp’s meeting with Baribault at Disney’s California offices, a four-page briefing document shows that Papp wanted to “elicit a firm commitment from Disney to work with us in some way on our Arctic Council Chairmanship public outreach campaign.”

State’s ideas for a Disney partnership included a public service campaign using “Frozen” actors, a child-friendly educational website on climate change, a screening of the film at the Kennedy Center and a traveling exhibition.

Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, cares deeply about climate change, a fact that State said would work in their favor.

But the day after Papp met with Baribault, his staff wasn’t optimistic.

Jennifer Ey, Papp’s chief of staff, wrote in a memo to a State official that the meeting “was interesting, but ADM Papp didn’t think widely successful in that the negative impacts being seen in Arctic don’t necessarily fit within general Disney messaging of hope and happy things.”

The Trump administration hasn’t appointed an Arctic envoy. Its climate policies represent a 180-degree turn from Obama’s, including promising to exit the Paris climate agreement and rolling back nearly every climate policy from the previous administration.

Tags Barack Obama Climate change Disney Frozen Obama Obama administration Robert Papp

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