Last weekend, the Springfield Township library in Delaware County hosted a screening of the sing-along edition of Frozen, the Disney film in which an ice queen, Elsa, dooms her subjects to eternal frostbite until her younger sister, Anna, steps in to save the day.
The children in attendance (including 12 Elsas, two Annas, and a Superman) were spellbound.
Amanda Winnett, however, was less than rapt.
It was, she said, about the 200th time she had watched the film with her daughter Catherine, a 4-year-old wearing filmy Frozen pajamas and clutching a magic wand that looked deceivingly like a craft-foam snowflake stapled to a Popsicle stick.
"She knows 'Let It Go.' She knows that song by heart," Winnett said. "She knew it before she knew her ABCs."
More than a year after its release, the highest-grossing animated movie of all time (it has brought in more than $1.2 billion at box offices worldwide) has crossed over to full-fledged cultural phenomenon among the preschool set. It has become a daily sound track for parents, to the point that Frozen director Jennifer Lee has begun apologizing to them. And Elsa, in particular, has taken on mythic status - for both boys and girls - rivaling even Santa Claus this holiday season.
The full force of Frozen fever will be on display starting Christmas Day, when Disney on Ice Presents Frozen comes to the 19,500-seat Wells Fargo Center for an 11-day, 27-show run.
The record-breaking demand for tickets took organizers by surprise, despite the popularity of its sound track (it was the top-selling album of 2014) and strong merchandise sales (Frozen dolls are expected to surpass Barbies as the No. 1 holiday toy for girls this year).
"We didn't predict the volumes. Actually, we couldn't have," said director Patty Vincent. It's her 10th Disney on Ice show, and first for which extra tour dates were added. "This is beyond our wildest dreams. There's hardly enough days in the week."
For lesser hits Tangled and The Princess and the Frog, she incorporated the princesses into a variety show. But given the cult of Frozen, she decided to recreate the movie on ice, complete with special effects. The result, she said, is "pretty extraordinary - the way the kids are dancing in the aisles, and everyone is singing along at the top of their lungs."
Many of those kids will be in costume, left over from thousands of Frozen Halloweens and hundreds of Arendelle-themed birthday parties.
"It gets a little much sometimes," said Angela Lane, sales manager at Tiffany's Bakery in the Gallery in Center City. "It's like, 'How many Frozen cakes have you done today?' "
She has been averaging 10 or 15 a week. "Every little girl wants Frozen now. They don't even think about Dora anymore."
Priyanka Singh, of Princeton, said that when she went shopping to throw her daughter, Pia, a Frozen fourth-birthday party in July, she found the shelves bare.
"Everything was sold out. It's so difficult to get any merchandise, any bags, any favors for Frozen," she said. She resorted to buying handmade versions on Etsy.
She also hired Anna and Elsa impersonators from a New Jersey company called Bella Princess.
"The way my daughter saw Elsa and ran to her - she never ran to me like that before," Singh said.
She attributes the film's success partly to its Oscar-winning sound track and partly to its parent-approved story line.
"I didn't really promote the idea of princesses," she said. "Most of the other princesses are damsels in distress. But these are strong characters she can identify with. It's not a prince saving a princess; it's a sister saving another sister, and that's what really sets the movie apart."
Amy Greenstein, of Glenside, said her daughter Sydney Zimney, 4, was also fascinated by the music and the sisterly camaraderie.
When Sydney first saw the DVD, Greenstein said, "it was the longest she ever sat still in one spot." Then, she watched it again - every day for a month.
These days, Sydney wakes up quoting Frozen every morning.
"She'll wake me up and say, 'The sky's awake, so I'm awake, so we have to play.' It's the first scene from the movie," Greenstein said. "She makes me do the magic and run the line. If I don't, she gets mad."
Her class at Zero Gravity Dance in Elkins Park performed its recital to one of the film's songs.
"She was Elsa. They all were Elsa," Greenstein said. "Everyone wanted to be."
Spontaneous outbursts of "Let it go!" have become a familiar sound at Congregation Adath Jeshurun's preschool in Elkins Park, early-childhood director Michelle Bernstein said.
"Over the years, this has occurred whenever a big motion picture comes out," she said. "It kind of feeds into the flavor of the preschool. I remember when Power Rangers was big and Yo Gabba Gabba was big. The kids grab on to it, and it becomes part of their lives."
What has surprised her about the Frozen phenomenon is its longevity. After the movie's release in November 2013, kids listened to the sound track all year in class and then still wanted to perform "Let It Go" as part of their show this summer for parents.
But, she said, weary parents needn't despair: "The great thing about working with kids is, things can change quickly."
For this holiday season, though, there's no sign of a thaw. Plenty of people are counting on the ice queen to remain a major attraction.
When the Roxborough Development Corp. was looking to bring families to Ridge Avenue's retail district this month, they summoned Santa Claus for photos - and brought in Elsa as backup.
"It seems to have a huge interest," said James Calamia, the organization's executive director. "Most children were more thrilled to see Elsa than Santa." Many had written letters to both.
Winterland, an ice-skating rink in Glassboro, has been attracting hundreds of kids with "Frozen Fridays," offering a chance to skate with the snow queen. It has also been selling up to three Frozen birthday parties per day on weekends.
Casting a spell
Michelle Lescure, one of two Elsas on rotation there, said she has spent about an hour and a half in hair and makeup for these homespun Frozen-on-ice productions. (For a costume, she wears her senior prom gown.)
The kids follow her around the ice in awe.
"I had one little girl ask me if I made the ice rink with my magic powers. I told her of course I did," Lescure said. "Then, she asked me if I could freeze something else." That was an awkward moment.
Winnett said navigating Frozen fervor was sometimes challenging: Her daughter was, reluctantly, a cat for Halloween, because the Frozen costumes were sold out. There was an upside, though, when it came to buying Christmas presents.
"It doesn't matter what it is - as long as it has Elsa or Frozen on it, it's good."