Disney's sequel to viral 'Lola' is heartwarming storybook about blended families at Christmas

Disney: the film explores power of storytelling and the magic created by reading together
Disney: the film explores power of storytelling and the magic created by reading together

'Stepdad' features the return of Lola’s granddaughter, Nicole, and her two children Max and Ella, as new stepdad Mike moves into their family home.

Bearing the hallmarks of a short by Disney's Pixar, just like its predecessor, “Stepdad” takes viewers on a journey of ups and downs,  heightened by realistic animation and lovable characters.  

Centred on the power of storytelling to inspire imagination and the magic created by reading together, “Stepdad” features the return of Lola’s granddaughter, Nicole, and her two children Max and Ella, as new stepdad Mike moves into their family home. 

It follows last year's debut consumer product spot, "Lola", which centred on her much-loved Mickey Mouse toy, given to her as a young child by her father. With each passing year, Mickey comes to symbolise Lola’s childhood and a present-day connection to her granddaughter.

Garnering 106 million views globally, it was a hit, becoming Disney's highest-performing post on its EMEA Facebook channel. It also reached 33 million total global YouTube views.

Keen to capitalise on the hype from last year's iteration, Joss Hastings – vice-president, marketing and communications for Disney consumer products, games and publishing in EMEA – says the team wanted the sequel to tell the story of a blended family learning more about each other, combining existing festive traditions and creating new ones.

“Last year reminded us of the importance of leaning into universal themes that are recognisable wherever you may be watching,” Hastings says, recalling how during the "Lola" process, the team recognised they had some special characters and saw an opportunity to build on last year while telling a story that stood on its own for anyone that hadn’t met the characters before.

Storybook as a key creative thread 

At the heart of the film is a storybook, a precious item belonging to the son, Max, given to him by his birth father. It celebrates how the power of storytelling can deepen family bonds and the magic that reading together creates as stories from Disney and Pixar lift off from the pages, igniting the family’s shared imagination and wonder. 

“We knew very early in our planning stages for this campaign that we wanted to focus on storytelling,” Hastings says. “Disney is known for its incredible stories, and sharing stories is a precious tradition that crosses generations.”

Aspects of Filipino heritage

"Lola" was celebrated at the time for highlighting Filipino culture and festive traditions passed down through the generations.

With Filipino culture remaining at the core of Nicole's family in the follow-up, Hastings teases that: “Eagle-eyed viewers will be able to spot many Parols on wreaths and walls through this year’s campaign, as well as Lola’s original Parol-making kit.”  

She says: “Her beloved Mickey also makes an appearance, and Nicole has lined her dining area with traditional Filipino decorative wooden objects", adding that “we have also included some Jamaican cultural references to honour Mike’s heritage”.

Mini Disney short production 

"Stepdad" was produced by Disney EMEA’s in-house creative team, led by Angela Affinita, director of brand marketing and creative, in partnership with Flux Animation Studios in New Zealand. 

Overall, the team has been working on the campaign for a year, with planning underway as its inaugural campaign began to go live.

Like the prequel, Disney’s EMEA in-house creative team approached "Stepdad" in a similar way to a Pixar short, considering they had three minutes to tell a story that placed the characters at its core. 

Talking about the similarity to feature-length productions, Hastings says: “The animation team for a three-minute short film tends to be much smaller than that of a feature-length production, but the process is the same, from developing the initial storyboard through to the finished picture.

“We also like to bring the emotional highs and lows that are so traditionally ingrained in Disney stories – even though we have less time to do it in with an advert.”

Spot the Easter eggs

Disney is known for planting "Easter egg" visual references in many of its films and "Stepdad" is no different.

“They delight our fans and they are obviously really fun to do,” Hastings says. “We want people to watch this advert over and over again, so the Easter eggs also provide little surprises for the eagle-eyed viewer.

“This time around we increased the number, so as well as the hidden Mickeys, we have also added in a National Geographic coffee table book, a Stitch soft toy and a Toy Story-inspired lamp, plus some of the Easter eggs from last year, including the Disneyland Paris snowglobe.”

The planted references tie together The Walt Disney Company's growing franchises, including Disney, Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel. 

“The theme of family bonds runs throughout our campaign and we have used the tagline 'From our family to yours' to represent this,” she says. “However, it also represents the family of brands and characters that Disney is known for. We wanted the franchise integrations to feel really organic and recognisable to families – I love the scene of Max and Ella playing with their lightsabers before bedtime.”

Twelve versions of Love Runs Deeper  

Like last year's inaugural spot, viewers will notice that there is no dialogue in this ad, which Hastings says works well for a global audience and makes localisation much simpler.

“We are able to tell so much through our characters’ expressions, story cues in photos and props and, of course, our emotional soundtrack, Love Runs Deeper, performed by two-time Grammy Award winner Gregory Porter,” she says. 

“It provides the backbone to the story – and it provides the narrative for Mike, so we also recorded local versions in 12 markets across EMEA, South America and Asia.”

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