Please keep your hands and arms inside this rant at all times, folks.
It’s been rumored for a while, and now it’s official: Walt Disney World has announced that they will be shutting down Maelstrom, the boat ride in EPCOT’s Norway pavilion, and replacing it with an attraction based on the movie Frozen. The fictional land of Arendelle is based on the real land of Norway, after all, and Disney wants to capitalize on the fact that Frozen is super popular.
It’s El Rio del Tiempo all over again.
For those of you who don’t know what that means: When the Mexico pavilion opened, there was an attraction that took you through a basic tour of Mexican history and culture. This slow boat ride featured video as well as animatronic figures, and started with Mayan and Aztec civilizations and worked through colonial times and up to the modern era (well, modern by mid-80s standards). Was it a great ride? Not really, but it was entertaining in its way.
In 2007, El Rio del Tiempo was closed and the ride reopened as the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros. This new version of the attraction tells the story of Panchito and Jose trying to find Donald Duck in Mexico. While parts of the ride look similar, they replaced a look at the culture of a country in a pavilion based on that country and turned it into an animated slapstick in a Mexican setting. It really has nothing to do with Mexico or the culture of its people, the country is just the backdrop for silly cartoon antics. Unless you count Donald Duck wearing a sombrero.
The Maelstrom situation is, to me, very similar. The ride doesn’t necessarily take a realistic look at the history of Norway, instead focusing on a land of trolls (with a mention of Odin in there somewhere) and takes riders through Norwegian myths and legends. Upon disembarking the boat guests have the option of leaving or watching a short film about Norway.
Admittedly, I love the part with the trolls and rarely stay for the movie.
But now Maelstrom is closing and being replaced with Frozen. They’re taking something that had something to do with Norwegian culture (more or less) and replacing it with Elsa and Anna. They’re shoehorning in a popular franchise because it kinda-sorta fits the theme but not really.
I accept that at least part of my anger of this stems simply from Maelstrom having been there a long time and me just being grumpy and not wanting anything to be different. I understand that the parks do change. Old attractions make way for newer ones, and in fact that’s one of the exciting things about Walt Disney World: the fact that I can go there and see new attractions in addition to old favorites. It’s still jarring, though, when something that’s been there for a long time is being removed.
I’m also fully aware of the fact that I miss the ‘old’ EPCOT and its cheesy edu-tainment, and the further away they get from that the more upset I get about it. I rank Horizons as one of my all-time favorite attractions, I loved World of Motion and the original Journey Into Imagination (in fact, don’t get me started on their butchering of that ride), and I still enjoy riding Living With the Land.
I think that’s the core of my issue with this whole thing. The removal of another ‘classic’ EPCOT ride just pours a little more salt into that wound. Turning Maelstrom into a ride based on a movie just goes against what I want EPCOT to always be. Even if it hasn’t actually been that in several years.
The reality is that this is part and parcel of EPCOT’s identity crisis. With the science and technology of Future World, and the World Showcase pavilions portraying other countries, the concept was a park that focused on education. However, the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow wasn’t exactly popular with most guests. It’s had considerably lower attendance over the years than Magic Kingdom and it’s always had a bit of a reputation as a ‘boring’ educational park. In the mid-90s they turned EPCOT Center into just EPCOT and started to turn the park into something the masses (and not just us nerds) would want to enjoy. Old rides were closed and replaced with ones less focused on education and more on entertainment. Characters (like those from Finding Nemo) were worked into attractions. However, in working to turn it more into an amusement park it sort of lost its own… voice. Magic Kingdom is fantasy and magic, Hollywood Studios is all about movies, and of course Animal Kingdom is focused on animals. EPCOT, though, is a blend of a few different things that don’t really define it and don’t really stand out. Heck, when I brought my wife there for the first time she found it sort of boring. She liked Future World well enough, but found World Showcase mostly uninteresting, and I don’t think she’s ever quite gotten my obsession with the park.
I will admit that I like many of the newer EPCOT attractions. I love Soarin’ and its wonder of flight (and it was one of my late grandfather’s favorites, so it gets a pass). Both Mission: Space and Test Track are a lot of fun and offer some science in their cool thrill ride experiences. They may not have the charm of the original attractions, but they still more or less fit in with what EPCOT is all about.
But adding something based on Frozen–one of Disney’s most successful properties ever–is a definite attempt to continue altering the park into something different. To make it less ‘boring’ and more entertaining. To give it something that people will recognize and respond to, even if it only loosely fits the setting. For a lot of people, this will probably help renew interest in the park. For people like me, it’s another reminder that those people didn’t appreciate the brilliance of what EPCOT (Center) was in the first place.
Will I ride the new Frozen attraction? I’ll give it at least one try, of course. It could turn out to be really cool (no pun intended) and I may even grudgingly like it.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the new ride will involve Elsa taking guests on a delightful romp through Norwegian culture. Maybe there’ll be some ‘edu’ in the ‘tainment’.
Maybe I should just… let it go.