Maelstrom of Annoyance

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.

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Mexico has always been my favorite of the World Showcase pavilions, and when I was there I often rode El Rio del Tiempo, but having ridden Gran Fiesta Tour I have little interest in doing so again.

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.

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Science and technology! History and visions of the future! Outer space and other cultures! Apparently most people don’t consider a park dedicated to these themes particularly exciting. On a related note, most people are lame.

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.

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Mission: Space is a fun ride, but it replaced Horizons. So I still occasionally shake my fist in anger at it.

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.

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9 Responses to Maelstrom of Annoyance

  1. Kevin Williams says:

    Ok here is my take on this whole fiasco. I like Frozen. It’s a fun movie with catchy songs and a cute story. Don’t get me started on the non-PG rated thoughts I have about Kristoff…I digress. Here is my problem. I think Disney is simply going way overboard with Frozen as a whole. Yes it made ridiculous amounts of money. Yes, every girl will dress as either Anna or Elsa for Halloween. I get it. They are still making tons of money. So now they shove it down it down our throats every chance they can get. You can wait hours to meet the characters in the Magic Kingdom. Anna and Elsa were shoe-horned into the Festival of Fantasy parade. Hollywood Studios got a whole Summer full of Frozen with a welcome celebration, Sing-a-long show, special fireworks, and a whole section devoted to Wandering Oaken. The Christmas castle show is being changed to having Elsa freeze the castle. (Ok that one actually makes tons of sense) Disney on Ice is touring the country and it is all Frozen. The merchandise is selling out. “Let it Go” is everywhere. Now Frozen is taking over Maelstrom. Where does it end?

    My opinion of Maelstrom is mixed. We do the attraction every time…but skip the movie. The last time we went on it, the ride got stuck and all the lights came on. It looked really rundown. Does it need to go away? No I think it could stay. Maybe get rid of the movie and just change it. If they really need to put Frozen in there, how about a movie of how the Norwegian culture influenced the movie and characters? I’m not wholly opposed to bringing more characters into World Showcase, but I think they should do it with respect to the countries themselves. I’m not saying every country should have a character connection, but they could without being tacky. I would be ok with a port of the Pinnochio dark ride from Disneyland being added to the Italian pavilion. Maybe a Mulan attraction in China? Personally I would love something to do with Hunchback in France. It could work.

    Sadly, I think the park needs this attraction to get people away from just riding Test Track and Soarin`. With the tiered Fastpass + limiting what E-ticket rides you can reserve, I think having another option would be a good thing. Point is, we know this is all about money. I think if they go through the financial cost of eliminating Maelstrom in favor of a Frozen attraction, I think they should scale back the Frozen presence everywhere else. Move the Elsa and Anna meet and greet from the Magic Kingdom to Norway in favor of bringing back the other princesses that were displaced. Eliminate the Hollywood Studios events like the welcome celebration which simply doesn’t make sense anymore. I think they also need to leave the exterior of the pavilion alone…no Ice Palace way off in the distance etc.

    (Just as a side-note, I think it is funny how people get all upset about Arendelle not being a real place and how it has no business being in the Norway pavilion, but they are not opposed to meeting Aladdin and Jasmine in Morocco. They are from Agrabah….not a real place.)

    Final thought on this…do what you need to do with the Norway pavilion, but have it make sense and not just be an obvious way to get more Frozen exposure. Keep the fans happy, but I mean all of the fans…the purists and the Frozen fanatics.

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  2. Doombug says:

    When it comes to shoving Frozen down everyone’s throats, I’m sure at least part of that is trying to maximize the exposure and profits while it’s all still relevant. It’s one of their most popular properties ever (and there’s a four hour wait to meet Elsa and Anna because that many people are lining up to wait that long), but eventually another big Disney movie will get released and this will fade away a bit. The shows and extras will go away and be replaced, but of course there’ll still be a ride. I don’t mind that–there are attractions based on a lot of Disney movies–I’m just opposed to the placement. Put it in New Fantasyland or something, rather than World Showcase. The Frozen madness definitely seems bigger than the others, again due to its overwhelming popularity, but sooner or later it’ll go away and I’d guess that Disney wants to get the most out of it before this happens.

    I didn’t realize that Aladdin and Jasmine had been hanging around Morocco. That annoys me in a similar way to the Norway/Arendelle thing. It’s cool to maybe have something about how the real countries influenced the movies, but that just feels like shoehorning. At least Hunchback took place IN France, and Mulan IN China. These are real places, not fictional settings loosely based on real places.

    I agree that EPCOT needs… something new. There’s not enough of the old park there to entertain those of us who have loved it since the beginning, and not enough new stuff to draw in new fans. Right now it’s at best a half-day park: get in, ride the few things worth riding, take a quick walk through World Showcase, and go do something else. When I took Gilly for the first time (in 2012) I was super excited to show her this park that I’ve loved since I was a child, and she just couldn’t quite see why. She found it a little boring, other than the handful of attractions. So I know full well that a big part of all this is my own nostalgia.

    Is there a way to appease the EPCOT ‘purists’ and attract new crowds? I’m not actually sure. As much as I loved World of Motion, I’ll grudgingly admit that Test Track is probably more of a ‘draw’ for the average park guest. But as an EPCOT purist, adding characters into a park that has never really been about characters and adding in a ride about a place that doesn’t really exist in a pavilion based on a pale that really does exist isn’t exactly appeasing.

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