Not being one for brevity, I have a lot to say about Frozen in Norway before we even get to the attraction itself. If you think the ‘Arendelle is a fictional country’ thing is a dead horse that was long-ago thoroughly beaten, you might skip down to “The Attraction Itself” heading. You’ve been warned.
If you are a Disney fan, you’re probably aware of Maelstrom, the attraction that Frozen Ever After replaced, and the outrage among some members of the fan community when it was announced that Frozen was replacing Maelstrom. Others were excited, noting that Maelstrom was unpopular and had not aged well.
Long before Frozenstrom was announced, I wrote a post over at TouringPlans lampooning Maelstrom that I dubbed, “A Salute To All Things Norway, But Mostly Trolls, Anorexic Polar Bears, Oil Rigs, and Children of the Corn.” It’s a loving(ish) look at the bizarre campiness of the attraction, covering some of my favorite (and least favorite) aspects of its cheesiness.
Although others might not take quite as derisive of a tone, I think the words “campiness” and “cheesiness” encompass why many longtime Walt Disney World fans loved Maelstrom. There’s an unexplainable nostalgia for things that have quirkiness. It’s like you’re part of a lovably weird inside joke…or something like that.
Whatever the explanation for Maelstrom’s cult following, I think most fans are sufficiently reasonable that they know campy experiences like it are viewed quite differently by first-time visitors and on guest satisfaction surveys. Walt’s ‘Disneyland is not a museum’ line is often spouted to justify any change, but I think the more apt statement would be that the parks are not time capsules. Most fans realize this, and that dated attractions and experiences–even those we personally love–must make way for new, fresh attractions.
This brings us to the Frozen Ever After announcement. There was a lot of anger, and from my perspective, that was directed more at the replacement and its appropriateness to World Showcase than it was about defending Maelstrom. I don’t think the response would have been nearly as negative if a replacement for Maelstrom were announced that focused on Norse mythology or Norwegian culture.
If that were the scenario, I think most fans would’ve recognized Maelstrom had a good run, and was due an appropriate replacement. The operative word here is appropriate. Just because an attraction is past its prime doesn’t mean any new replacement–irrespective of the replacement’s theme or substance–is an appropriate replacement.
It seems that many Walt Disney World fans just want something–anything–new so badly that they are willing to justify the denigration of theme. In the weeks since Frozen Ever After debuted, I’ve read many people express vindication based upon the long wait times the attraction is posting. Wait times are not indicative of the ride being in the thematically-proper location. It could have been located at Rafiki’s Planet Watch and would still draw multi-hour waits. It’s an attraction based on one of the most popular animated films of all time and is a cultural touchstone with undeniable staying power. Of course the wait times are long.
If popularity were somehow a proxy for theme, then I’m pretty sure you could justify an intense, exposed rollercoaster in front of Cinderella Castle. It would easy post an hour-plus wait, so who cares about thematic integrity…right?
I doubt many Disney fans would get behind that idea. I suppose it could be argued that Frozen is somehow different. Sure, the story upon which the film is based has Scandinavian roots, and that is displayed in the architecture and design elements in the film. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s a modern American animated film set in a fictional country. Frozen is not Norwegian in any meaningful sense of the term.
For me and many others, this was destined to be the threshold issue with Frozen Ever After. No matter how good the substance of the attraction, it does not belong in World Showcase. A number of ill-advised concessions have already been made elsewhere in Epcot compromising the park’s theme, but that does not justify further thematic subversion, particularly in World Showcase.
For World Showcase, Frozen sets poor precedent. I can’t think of any country in World Showcase that could not similarly have an attraction featuring animated characters shoehorned into its pavilion. From Lady and the Tramp in Italy to Wall-E in America, every single pavilion could have something. If you’re able to cherry-pick IP for certain countries, that might not sound like such a bad thing; the idea of getting the trackless Ratatouille dark ride in France would probably have some appeal.
However, at some point, World Showcase simply becomes Fantasyland 2.0 under that “vision.” Is that really what we want? More of the same, just in a different park and with more sophisticated architecture?
There’s a bigger picture issue here, and that’s the risk-averse nature of those making high-level decisions for Epcot. This was once an incredibly ambitious concept park, and nearly every change since the late 1990s has been at the expense of that ambition.
EPCOT Center’s dedication plaque reads: “Epcot is inspired by Walt Disney’s creative vision. Here, human achievements are celebrated through imagination, wonders of enterprise and concepts of a future that promises new and exciting benefits for all.
May EPCOT Center entertain, inform and inspire and, above all, may it instill a new sense of belief and pride in man’s ability to shape a world that offers hope to people everywhere.”
Save for the “entertain” part of that, scarcely any of that applies to recent additions at Epcot. Instead, decision-makers have targeted low-hanging fruit. There’s a built-in audience for Frozen, or for any animated film. They are all known quantities, with popularity discernible through the prism of box office receipts, video, and merchandise sales.
An attraction with “Frozen” on the marquee is going to draw a certain (high) minimum wait, no matter its quality, thanks to its established name recognition. The “ride” could just be a dude wearing an Olaf puppet on his hand chasing your boat around shouting “WARM HUGS! WARM HUGS!” and it would still draw at least a 30 minute wait because Frozen.
An original attraction, on the other hand, is far less of a sure thing. It has to stand on its own substantive merit and word of mouth, because it doesn’t have any IP as a crutch. In short, it’s a riskier proposition, but that shouldn’t really be a problem when you’re talking about a creative company like Disney. Even though an original attraction is riskier, it can still be tremendously popular with guests.
It cannot be argued that guests do not enjoy original attractions concerning foreign and exotic locales sans characters. Soarin’ Around the World on the other side of the very same park defeats such an assertion in swift fashion. Given its higher hourly ride capacity and wait times, more guests per day are experiencing it than are experiencing Frozen Ever After.
Who wouldn’t want to cruise down the Rhine River in Germany past famous landmarks? Does boarding a high-speed Shinkansen and passing Mt. Fuji and other gorgeous spots in Japan not sound appealing?
These, and other, real-world attractions were once on the table for World Showcase, and I think both would (and could) be huge successes if done right. Humans have an innate sense of wanderlust, and most of us will never get to see the real places represented in World Showcase. That’s why the concept has appeal, in the first place.
The point of all this rambling is that World Showcase doesn’t need Frozen or any other animated properties to be relevant and exciting. It undeniably needs something, but not this. Any new “vision” for Epcot that models it after Magic Kingdom is taking the lazy, risk-averse way out. While it might be a safer move in the short term–or in isolation–the parks having distinct themes and identities provides a greater draw to each of them.
Okay, now I’ll get off my soapbox…
The Attraction Itself
With all of that out of the way, is Frozen Ever After a good attraction? Yes. Shockingly so, in fact. It’s a visual treat with advanced Audio Animatronics, neat effects, and popular songs from the film.
A big plus to the general premise is that rather than being a CliffNotes version of the film, it’s a series of loosely-connected vignettes, much like what you’d have in Fantasyland. In fact, if you dropped Frozen Ever After into Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom, it would arguably be the best attraction there. (Peter Pan’s Flight is in sad shape these days, although the experience of flying over London is pretty tough to top.)
When you consider the fact that this was a “quick” (by Disney standards) addition shoehorned into an existing ride space, it’s doubly impressive. Frozen Ever After has been described as an “overlay” to Maelstrom, and I think that’s really selling it short. Although it uses (mostly) the same track layout as Maelstrom, this is a totally new experience.
When it comes to the experience of the ride itself, my quibbles are relatively minor. I’m not a huge fan of the projected faces, but I understand that’s the current trend. There are a couple of places where it’s easy to see the edge of the projection on Anna and Elsa, but it’s not all that noticeable unless you’re looking for it.
The Olaf Audio Animatronics are significantly more impressive (when they’re working), and the first time seeing him approach our boat was a wow moment for me. It was also nice to see the endearing–rather than obnoxious–side of Olaf. (Here’s hoping a similar approach is taken if/when Figment gets a new attraction.) I thought he, Sven, and the trolls really stole the show in the attraction.
The climax of Frozen Ever After predictably features Elsa singing ‘Let it Go’ in her ice palace but…what else did you expect? It feels appropriate and is a pretty cool scene, albeit a bit underwhelming visually. I’m not sure what else could be added here; perhaps more fiber-optic lighting? I’m not sure how much fiber-optic lighting costs, but I’m guessing “not much” is the answer. It seems like a relatively cheap, old-school effect that still impresses guests (or maybe I’m just like a raccoon that likes shiny objects). I think a more heavy-handed use of lighting in this scene would cover for some of the relatively bare show scene.
I would hazard a guess that the decision to shoehorn Frozen into Epcot rather than Magic Kingdom (which just wrapped up its New Fantasyland expansion at the time) was made at a level above Imagineering.
As such, I think the team behind this project should be lauded for doing a lot with the attraction itself in a repurposed space, but also with making the whole package–included the Royal Summerhaus area–as unobtrusive to World Showcase as possible.
While I still find the placement of the attraction very regrettable (see my treatise above), I’m at least relieved that the attraction is very good and the expansion isn’t a de facto Arendelle pavilion.
Overall, Frozen Ever After is an elite Fantasyland attraction, with the very large asterisk of it being located in (real) World Showcase. That’s a big problem, and a path I really hope Epcot doesn’t continue down. Judged on its own merit, the attraction has a lot of charm, impressive moments big and small, and is downright fun. The attraction is a new must-do at Epcot…and you shouldn’t skip it even if you are still bitter about its location.
Now, let’s just hope the same budget, effort, and attention is given to restoring Figment to his former glory. I’d be happy to see the same Imagineering team behind Frozen Ever After assigned to Journey into Imagination 4.0, and as a lifelong Figment fan, that’s probably about as high of praise as I can possibly bestow upon Frozen Ever After.
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Do you agree or disagree with our take on Frozen Ever After? Do you like the current direction of Epcot, or do you wish it were restored to the original vision of EPCOT Center? Share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have about Frozen Ever After and Epcot in the comments!