/ Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Author’s note: This post brings forward a prominent current topic in the Disney community. It can be viewed as one perspective of many viewpoints, not as a definitive, end-all-be-all statement. Read it as an encouragement, not something intended to twist any mouse ears.

There is a film in Disney’s library of classics that surged to popularity. During production, the studio thought it had a hit on its hands, but it was not prepared for how the public would embrace this film. Immediately upon its release, the movie fueled an overwhelming craze that Disney had trouble keeping up with (in a good way).

Merchandise could barely be placed on shelves before all items sold out. Disney On Ice at once put a stage version of the film in its pipeline. Theme park supplements were introduced as quickly as possible: first as temporary entertainment meant to pacify the massive demand, and then as a permanent attraction which replaced a beloved ride that had a special, historic bond to Walt Disney World®.

While you probably have Frozen on your brain as the film I speak of, the movie in question is actually something different: Toy Story.

Buzz Lightyear and WoodyYes, the film about child playthings that is today a beloved benchmark of Disney history and computer animation itself walked a path very similar to that of Frozen. Woody and Buzz toy sales were through the roof. (My parents had to ship mine in directly from Orlando because there wasn’t one store in town that had them in stock.) In an effort to give Toy Story presence in the parks, a parade debuted to celebrate the film at Disney’s Hollywood Studios®. Eventually putting the characters on a long-term radar, Imagineers planned to open Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin® at Magic Kingdom® Park in 1998, three years after Toy Story premiered in theaters. The attraction replaced Delta Dreamflight, which itself was an alteration of If You Had Wings, a long-adored voyage and a Walt Disney World® staple since 1972. Eventually, Toy Story would find its place among the Disney pantheon of classic tales, becoming part of the fabric of who Disney is and going on to be utilized in other ways, both on film and in the parks.

To make a long (toy) story short, when Toy Story exploded upon popular culture in a way not even its makers anticipated, all arms of The Walt Disney Company had to group together a gameplan quickly, and this involved both short-term and long-term efforts, some of which rocked the boat of existing infrastructure and meant saying goodbye to remnants of the past.

Frozen PosterThat’s all to say that what is happening now with Frozen has all happened before. Elsa dresses disappearing unbelievably fast. Quickly produced, temporary entertainment at Disney’s Hollywood Studios®. And, yes, the just-announced future closing of Maelstrom at Epcot® to make way for a permanent Frozen attraction.

You’ve no doubt witnessed some very strong opinions concerning this news. Its controversy is nothing short of explosive, yet the pages of Disney history dictate these same motions have happened in the past and concluded amiably. If this story has been told before, then, why does it feel like so much of a bigger deal than any Imagineering addition in recent history?

For one, in a world before the advent of social media, opinion was a concept not easy to share or accessible to view. Today, however, anyone can tell the world what he or she thinks about any topic at all, instantly. This makes communication more exposed and, seemingly, more abundant. It appears that there are more opinions present when really they are just more visible. Second, there is no denying that pretty much everyone has a firm stance on their preference: to Frozen or not to Frozen.

Granted, this is Disney’s first mega-hit in years. They’ve had successes, but this is the huge phenomenon this generation will remember. After a reign of getting itself back on its feet, Walt Disney Animation Studios proved with Frozen that it was capable of creating a story not just reminiscent of earlier favorites, but worthy of being included alongside those as equals. It is a quality product that the public is in love with. Rarely do those two elements come together, and when they do, a business is ignorant to not maximize its involvement with said product.

And this product deserves permanent placement.

The location of that placement is primarily what has ignited a flurry of Elsa-strength conversation. Bringing Frozen to Epcot®  in a permanent capacity logistically makes sense. Norway inspired the Imagineers’ creation of the pavilion, Norway inspired the filmmakers’ creation of the movie, so just merge the two concepts and you’ve got yourself a perfect spot to welcome this fantastic story. The kick, though, is the essence of World Showcase being dedicated to providing guests an educational, cultural journey through hands-on experience and sensory activities. Would a Frozen attraction, however excellent, be able to do that? This is the important question many are firm in immediately refuting.

NorwayDisney cannot be completely blind to this concern, though. It knows its audience, and it cares for its fans in ways truly no other company even thinks about. Perhaps this integration over the past few years of familiar characters into Epcot®  pavilions (first with Nemo joining The Living Seas, next with the Three Caballeros in Mexico, and now with Norway) can be paralleled to the transformation of Disney’s Hollywood Studios® over the years. That park opened in 1989 as a living, breathing production facility that offered guests the chance to get a sneak peek behind how movies were made. That’s not the case at all today. Now, the park functions as a celebration of Hollywood’s most endearing qualities, from production and stunts to animation and icons. It still bears the same core that was prominent when it opened; it’s the way that core is carried forth that’s different. While specific experiences have come and gone, Disney identified a trend that wasn’t working anymore and plussed the park’s menu gradually over time to remain relevant and give guests that Hollywood experience that will one day become this generation’s vintage memories.

That is, more or less, the case with Epcot® . It is not that the park is no longer dedicated to making families excited about learning; it’s that the capacity of how the experiences are being learned naturally changes as time passes, and to not keep up pace will eventually lead to a park that is not sustainable in the long run. It’s not that Maelstrom is not an adequate vehicle to represent Norway; it’s that, in all honesty, Frozen will be a beacon for more guests than ever before to want to make Norway a priority destination in their day at Epcot®. Regardless of the content of the Frozen attraction itself (which is impossible to discern at this point), it will be at the very least an inviting entryway to fully experience the surrounding Norway pavilion’s delights, and at the very most a full integration of Norwegian culture blended with Frozen‘s landmark characters.

Several years ago, if an Imagineer asked my input on what should be the next E-Ticket for Disney’s Animal Kingdom®  Theme Park, would a land themed to Avatar immediately come to mind? Probably not. Am I a little confused as to how that project will gel with the rest of DAK? Somewhat. However, I must trust that the same people who have developed my favorite destinations on all of planet Earth know what they’re doing. After all, what else can I do? I need to believe that the decision-makers can see a big-picture plan that I simply can not comprehend, not being on the other side of the creative fence.

Festival of Fantasy FrozenAnd, I think that’s the appropriate stance to take with Frozen coming to Norway, as well. Yes, it’s emotional whenever a new attraction takes the space of a former classic that was beloved for generations. I have wonderful memories tied to Maelstrom, and not being able to revisit that place and those memories does leave me sad. Sure, it’s a little unsettling to think of Epcot®  taking a stride in a new era for World Showcase, but that’s only because the familiar is comfortable and the unknown is, well, unknown. However, any reservation that I have in repressing the incoming in an effort to hold close to the outgoing is, essentially, useless.

Woody and Buzz are just fine today. They’re doing well for themselves. I have a feeling that, if the communicative climate of 1995 was what it is in 2014, they’d be under a lot of glare. However, nearly twenty years later, they’re doing well for themselves. Despite their initial gargantuan spotlight and the trajectory they took in steering Tomorrowland® in a different direction, Woody and Buzz  are now an established, accepted part of what makes Walt Disney World® special. I have a feeling Anna and Elsa will be, too.


(Images © Disney.)

Blake studies Electronic Media and Film at Appalachian State University. He enjoys making his family of six watch the parade in Frontierland and then sprint to Main Street in time to see it again. You can find him on Twitter @olddirtyblake or at BlakeOnline.com.



13 thoughts on “Building Snowmen: Anna, Elsa, and Why the ‘Frozen’ Phenomenon Belongs at Epcot®”

  1. Ken V says:

    Hi Blake!

    Thank you for writing about this very topic. I am one of, the many I’m sure, emotional ones that really don’t want to see Maelstrom go. Mine, is more for my 3 year old who is just a bit too young to be able to remember the ride like I have since I was 5. My love for Maelstrom is such that I finally got a FastPass for Seven Drawfs Mine train for next Thursday (I’ve been trying since they opened it up!!!), but after hearing of this news all plans have changed and I’m planning on spending my entire birthday day trip relishing the Norway of now. Buying as much merchandise as I can, taking as many pictures as I can, but most importantly bringing my son onto Maelstrom for the first and last time, so I can at least tell him and show him pictures later of this once great and most excellent attraction.

    Weather this is the right move for Epcot as a whole is really not the point here. Like you said, Frozen is the biggest entity Disney has put out since Cars (IMO). From my standpoint – they are looking to put more “butts in seats” in Epcot, as the park in whole is due for a bit of refurbishment. I remember when I was a kid, I HATED World Showcase, because there was “nothing to do”. As I grew up, that is now the place I look forward to the most! I am dreadfully fearful of how inserting Frozen into Norway will affect World Showcase as a whole. One thing is for sure, good luck eating at Akershus or Kringla Bakeri when Frozen opens up.

    Keep up the great posts!

  2. Eileen Barton says:

    What a thoughtful analysis! Blake, you have managed to put into words what I believe many of us who have been sitting quietly by thinking while others have been emotionally reacting. I do disagree with you about Hollywood Studios as I feel with the loss of the Animation Studio and the actual production facilities it has lost a lot of its focus, but as I stated on another web-site, let’s give the Imagineers a chance and a bit if credit for wanting the best possible experiences for their guests.

  3. Finally! It’s great to hear someone express positive support regarding this change. I share many of the same sentiments. Here are my thoughts…

  4. Dan Heaton says:

    Blake, I can totally see your point about Toy Story and the need for Disney to put more Frozen into the parks. I don’t have any issues with them creating Frozen attractions and making the presence larger. It’s great to see Disney have such a big hit.

    However, I feel like the choice of EPCOT is unfortunate and goes further than even The Three Caballeros (which I also don’t like). EPCOT has been my favorite park since my first visit as an eight-year-old in 1984, so my feelings come from visiting it when the park was just getting started. I feel there is so much potential for Disney to revitalize the park and make it a hybrid of its ’80s glory with modern theme park technology.

    The Frozen attraction accomplishes none of those things. It may be an amazing ride that offers a great experience, but it doesn’t fit within EPCOT. This is another step in an unfortunate series of decisions from Disney that are changing EPCOT into just another theme park. The structure is still there for greatness, but I think it will take a new management team before anything gets better. Hopefully it won’t be too late.

    Finally, I think stating that Disney “cares for its fans in ways truly no other company even thinks about” is too much. If they truly felt that way, they wouldn’t continually raise ticket prices, install FP+ when few were asking for it, and find clever new ways to get visitors to spend more money. I realize that Disney is a business, and describing them like a philanthropic organization doesn’t really help your case.

  5. Lisa says:

    The purpose of World Showcase is to showcase the culture, food and people of various REAL countries. Adding a frozen attraction to the Norway pavilion does nothing for this purpose. In fact it takes a step backward as it brings in a fictional place that some might think is real. I don’t care if there is a Frozen attraction somewhere in Disney World as there’s certainly a business case to be made for it with the current popularity. It just does not belong in EPCOT. The Caballeros are bad enough but at least the film is still about real places. The Nemo example has nothing to do with the argument since it’s not in World Showcase. There have been characters in Future World since the opening of the park.

  6. Joe says:

    From March 1 Orlando Sentinel”

    “Lou Mongello, host of an unofficial Disney World podcast on WDWRadio.com, said it’s natural that when a Disney movie becomes a hit, “everyone starts talking grand plan: ‘Oh, they’re taking out Maelstrom and they’re putting in the Frozen ride.'”

    But Mongello noted that creating an attraction takes years, and he’s not sure about the plausibility of revamping Maelstrom, a dark boat ride that tours Norwegian seas.

    “World Showcase is a world’s fair,” Mongello pointed out. “It’s meant to showcase the culture of … these countries. If all of a sudden it becomes a ‘Frozen’ ride, it’s something very different.”

  7. I think the pavilion can do both: 1. Create a good attraction that engages with all ages and 2. Provide elements in the pavilion that showcase the culture, food and people. Most pavilions don’t even have a ride, so think of the ride as a bonus. Disney can easily include other elements in the pavilion that pay homage to the real Norway. The lackluster, confusing mess that is Maelstrom does nothing to capture the essence of Norway. Interestingly, the country of Norway is not afraid to use a “fictional land” to boost tourism. They are including Frozen in their advertising. If it’s good enough for the real country, it should be good enough for the pavilion. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/disney-animated-sensation-frozen-has-created-a-bonanza-for-norwegian-tourism-9497045.html

  8. Chris says:

    Norway inspired Frozen but that doesn’t mean that it has anything real to do with Norway. The government of Norway has been trying for years to update the education film and the pavilion yet their effort was always rejected. Now this movie comes out that has one of the weakest plot I’ve seen in a Disney film and they are will to up-root what EPCOT is suppose to be. Why not put it in MK why not jam it in HS? I mean studios is already missing their mark with their theme. Replace the Beauty and the Beast show/ Replace the Little Mermaid show. Jamming Frozen in the world show case is wrong. Almost as wrong as jamming a fictional alien planet in AK. I really feel Disney has started to run out of ideas and are just trying to make up cash from other investments they’ve made. I’m 25, I’ve been to WDW 35 times, I’ve grown up with Disney and I can honestly say I’m worried about some of their choices lately. I like somethings they’ve done, I can see the potential in others (magic band) but throwing in what’s hot now is sad.

    Basically, again, no Frozen should not be in Norway because they are not from Norway. They are from a magical kingdom that was inspired by Norway. There should be a character meet and greet like Snow White in Germany. A ride in the World Show Case is a stepping stone to making it Fantasy Land Lite.

  9. The Government of Norway and the original corporate sponsors pulled out of funding the Norway pavilion years ago. It was the many varied demands of the original sponsors that made the Maelstrom the big hot mess of an attraction that it is today. Disney alone now funds this pavilion. If there has been an effort by the Norwegian government to update the film or pavilion, I have never heard of it.

    As the film’s costumes and architecture are based on traditional Norwegian designs, the new ride will have the opportunity to introduce visitors to many aspects of Norwegian culture. Plus, I am certain it will still have trolls! 🙂 Other aspects of the pavilion (Kid Stop, Stave Church, Post/Pre-film etc. can be used to teach more about the real country.

    What I am getting at here is the ride will most likely NOT be the ONLY thing in the pavilion. There are several pavilions that don’t have a ride/movie/show at all: Italy, Japan and Morocco are basically glorified restaurants and shops. However, the architecture is a key feature that brings us into the culture. That will still very much be a part of the Norway pavilion. If you really don’t like Frozen, skip the ride and enjoy the other aspects of the pavilion. I am sure there will be plenty others who are happy to take your place in line for Frozen.

    I find it ironic that the Norwegian government is using Frozen heavily in their tourism ads, yet others who are not from that country are up in arms over this. If it’s good enough for the Norwegian government… http://www.cnbc.com/id/101776203 Frankly, Frozen is probably the best thing to happen to the Norwegian economy in a long time.

    And a word of caution… Donald Duck is now the focus of the Mexico boat right, but he is not Mexican. Discuss. 🙂


  10. Chris says:

    My reply isn’t showing, would there be a reason for that?

  11. ChrisCJR says:

    Theme parks change. It’s a fact. What Epcot was is not what it is or will be. The Worlds Fair concept is fading away and the park is moving forward to entertain a new generation of guests. I believe that Disney knows very well what they are doing here and I trust them. Although my memories of Epcot are fond, I am very glad Disney is look at this park with an idea for the future of it. I personally don’t want Epcot to be exactly the same as it was when I was a kid. Although people argue with me about this, I believe that the park still has a heart in it. I don’t think that’s going to change by adding Frozen, Ratatouille, Brother Bear, or whatever else comes up into the World Showcase. I get why people don’t want them there, but Disney’s clearly placed their bet and they’re probably right.

    Great article!

  12. Christy Viszoki says:

    Chris, according to what I can see on our end, your comment was published. I don’t know why you do not see it.
    Christy (Editor)

  13. Chris says:

    Christy It was a much longer reply to Stephen, that was never posted. The site said duplicated posting but never went through *shrug*