Where should Disney build a 'Frozen' theme park attraction?
Written by Robert Niles
With Frozen overtaking The Lion King as Disney's top-grossing animated film of all time (not adjusting for inflation), Disney executives cannot wait to find new ways to extend their income from this wildly popular movie.Tweet
Theme park presence will be part of that mix. Disney's already introduced Frozen meet-and-greets in Disneyland's Fantasyland and Epcot's Norway pavilion at Walt Disney World. And Disney CEO Bob Iger has promised more for Frozen. So theme park fans are led to ask: What would a Frozen theme park attraction look like? And where would it go?
We've already addressed some of the problems with placing a Frozen attraction in Epcot's Norway pavilion. Furthermore, Frozen is set in a mythical kingdom called Arendelle, not Norway. Sure, both have snow and ice, but if that's the sole criterion for placement, you might as well put Disney's Frozen ride in the Hoth section of Star Wars Land as in Norway.
(Hold that thought, actually….)
But let's back up for a moment. The following is based on no insider information, but represents an attempt to logically think through Disney's options for putting a Frozen attraction in its theme parks, examining available locations and feasible concepts.
Let's start with the question of what a Frozen attraction might look like, and include. The movie takes place in two main locations: the castle in the port of Arendelle, and Elsa's ice palace, high in the mountains overlooking the port. The ice palace is supposed to be remote and relatively inaccessible, making it a more appropriate destination within a Frozen ride than the setting of the ride's entrance. Therefore, one might presume that the the facade of a Frozen attraction would recreate the castle and port of Arendelle.
To create that, Disney needs a body of water for the port, with mountains in the background, overlooking that setting. Obviously, those aren't inexpensive locations to create, so it makes sense to first look for an under-utilized location in a Disney theme park which already fits that description.
Actually, Disney has a couple of options here, one of which is so ideal that it's hard to believe it wasn't designed with Arendelle in mind. So where is this ideal setting for a Frozen theme park attraction?
Well, you've heard the phrase "the rich get richer"? That applies here, because the ideal existing setting for an Arendelle attraction would be in the Cape Cod section of the American Waterfront land of what is already Disney's best theme park, Tokyo DisneySea.
Tucked in between the the park's Port Discovery and main expanse of the American Waterfront (which is dominated by the Tower of Terror and S.S. Columbia), Cape Cod today is best known as the home of Duffy the Disney Bear. That might seem inconsequential to American Disney fans, but Duffy is big, big, big business in Japan, where Duffy merchandise outsells everything else at the Tokyo Disney Resort. Still, there's no Duffy ride in Cape Cod — it's just a restaurant with a show stage, next to a meet and greet area. It is a huge restaurant, though, providing the area necessary for at least a space-conscious attraction.
The Oriental Land Company, which owns and operates the Tokyo Disney Resort under license from Disney, couldn't, and wouldn't want to, evict Duffy from Cape Cod in favor of Frozen. Heck, the movie doesn't even open in Japan until next month. But if Oriental Land were to find a new home for Duffy in the park, say, nearer the park's new Toy Story Mania ride on the other side of American Waterfront, that would make Cape Cod available for Frozen.
The existing Cape Cod buildings surround a small cove, and Disney could reskin these buildings to create the Arendelle castle. The park's iconic Mount Prometheus stands in the background, providing the mountain backdrop. As Cape Cod stands on the opposite side of Mount Prometheus from the mountain's Mysterious Island setting, Disney might be able to cover the backside of Mount Prometheus with some "snow," further developing the transformation of Cape Cod into a Port Arendelle land without disturbing the look of the mountain from Mysterious Island or the park's Mediterranean Harbor entrance.
An aerial view of Cape Cod, from Google Earth
So what, then, goes into this castle? As we mentioned, space is a big tight — the footprint is wide but relatively shallow, with the DisneySea Electric Railway in the back — so Disney likely couldn't develop a massive, Indiana Jones-style indoor ride for this Frozen attraction. But let's think about some options.
The purpose of a Frozen attraction should be to create opportunities to spend time with the movie's main characters. A permanent meet-and-greet location for Elsa and Anna is a must, and would fit well into the castle's ballroom. But what about that fabulous ice palace? And the wonderful wintery backcountry? And the trolls?
Here's an idea: We take a ride on Kristoff's new sleigh, pulled by Sven the reindeer and accompanied by Olaf the snowman. We're heading into the backcountry to pick up a load of ice, when we're sidetracked by the bad guys from Weselton, once again trying to sneak their way into the kingdom. With the help of the trolls, we evade the bad guys. Along the way, we make it to the ice palace, we hear Elsa sing "Let it Go," Olaf cracks plenty of jokes, and we back it back, safe, sound, and well-entertained.
To work this ride into the available space, Disney might need to take a page from Universal's playbook and use motion-base sleighs with accompanying screens, a la Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, to create the visuals for the story. The even cheaper alternative is to go with a Star Tours-like motion base theater for the ride, but I'd rather see Disney try a mix of screens and practical sets here.
In addition to the available setting, Disney has another advantage with launching this attraction at DisneySea: it puts the initial capital design and development on Oriental Land's books, rather than paying for that development solely from its own pocket. That would give Disney a head start on adapting these plans to other parks at a lower initial capital expense.
But where else could Disney build a Frozen land? I mentioned two possibilities. The second isn't as ideal as DisneySea's Cape Cod, but still provides an under-utilized body of water with a mountain in the background. It's the old Motor Boat Cruise lagoon in Disneyland's Fantasyland.
Not familiar with that site? Today it's mostly hidden behind the old "Light Magic" stage next to It's a Small World, and the smoking area across from the Matterhorn. There's no room at all for an attraction show building here, as Autopia consumes the land on the far side of the lagoon.
If Disney really is considering taking the Autopia space for a Star Wars attraction in Tomorrowland, it's conceivable that Imagineers could leave enough space to accommodate Arendelle on the far side of that Star Wars ride, facing the lagoon in Fantasyland. (Okay, it's not exactly placing Arendelle on Hoth, but hey, it's close enough to crack the joke!) The Matterhorn would provide a wonderful accompanying visual to one side of Arendelle castle, while an additional "mountain range" backdrop could provide a visual barrier between Arendelle and whatever the Star Wars ride turns out to be. The huge problem here is the monorail track, which provides another reason why the site isn't as ideal as DisneySea's. The monorail would have to move to make this work.
Just imagine, though, the one-two punch of a new Star Wars ride in Tomorrowland and a Frozen attraction in Fantasyland. That would provide a more than compelling response to Universal Studios Hollywood's new Wizarding World of Harry Potter and billion-dollar-plus "Evolution" redevelopment.
What about Disney's other theme park resorts: Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, and Shanghai Disneyland?
If Epcot's off the table at Walt Disney World, Animal Kingdom is getting Avatar, and Disney is just finishing tricking out its Fantasyland, it would seem that Disney's Hollywood Studios might be the preferred site for a Frozen attraction, perhaps again abutting the Star Wars land now in planning for that park. At Disneyland Paris, the woeful Walt Disney Studios Park certainly could use another richly-themed new pavilion to accompany its upcoming Ratatouille ride, and there are plenty of easily-forgotten attractions that Disney could rip out to make way for Arendelle there. Hong Kong Disneyland's rather cramped, but has space for a second gate, so perhaps Frozen could go there. And, finally, Disney just needs to get Shanghai open before developing any expansion there.
What do you think? What would you like to see Disney do in its theme parks with Frozen. Let's play Imagineer and share our best ideas, in the comments.
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