Will 'Frozen' kill Epcot?
Is replacing Maelstrom with a Frozen
-themed ride going to kill Epcot? That's the fear expressed on social media by many Disney fans ever since Disney made the switch official
Yes, Disney's crossing a new line in creating a fictional setting for a World Showcase attraction. From Epcot's opening in 1982 until now, the theme of World Showcase has been a celebration of real countries from around the world. Although elements within attractions in those lands might be fictional, the setting of those attractions always have been someplace real.
But let's keep things real by acknowledging that, while this is a new line for Disney to cross, it's not as if Disney hasn't been crossing lines in Epcot like a kindergartner who ate three Twinkies before sitting down to color. While Arendelle might be the first fictional setting to come to World Showcase, Frozen won't be the first Disney cartoon characters to take over a World Showcase attraction. The Three Caballeros did that in the Mexico pavilion's "Gran Fiesta Tour" in 2007.
And that wasn't the first time that Disney revamped an Epcot attraction with its cartoon IP. Earlier that year, Future World's "The Living Seas" became "The Seas with Nemo and Friends," from Pixar's Finding Nemo.
Two years before that, Disney duped "Soarin'" from Disney California Adventure into a new theater in The Land pavilion, the first World Showcase attraction that didn't even nod in the direction of being at least a little bit educational.
Disney long ago established a precedent for swapping an attraction for something more commercial. To keep its General Motors sponsorship, Disney in 1992 gutted the original, whimsical World of Motion pavilion to instead create the glorified car commercial that is Test Track.
For the ultimate in a commercial sell-out, who remembers the Barbie's birthday show in the American Adventure pavilion back in 1994? Sorry, but I'll take Anna and Elsa in Norway over Barbie anywhere in the park.
As envisioned by Disney's Imagineers when the park opened, Epcot offered something unique to theme park fans -- a non-fiction park that provided themed entertainment that celebrates science, technology, history, and culture. Yet Disney doesn't really seem interested anymore in creating theme parks with distinct identities. "Walt Disney World" is the destination now -- not Epcot's "permanent World's Fair" or Hollywood Studios' "working film and television studio" or Animal's Kingdom's "Naht-a-Zu." (Really, that last one happened.) For years now, Disney's been moving toward positioning itself as a lifestyle brand. Its travel product is the Walt Disney World Resort, where you go to spend time with Disney's franchises while enjoying as luxurious a vacation as you can afford. (And yes, that's a whole 'nother column there.)
In the "new" Disney world, the individual theme parks function more as platforms for spending time with the company's franchises than as brands or destinations unto themselves. (Remember that the next time a cast member hands you your purchase in a "Disney Parks"-branded bag.) Disney's adding Frozen to Epcot not to try to extend the park's appeal so much as it is doing so to try to meet the expectations of fans it is attracting to the WDW Resort -- fans who expect to be able to spend time there with their beloved Disney franchises, which now include Frozen. If Disney's theme park attractions can't grown into multimedia franchises, as Pirates most notably exemplifies, they become targets for redevelopment into franchise-driven attractions. Disney must meet the demand that it has created across its many media platforms.
Does that stink for fans who loved the "old" Epcot, and who still long to visit a non-fiction park that celebrates science and culture, instead of schlepping through yet another park filled with cartoon characters and superheroes? Sure. But Epcot's attendance has been rising with the rest of the Walt Disney World Resort's over the years that Disney's been crossing the lines from non-fiction park to a more traditional, IP-driven theme park. People love Disney franchises. And Disney's making a smart business move by using the Walt Disney World Resort to cultivate and strengthen that adoration -- including at Epcot.
Perhaps some other theme park company might step up and create an Epcot-like experience? Maybe, but don't hold your breath. Over the 30+ years since Epcot opened, America changed. The nation not longer rallies around science and scientists. For many Americans, science and foreign cultures are things to be mocked. At this point, there's only one theme park company that's embraced non-fiction as a theme: SeaWorld. And look what goodwill that has brought them. If the old Epcot were a better business bet for Disney, Disney would have kept developing the park in that thematic direction.
So if you want a non-fiction theme park experience, look instead to museums, which have embraced storytelling techniques from themed entertainment over the years that Epcot's moved more toward fictional IP. A while back, our Anthony Murphy visited the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, which offers an Epcot-like experience in telling the story of America's 16th president. Which makes sense, as the museum's exhibits were developed by the same creative team that developed Epcot's "Impressions de France" and the post-show at the old World of Motion pavilion. Even if Disney and other theme park companies resist developing attractions based on science, technology, history and culture, institutions that have long been dedicated to promoting those causes have been embracing the tools and techniques developed by theme parks. The experiences that Epcot's long-time fans crave are still out there -- just in different places than before.
Will Frozen kill Epcot? No, because the Epcot that the park's fans long for is already long dead.
I don't think it will kill Epcot, it just seems like a pathetic attempt to build a newer attraction.
Forget not that Disney also totally jumped out of the realms of pure science/history/culture with Honey, I Shrunk The Kids and Captain Eo... neither of which really had any place amongst the factual entertainment that was the park's m.o.
Even the LegoLand parks which were originally designed to showcase what can be done with Lego (largely in MiniKabd which shows landmarks made from Lego) are changing to keep up with commercial demand (and to sell more toys) there are more rides at Legoland parks and more items based around specific franchises (Lego Chima, Ninjago & Star Wars).
Great article and unfortunately true.
This is an amazing, analytical blog post! I really enjoy your intellectual approach to theme parks. That's why I keep returning to this site!
Since the countries represented by their pavilions must pay to maintain them, does Norway get any say in this? I can't imagine the government of Norway, who no doubt sees their presence in Epcot as an effective tool to promote tourism and travel to Norway, are too happy to see the pavilion focusing on a mythical land.
Frozen will not kill EPCOT. Bob Iger's reign has already killed Walt Disney World. This just another standard operating practice that was changed to accommodate the opportunity to milk every penny out of a successful movie. In the case of Frozen, even Disney wasn't prepared for its' success. Just look at the lack of merchandise that normally follows a blockbuster movie.
I think the biggest effect will be on us old timers who thought of EPCOT as the "adult" park and Magic Kingdom as the "kiddie" park. That line will be totally erased and we can now expect many more small children during our Flower and Wine festivals, which were geared for the adults, and other times. Oh well.....progress
I think what concerns me is this: immersive theming of the different "lands" or areas is one of the things that truly seperates Disney parks from your standard local amusement park or Six Flags. Without the theming, you have just a bunch of random attractions with no rhyme or reason to placement, etc...granted, the attractions are going to be state of the art and some of the best in the world. Magic Kingdom is of course a great example, as each themed "land" transitions seamlessly to the next...Adventureland to Frontierland to Libery Square, etc...That's my big concern with this...Disney seems like now, if they have a hit movie on their hands, will just rush an attraction into an area that has zero to do with the theme just becuase that particular "land" has some unused real estate or an old attraction that can be closed down and re-imagined. And when that happens, a little of the magic dies, as you don't feel like you are fully immersed in a particular land or country or city or time period, but that you are in a huge amusement park with a bunch of rides... awesome rides, no doubt, but the idea of being transported when you walk into that area of the park sort of disappears. Just my 2 cents, I know this was rambling...
What is not discussed is the politicized science and the poisonous multiculturalism. Science, technology, and foreign cultures are no longer safe subjects to explore. Also, there is a failure to acknowledge the beliefs of those who have a contrary opinion.
I absolutely agree with the post. The place to experience science and philosophy is no longer in Disney's theme parks. Museums over the past few decades have created much more engaging, theme park-esque experiences that focus on edutainment. The responsibility of a Disney theme park is to provide a physical environment for Disney characters. I was always confused at to why EPCOT lacked a major presence of Disney characters as a child; it seemed like a completely independent theme park experience, and even at that two wholly separate themes jammed together. I think the placement of a Frozen attraction in the park, as well as the recent repurposing of other attractions, marks a change in focus for EPCOT and hopefully means that guests can actually experience Disney there.
I can see it now.... drunk food and wine festival patrons vs parents trying to get their kids onto the new frozen ride. Love it! Lets have another margarita!
I'm disappointed more in the overall direction of EPCOT, and the move to Frozen is just another example. While I recognize that today's visitors aren't going to get as thrilled by the old Universe of Energy and slow-moving AA rides like World of Motion, it would be nice to have more balance. I just hope that Disney gives some love to Future World in the future, and it isn't just adding characters. The recent success of Cosmos showed that there is an appetite for science and the feelings of discovery, if they're presented in an entertaining way. I'll try to stay optimistic, but it isn't looking great.
Brilliantly written & contemplative piece.
Well said. Here are my thoughts on the Frozening of Norway... http://stephenkg.blogspot.com/2014/09/a-maelstrom-of-response-to-frozen.html
"Lets have another margarita!"
So many people seem to be very unhappy with new things at Walt Disney World, yet the people keep coming. The attendance is up every year. The bottom line is that Disney will do what they think is necessary to keep things good and relevant. I think the answer to the question is no.
"I prefer it Frozen. A Frozen margarita please!!!"
Arendelle will actually be the second fictional country. You forget Canada is in the World Showcase and we all know Canada isn't really a country.
My issue isn't with the Frozen coming to Norway
I prefer the original Epcot.
Maelstrom is a weak attraction with a horrible post show. We've been asking for something to be done about it for years, and now when Disney does something we scream that they should leave it alone. Look, I agree that there are plenty of other places in WDW for a Frozen attraction (and why can't they add more than one provided the experiences are different?), but for whatever reason enhancing Norway made the most sense. So, go for it, I say. But, Disney can't stop with one new attraction, they need to make a concerted effort to rebuild Epcot into the amazing park it once was and can be again.
Mr. Niles writes: "Will Frozen kill Epcot? No, because the Epcot that the park's fans long for is already long dead."
A step in the right direction. Epcot was dead anyway. Hopefully the Frozen ride will spread crowds a little more evenly throughout the parks and contribute a little towards reducing the insanely long wait times for the best rides. Now Disney needs to bring the international rides like Mystic Manor and Ratatouille to Epcot. How many families can afford the airfare to Japan or China or France?
If the Norwegian government no longer sponsors the Norway pavilion why does it have to continue to be the Norway pavilion? Couldn't it be re-named the Scandinavian pavilion or the Denmark pavilion so the purists can find one less thing to nitpick about when Frozen replaces Maelstrom?
My family and I love Maelstrom and will hate to see it go. It was always one of our favs. And all the Maelstrom haters can go back, back, over the falls.
I can see the $$ in the account bean counters eyes. EPCOT needs something, but this overlay (if that's what it is) will come off cheap and short. (The ride is a joke now) This just seems so desprete. I won't be getting another annual pass...just blah for WDW.
Like I had mentioned earlier, according to the 2013 attendance numbers posted earlier this year on this site, Epcot is only has a million visitors more than Disney Hollywood Studios (which is a smaller, half day park) and Animal Kingdom (obviously larger, but closes early). The company needs to bring in more attractions into Epcot and along with that, higher quality ones. This would alleviate some overcrowding in the other parks and would bring in more revenue to Epcot. Unfortunately it's going to be at the expense of what Epcot as a park started out to be and is quickly becoming no more. I would almost bet that if the Flower Festival and the Food/Wine Festival weren't held, Epcot's attendance would definitely be lower than the other two parks and would be sitting at the #3 spot, if not #4.
I am not sure if I read it correctly, but the Land is in Future World, not World Showcase.
Yes, this kills EPCOT. A temporary Barbie show, or fictional characters placed in non-fictional areas never changed a real place into a fake one. Changes to Test Track and Living with the Land made changes to Future World to represent the actual future, this turns a real place into fantasy. RIP COT.
A Thor ride would fit perfectly. Too bad they can't do it in Orlando.
Why couldn't they do a Thor ride in Orlando? As long as it is not attached to the Marvel logo ... Thor is a mythological character and not a licensed entity. In fact, the eye of Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins) exists on the current Maelstrom attraction.
Save EPCOT by sending it to China! People there love science, are commited to the future and curious about other cultures.
So many people say they won't go to Epcot with Frozen in Maelstrom. Don't let the door hit you on the way out. I predict the rabid fans of Frozen will have the counter effect of goosing attendance. It won't even be close. I am sure Disney has analyzed the effects of frozen in DHS and it helped a lot. Just move along.
Epcot in my opinion will start to transform more into the imagineers plans for WestCOT. You're going to see more generic regionally inspired themes as opposed to the individual country inspired themes currently supported. Expect to see Norway transform more into an idealized "Scandinavian" styled pavillion. Mexico in turn will become more Latin American themed, while still maintaining its "Mexico" moniker. China, Japan, and Morocco are the only "safe" pavilions currently as they are still the only three that are independently operated by a third party company. It will be a very slow change but uniqueness is out, generic is in. It sells a lot better.
Agree with the rest of the article, but when you wrote "...Disney in 1992 gutted the original, whimsical World of Motion pavilion to instead create the glorified car commercial that is Test Track" it sounds very...biased? As if you're looking for something to criticize about Epcot. World of motion was really bland, in my opinion. Test track was, at the time it was built, innovative, and I really liked the "build your own car" refurbishment awhile ago. Sure, there were great things about the old Epcot - but don't assume that everything old was awesome and everything new is terrible.
I agree with the article, but doesn't anyone remember that the original ride is not based in historic fact, but legends, and includes tree trolls? Did we really learn anything about Norway on this ride? Not really. Vikings, trolls, oil rigs in the paintings.
Frozen in Epcot is like people watering crops with Gatoraide in Idiocracy, it's the breaking point where it all falls apart. Hopefully some day people will become enlightened again and embrace a park that showcases the evolution of man and how to build a better future.
I don't think this development ruins EPCOT, but it is an indictment of Disney and their lack of vision for their parks. It seems like they want to keep with the trends, but because of their slow pace of development, they can find themselves out of touch with their guests before bringing a product to market. If reports are true and the Frozen attraction is merely an overlay of Maelstrom, why does it take nearly 18 months or more to complete. Universal built an entire land complete with 2 from scratch attractions in a little over 2 years, yet Disney needs 18 months for an overlay? Also, why did it take Disney almost a year to decide that the highest grossing animated film of all time needed an attraction, and the best they could come up with was an existing attraction overlay? Also, why is it taking Disney years, and counting, before expanding the role of Lucasfilm in their parks?
Too bad. I always enjoyed the Norway attraction and was always frustrated that people just walked past the educational if not emotional video they showed at the exit to the ride. I will miss it and always enjoyed going through Norway Maelstrom. It won't kill EPCOT but it will always be different for me.
You are clueless??? Epcot is already dead! The masses dont Frozen in Epcot just as much as no one wants Avatar in Animal Kingdom! Disney is just out of ideas for all parks except Magic Kingdom. Instead of being a business and invest, build, and grow. They instead refurbish and patch until that goes stale. Thats why the parks attendance is never consistent. They get ideas that hit hard but fade fast. Where as universal just continues to grow and steal attendance.
Why do you get so defensive when posters criticize the speed of Disney development? We all understand that Rome wasn't built in a day, but Disney-speed when it comes to development of attractions at their parks is becoming the punchline to many jokes. Do you realize that the newest ride in DHS is Toy Story Mania completed 6 years ago, the newest ride in Animal Kingdom is Expedition Everest completed 8 years ago, and the newest ride in EPCOT is Soarin' (re-inventing TestTrack and overlaying the Living Seas with Nemo doesn't count) completed 9 years ago. Aside from New Fantasyland, WDW has been stagnant for nearly a decade, and won't be officially getting a truly new ride/attraction until 2017 when Avatar opens. That's pathetic.
I'm not a Frozen fan to begin with, and I'm sad to see Maelstrom go. I really loved that ride.
Maelstrom was a nice little respite from the heat and humidity on a hot steamy Florida day. I will miss it. But just like in our lives evolution is a part of the business cycle as well. But let's look at Frozen from a basic business point of view. Companies (Disney, Universal, Six Flags, etc.) are in business to make money from their products, so if Frozen is making Disney big bucks then it's a no brainer for them exploit ALL avenues that they will believe will produce revenue and meet demand. That's what business is supposed to do. Don't forget- and this is VERY important, there are stockholders to please.
"Diagon Alley (it's probably closer to 3.5 years"
I dont know what everyone has against EPCOT
The basic reality with EPCOT is, that it was founded with industry corporate sponsoring at the one side, and country's government support on the other side.
Epcot = not Epcot anymore, and it does not know "yet", what it will or would be... a 100% makeover, including the name, could be a long term option...
I will only say this. Agree 100% with the second comment which is from 126.96.36.199
I am posting from the Rose & Crown at EPCOT .... There are 19,999 people in the bar. And they are all saying "Did you hear about Frozen replacing Maelstrom? Yeah ... I am never coming back here again ... Unless I come back here again ... Off Kilter rocks!"
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