Frozen in Norwayby Jeff Kober, contributing writer
Since Frozen premiered, Disney fans have wondered aloud whether Maelstrom would become a Frozen-style attraction. That speculation began as early as the first of this year when Screamscape shared rumors that Walt Disney Imagineering had been given the initial nod to do some "blue sky" work on transforming Maelstrom into some Frozen concept. We want to address those rumors and look at what we know. But first let's turn back the clock just a little, and offer context and insight as to the design of this attraction, and how one might even justify adding a Frozen element.
Norway is the last of the 11 World Showcase countries to join Epcot. Originally the idea was to create a pavilion between Mexico and China that would combine several Scandinavian countries into one space, much as was planned out for with Equatorial Africa—though it never was built. Even upon opening, it was often referred to as "Norway, Gateway to Scandinavia" allowing it to be something of a catch-all for experiences found throughout northern Europe.
Epcot owes much of its financing to the sponsors that have supported attractions throughout Future World and World Showcase.
Sponsors play a role in shaping the look and feel of a pavilion. The more money you invest, the more your opinion is heard.
The original press release for Norway noted "The government of Norway and several key Norwegian companies have played an important role in financing the showcase project." There were 10 such companies, including a cruise operator, a civil engineering and construction firm, a commercial bank, two insurance groups, a cement producer, a shipping firm, a frozen seafood manufacturer, an IT group, and a food supplier.
Does the Norway Pavilion Have Any Current Major Sponsors?
All of the organizations mentioned above, including the government, are no longer sponsors, most having left years ago. Has Disney tried to entice others to sponsor? Yes. One news report in Norway affirmed that Disney has approached groups in the last few years, such as the American Norwegian Chamber of Commerce and the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise. But, at this point, no major sponsor has come forward.
It should be noted also that Maelstrom is the one ride in Epcot that has not had a major overhaul since its opening. Even Wonders of Life, which opened about the same time, has long since left the Epcot scene. As the news report suggested, Disney has been working on sponsors for years—long before Frozen—to improve the pavilion. But, to this date, there has been no GM or Siemens-type sponsor publicly stepping up to the plate, and willing to write a big check.
In short, while there may be some in Norway, and elsewhere, who would rather not see Frozen woven into the Norway experience at Epcot, no one is investing in updating Norway—except Disney. And, it goes without saying, that Disney definitely wants to play on the popularity of Frozen.
So Is Frozen Coming to Maelstrom?
My sources say that Maelstrom will include a Frozen presence. It has been green-lit, and it is in the development phase.
That said, my understanding is that the footprint of the attraction will be the same. That won't change. Props and Audio-Animatronics will change, but the boats and where they go will not change.
What Will It Look Like?
That has not yet been announced. It could be an entire re-telling of the Frozen story, with you ending up in Arendelle. But much more likely is that it will be a re-dressing of the ride, still allowing for a larger cultural component that focuses on Norway, and not just a Disney film. An example of this is the Norway pavilion's Stave Church exhibit. It has a Frozen overlay, but still offers insight and understanding into the culture, which, at the end of the day, is what World Showcase is all about.
Another comparison of how it might come together would be found at The Living Seas. Many people were skeptical about Nemo and Friends when it became an overlay to The Living Seas. But it has breathed new life into that pavilion and has been the means of introducing millions of people to one of the best aquariums in the country. Done right, I think Frozen stands the chance of doing that with the Norway pavilion. But again, Disney has yet to formally communicate that Frozen is going into Maelstrom, much less how it will be applied.
Frozen Isn't a Norway Story. Is it Really Appropriate for This Location?
Let's first talk about Maelstrom, which focuses the first part of the ride largely on Vikings. Vikings were Norse seafarers. Norseman means a person from the North, and refers to tribes that settled and sailed in not only southern and central Scandinavia, but in places as far away as England, Poland and Italy. So the entire theme of Vikings is really referring to the larger part of Scandinavia, and not to just Norway in particular. The same can be said of other Maelstrom components.
In the ride you can see trolls and splash past an oil derrick. But these same components can be found in other places like Finland and Denmark. There is little in the current ride that is exclusively Norway. The film, on the other hand, really focused on Norway. But, over time even Norwegans back home were embarrassed by the film, since many of the visuals seemed outdated.
Frozen is loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen story of the The Snow Queen. Andersen is not Norwegian. He was born and spent most of his life in Denmark, but he was inspired by Scandinavisim and Nordism, which were literary and political movements found throughout the Scandinavian and Nordic countries. I think it's important that the setting for when these tales were written, and the environment for when they occur in their literary setting, are not so dictated by the geographical boundaries so well defined today. In short, I wonder if the story doesn't still work in the setting it will be played in.
When Will it Open?
Clearly Disney doesn't want the surge of attention on Frozen to go too long before a permanent attraction finds a home. Michael Eisner was frustrated that it took so long in his era, so shows based on The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast were implemented, but attractions based on them took nearly 20-25 years to be built. I think Disney has learned from the Fantasyland expansion not to do just temporary attractions. But Bob Iger is not quite like Eisner in wanting things done yesterday, and thus just putting anything as long as it can be checked off. Work on the Avatar-inspired land at Disney's Animal Kingdom and the New Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom are such examples of how he is doing things right, rather than settling for quickly throwing something together. He has mentioned something similar with respect to Frozen being on Broadway: "We're not demanding speed…we're demanding excellence."
Several sources have disclosed that the ride could close in September and re-open in time for the holidays. Some have gone online and have even stated that in planning their vacations, they are unable to book a FastPass+ for Maelstrom during that period. But it still might not happen right at that time.
How Long Does It Take to Redo the Attraction?
Again, as I understand it from my sources, there are no plans to dramatically change the infrastructure. The ride's footprint will remain the same, as will the boats themselves. So it shouldn't be too long. Removing props and Audio-Animatronics and replacing them with other props and Audio-Animatronics does not take that long. That really is achievable in a few months' time—even from September to December.
What About the Theater? Will There Be a Movie?
Again, Disney hasn't made any announcements, but if they choose to do something other than use it as a theater, they will have to make changes to the sloping foundation of that room, and that could take more construction time. There are several possibilities. It could remain a theater. It could be absorbed into being an additional queue, or a "Scene 1" for those not holding a FastPass+. It could be a new meet-and-greet area. It could be more additional retail. Or it could be a combination of those things.
Could This Plan Change?
Absolutely. Projects further along have been delayed further and even cancelled. But it's a fair bet that within the next 12 months we will see Frozen in place of Maelstrom.
Curiously, nothing seems to have happened to the meet-and-greet area. At least at the time of this writing, it has not returned to being a retail space. That might play into the future still of what is being planned.
No one has spoken about Akershus. It's koldtbord, or "cold table" of traditional Norwegian meats, cheeses, salads and breads has been largely compromised in favor of young princesses wanting pizza and hot dogs. It seems that this could be really re-fitted into something much more of a celebration featuring Anna and Elsa. But again, I don't think the intent here is to make Norway into Arendelle.
What do you think?
Are you excited for what could happen here? Do you want Frozen to have a greater presence in Norway? If so, how would you like to see the ride presented? What do you think would make Norway and Frozen work well together?