The Times They Are A-Changin'

by Steve Russo, staff writer
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Gather 'round people, wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin' or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'

Bob Dylan wrote those words in the 1960s but they’re still appropriate—maybe more so today. In case you haven’t noticed, social media is abuzz regarding some recent changes announced at Walt Disney World. Some older things are a-going, some new things are a-coming and to quote Dylan, “the times they are a-changing."

Let’s face it—it doesn’t take much to get the Disney community worked up. It might be something as major as replacing a favorite attraction (e.g.- Horizons, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride) or something seemingly trivial such as the dessert served at ‘Ohana. We’re a passionate crew, but it seems to me the passion is sometimes misguided. There are many people that cry out for change in the parks, yet when change comes, they rail against it.

What, exactly, has Disney done? It began with the September announcement that, within the month, we’d be saying goodbye to four entertainment groups within Epcot’s World Showcase:

  • World Showcase Players
  • Mo'Rockin
  • Off Kilter
  • Spirit of America


Off Kilter performing. Photo by Steve Russo.

The replacement acts announced include:

  • Morocco – traditional Berber music and dancers;
  • Italy – a flag corps;
  • Canada – a lumberjack show;
  • United Kingdom – a Celtic folk music ensemble.

I’m sure everyone out there has their favorites, but if we look objectively at the acts being replaced, what do we learn? I’ve watched and listened to Mo’Rockin, Off Kilter, and the Spirit of America every time I’ve walked through World Showcase and they happened to be playing. I enjoy each of them, for obvious different reasons, but honestly… I don’t schedule my day around any of them. I’m likely in the minority because I like bagpipes—what Robin Williams once called “the most obnoxious musical instrument ever”—but I always felt Off Kilter was just OK. I’d stop and listen to a few songs, with a couple dozen other people, but it wasn’t as if they were bringing thousands into the park for their concerts. Not even hundreds really. Moreover, they had been playing at Epcot’s World Showcase for 17 years!

I really enjoyed the World Showcase Players. I even portrayed King Arthur once in a Holy Grail skit. If I was passing by and a show was on, I’d always stop because I enjoyed the humor. I would also stick around if Mo’Rockin was playing, mainly because of the belly dancer (hey, I’m being honest here). I’d also do the same for the Spirit of America because it would be distinctly unpatriotic not to stop and listen.


Mo'Rockin. Photo by Steve Russo.

I’m certainly not privy to their contracts but, in the case of Off Kilter, after 17 years, I’d have to believe there had been a number of annual increases that might place them on the expensive side for what they provided. Can we blame Disney for looking to bring in a replacement? Can the same be true for the other acts as well? As much as we sometimes hate to admit it, Disney is a business and good business practice indicates periodically reviewing the cost/benefit structure of any entertainment.

Regarding the acts that are coming in as replacement—I know, I know. It’s not exactly a list that inspires anyone to say, “Hoo, boy. We gotta plan a trip to see the lumberjacks.” I do think, however, that we need to give them a chance. I would have to believe that somewhere 17 years ago, someone said, “A Celtic rock group? In Canada? What are they thinking?”

I’ve said this before but it bears repeating—the Imagineers have earned my trust. Their record of accomplishment over a long period is solid so let’s give these new acts a chance before we condemn them. That said, if it turns out we have another Stitch’s Supersonic Celebration on our hands, I’ll be at the front of the mob carrying a torch and pitchfork.

All that leads me to the most recent change announced for World Showcase, and possibly the most divisive: the replacement of Norway’s Maelstrom attraction with one themed for the animated feature film Frozen. MousePlanet’s Tom Richards wrote about this change in a column titled “The Maelstrom Over Frozen” but I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer an opinion.


So long, Maelstrom. Photo by Steve Russo.

Again, after this announcement, social media went ballistic. The most passionate objections seemed to fall into two camps:

  1. Removing Maelstrom destroys the culture upon which Epcot is built; and
  2. We really don’t need any more Frozen stuff in the parks.

Let’s take them in sequence. First, I ask: was Maelstrom really that beloved? It was a cute little ride that we visited every couple of years. I know, early on, we rode it for my children because it was the only “thrill ride” in World Showcase. Later, I enjoyed the ride and I’m one of the few people that actually stayed for the film, but… has anyone’s vacation been ruined because they didn’t ride Maelstrom? Probably not.

You could argue that Maelstrom is part of the Epcot “culture” but I might argue that the culture won’t change with a new ride. It’s no secret that Frozen’s Arendelle is based on Norway, and again, I trust the Imagineers to maintain that connection.

I’ve actually seen some arguments that this deviates from Walt Disney’s vision of Epcot. To that I say, “Huh?” The Epcot we know has never represented Walt’s dream of a community where people lived and worked. That idea was scrapped in the 1970s as unworkable. Had Walt lived beyond 1966, would we have seen his dream realized? It’s impossible to say but I think the economic and real-world challenges might have forced him to alter his plans—at least somewhat. The “vision” of Epcot, if there is one, is an attempt to incorporate two things Walt Disney loved: the promise of the future and a World’s Fair. I don’t think that altering the Norway attraction violates either.


Frozen merchandise in Norway. Photo by Steve Russo.


More Frozen merchandise in Norway. Photo by Steve Russo.

Now, let’s talk about the amount of Frozen “stuff” in the parks. I’ve seen many people gagging on this announcement and having fun telling Disney to “Let it go." There have also been numerous comments that I could sum up with, “Enough already with the Frozen stuff.” For a minute, let’s go inside a Walt Disney World conference room and listen in:

Imagineer: “I’m proposing we reengineer the Maelstrom attraction to feature Arendelle and the Frozen characters.”

Manager: “Are you crazy? There are entirely too many Frozen references in the parks as it is. Sure, it’s the number one animated feature of all time, it’s broken box office and revenue records worldwide, folks are waiting hours for a meet and greet with Anna and Elsa and people keep clamoring for more but, c’mon, enough is enough. People are sick of Frozen.”

Imagineer: “But… if they’re clamoring for more, shouldn’t we give the people what they want?”

Manager: “Of course not. I know what they need and it’s more Stitch!”

OK, maybe that’s a bit far-fetched, but I think you get my point. When Disney fans are clamoring for more of a character or a film, Disney usually responds. Think back to the amount of Lion King in the parks… or Little Mermaid. Let’s not forget about the Pirates of the Caribbean films that spawned Pirate and Princess Parties after hours in the parks, pirate makeovers, pirate cruises, and some major changes to an old, beloved attraction in the Magic Kingdom. Did anyone gripe then about too much Johnny Depp in the parks? I think not. People wanted it and Disney responded.

It’s funny but I often read comments from people griping about the lack of change at Disney parks. “Why should I keep going back when very little is new or has changed?” I can’t help feeling these are the same folks that are the most vociferous whenever change occurs. Let’s remember a famous quote from Walt Disney himself:

“Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.”

I’m not always in favor of change but I realize it must happen. I’m not always as pleased with the new as I was with the old but I understand it’s necessary “as long as there is imagination left in the world.”

I’m absolutely certain that some will disagree with me here and that’s fine. I look forward to your comments and, as always, thanks for reading.

 

Comments

  1. By SimbaOne

    Not too long ago I'd probably be part of the pitchfork mob regarding this (I'm still part of the "fix the Yeti" and "update Space Mountain properly" mobs, however ) Now I stand by: "if it's done well, who cares what it's based on?" I didn't like the movie Cars, but I thought Cars Land was done beautifully and is completely detailed, fun, and immersive. I'm still skeptical of both the Frozen attraction and Avatar Land for that matter, but I'll at least give the Imagineers a shot.

  2. By disnut8

    Totally agree with you on this article. My husband and I even renewed our wedding vows in front of the Off Kilter stage (t was empty and between performances) because we liked the band so much. But, after 17 years, they were still enjoyable but we didn't camp out at their stage all day like we had in the past. I'll give all the new entertainment a shot because, like you said, I didn't like I'd like Off Kilter either.

    As far as Frozen, Disney does need to capitalize on such a success film - who wouldn't?

  3. By ralfrick

    For clarity I will mention that Imagineering has nothing to do with entertainment decisions. Whether the new acts are good or bad, Imagineers will get neither blame nor credit.

    A bientot

  4. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by ralfrick View Post
    For clarity I will mention that Imagineering has nothing to do with entertainment decisions. Whether the new acts are good or bad, Imagineers will get neither blame nor credit.

    A bientot

    Thank you for the clarification. I can see where I might have introduced confusion. I do assume Imagineering is involved with the conversion of the Maelstrom attraction, however.

  5. By jms1969

    I don't have any issues with replacement of the entertainment choices, and agree 100% with you when you say these changes don't really mean much to most WDW visitors. I also don't agree with those who try to make Maelstrom out to be a top-notch attraction that should never be replaced or changed. However, I do have a general issue with replacing Maelstrom with a Frozen ride in an area of the park that is absolutely begging for additional attractions. Why not build something new and special for Frozen, instead of forcing it into the general mold of an already existing attraction? Every vision I have for an improved World Showcase involves more attractions - not replacements of those that are already there.

    On a more general note, we are roughly annual visitors to WDW, and just returned from a trip this week. I can honestly say that, in roughly 20 years of visiting WDW, I have never seen so many construction walls at one time that will have a huge impact on the parks. The hub work at MK will totally change the look and feel of that park. AK had construction walls up everywhere, with work going on around the Tree of Life, in "AvatarLand", and in Asia for what we presume will be the water show. Hopefully, these additions will make it a legitimate all day park. DHS only had some small projects going on, but if you assume the rumored major projects there (Star Wars and/or Cars) will be starting soon, EPCOT is actually the park that is likely to change the least over the next five years or so at WDW.

  6. By jms1969

    Forgot to mention...we actually thought the Frozen merchandise and shows were fairly well done and appropriate given the movie's success. We visited the Trading Post and did the Frozen sing-a-long show, and thought both were nice additions to a otherwise very stale DHS. The sing-a-long show was quite enjoyable, but is obviously a temporary attraction that will almost certainly go away once "Frozen-mania" ends. The "snow room" at the Trading Post is something I could see staying long term - while we see way too much snow up north, it was amazing to see the reactions of some of the kids seeing "snow" for the first time and getting a chance to play in it a bit. While it's small scale, if that isn't Disney magic, I don't know what is.

  7. By Jimbo996

    Every vision I have for an improved World Showcase involves more attractions - not replacements of those that are already there.

    I would agree with this, but I think Maelstrom's changes are no different than what they did with other attractions. They have never kept an old attraction for long at Epcot. Almost every attraction is different than what it was originally. Many were outright demolish and rebuilt attractions. Maelstrom will be a mere overlay and a rather unambitious alteration as opposed to what they did with just about every other attraction.

    It is time for them to focus on adding more attractions to World Showcase as that area doesn't have much to do. It is a mere travelogue that no longer fulfills its orginal purpose since many countries and industries won't sponsor the pavilions.

    Every single park except for the Magic Kingdom has a low ride count. This weighs on Disney's ability to sell admissions to its parks with MyMagic+/Fastpass+. It is necessary to convert the many unpopular attractions in Epcot to be marquee attractions that get the attention of its quests. Instead of Soarin' and Test Track getting all the love, maybe Frozen plus other exciting attractions can take the pressure from guest demand.

    Another thing, there is so much unused space in World Showcase. Let's be clear, it is highly unlikely for Disney to add a new country pavilion unless Disney decides it wants to self-fund it based on its own corporate IP. So maybe Disney can consider additing marquee attractions to an existing pavilion using the empty lots. Perhaps the France pavilion can benefit from Disney adding its own Ratatoille attraction by using the space.

  8. By mkelm44

    To me replacing the musical attractions around the World Showcase is like changing the color of your light switches in your living room. You might notice the first time if someone points it out or if you're really familiar with the room. Otherwise it'll probably go unnoticed by 90% of people. Heck, in terms of the entertainment at the world showcase it probably should change frequently. There is more to these nations than just one musical act...

  9. By DisneyGator

    Good article. Especially the Stitch quote. Classic.

    I'm pretty much on board with all but one of the changes. I never watched Mo'Rockin. The music was always a little weird for this music lover, so I always kept walking. If it changes to something else that I just walk by, then it's even. I hate to lose Fife&Drum, and my kids like this, but I think the Flag thing over in Italy will bring something fresh and new and needed to that side of WS. I like Off Kilter music, but the music annoyed my wife so we honestly never stopped. There were a few times that I would sneak over while my family used the UK restrooms, but them going will not be a huge loss for the rest of my family. And Frozen coming to EPCOT?!?!?! That's huge for my girls. Shoot, I love the Norway pavillion, the ride, the gift shop smells and all that. But a Frozen attraction will be great.

    The one loss which boggles my mind is the loss of World Showcase Players. If there's anything distinctly British, it was this corny act. We DID schedule our day around seeing this troupe at least once each day at Epcot. To replace them with another music group (doesn't the UK already have a music group that I skip?) didn't make much sense to me. So they live on in our memories of what was the real UK entertainment. https://www.facebook.com/honorarywor...players?ref=hl Long live the King! Ah cha cha, that's me baby!

  10. By stan4d_steph

    Frozen isn't set in Norway. It's set in a mythical kingdom. I realize the visual look was based on Scandinavian culture, but it's still not Norway. It's a shame that the idea of a World Showcase highlighting actual countries, including their history and culture, is being abandoned in favor of catering to the lowest common denominator.

  11. By Jimbo996

    We really don’t need any more Frozen stuff in the parks.

    Actually we do. Comparably, Mickey Mouse and the gang are in all 4 parks. They haven't been in a movie or short for years. Toy Story has several attractions in various parks (Buzz Lightyear in MK, and Toy Story Mania in DHS). Nemo has shown up in many attractions. Has anyone complained?

    Having more Frozen serves a demographic that wants it. I wonder why those that don't like it can't ignore it.

  12. By davidgra

    I don't understand the complaints about Frozen "Removing Maelstrom destroys the culture upon which Epcot is built." There's already precedent for this; they replaced a "history of Mexico" attraction with one based on an animated film. It was done in exactly the same way, too -- taking an existing attraction and making some minor changes to the visual elements. How is the Frozen makeover of Maelstrom any worse? Why did we not hear people bemoaning the death of the World Showcase when Rio de Tiempo was changed?

  13. By stan4d_steph

    Quote Originally Posted by davidgra View Post
    I don't understand the complaints about Frozen "Removing Maelstrom destroys the culture upon which Epcot is built." There's already precedent for this; they replaced a "history of Mexico" attraction with one based on an animated film. It was done in exactly the same way, too -- taking an existing attraction and making some minor changes to the visual elements. How is the Frozen makeover of Maelstrom any worse? Why did we not hear people bemoaning the death of the World Showcase when Rio de Tiempo was changed?

    It's unclear what the Frozen ride will be, apart from a ride-through abbreviated version of the movie, similar to the Little Mermaid attraction.

    The changes to El Rio del Tiempo are mainly an overlay of the Three Caballeros onto the existing ride. The Mexican cultural piece is retained, with the addition of the animated characters. It seems highly unlikely that any part of the existing Maelstrom ride will be retained, including the beautiful mural, post-ride village tableau or the theater.

  14. By SimbaOne

    Have they even confirmed that it is going to be a ride? If so, can someone post a link? All I remember is them carefully saying "attraction".

  15. By ExDisneyTech

    Quote Originally Posted by ralfrick View Post
    For clarity I will mention that Imagineering has nothing to do with entertainment decisions. Whether the new acts are good or bad, Imagineers will get neither blame nor credit.

    A bientot

    Creative Entertainment, i.e. division that includes Talent Booking is a part of WDI and both are under WDP&R umbrella. They all co-mingle on decisions.

  16. By relaaxedwheniamthere

    off kilter was very popular just ask guest relations . fife & drum corp was America . question if it isn't broke don't fix it . whats next steve flag retreat at magic kingdom ?

  17. By spectromen

    What Maelstrom needed was an upgrade to Maelstrom - new figures a la Spaceship Earth, refreshed scenes, maybe a fancy projection here and there like they've been doing elsewhere.
    Yes, the average guest DOES want more Frozen; Epcot was not the place for it.

  18. By scoobydooby

    I like change. I shall be disappointed if the changes are worse than the original, but change is a good thing. How we repeat visitors would moan and groan of we saw no investment in the parks! The construction walls are ugly for sure, but they are also inevitable. You can't make stuff new and fun without that stage. It's like updating your home. You live through a mess before you get the reward. I'm looking forward to seeing some of the changes in summer next year. My only gripe really with WDW changes is that they are slow. Universal have proved this and then some.

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