The Times They Are A-Changin'by Steve Russo, staff writer
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
- Off Kilter
- Spirit of America
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.
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.
Again, after this announcement, social media went ballistic. The most passionate objections seemed to fall into two camps:
- Removing Maelstrom destroys the culture upon which Epcot is built; and
- 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.
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.