Monday, September 22, 2014

Maelstrom to be Re-branded as Frozen Attraction

Hey guys, I know it's been over three months since my last post but... school. And I know I dropped the ball on the whole Disney World thing but I'll probably get back to that when I can. My Disney World trip was a ton of fun and it was full of lots of interesting stories. But that can wait.

It's been rumored for a while--and finally confirmed--that Maelstrom, the Epcot Norway Pavilion's ride, is closing. It will make its final journey on October 5th, 2014. That's less than two weeks away, which means I'll never get to ride Maelstrom again. To say I'm disappointed would be an understatement. This ride is genius, and could easily be one of the longest-standing rides in all of Epcot. It has the imagination, the thrill, and the timelessness that most post-Walt rides fail to capture all at once. But this is Disney, and that means that we must make way for the new. Rides come and go, and our favorites are no exception.

The problem lies in what is to replace this glorious Norse adventure: a Frozen ride.

Now, if you haven't seen Frozen--just kidding, everybody saw Frozen. It is possibly the most significant animated musical since The Lion King. This movie is a phenomenon, a cultural staple, and it only makes sense that they make a permanent attraction out of it. DCA's The Little Mermaid ride (Ariel's Undersea Adventure) is one of my favorites in the park, and if they are able to achieve that level of storytelling, effects, and robotics with the new Frozen ride, then I can't wait for it.

However, I, like many other Disney fans, protest this change. It's an obvious cash grab, sure, but I'm not here to argue about Disney's ethical standards. The World Showcase is a tribute to the world, diversity, culture. And what could be a more pathetic, insulting way to pay homage to Norway than to present a 2013 animated movie as Norwegian culture? Maelstrom is educative, it's a construction of Norse mythology that gives children and other guests insight to medieval Norwegian folklore. Frozen is not Norwegian, and very loosely borrows aspects of their culture: namely Scandinavian names and settings. The story isn't even Norwegian, it's written by Hans Christian Andersen, who is from Denmark. In other words, they could have put a Little Mermaid ride in place of Maelstrom and it would make almost as much sense. The connection is a real stretch, and this setting is just massively inappropriate to use as the foundation for a Frozen ride.

You might think I'm a Frozen-hater because I stand so vehemently against this attraction. But that's not the case at all. I saw this movie twice in theaters, once at Disneyland and the other at an early screening before even you saw it. I was aboard the Frozen hype train before it even took off. I even have an Olaf doll in my dorm room.

"I like warm hugs!"
Is Frozen the greatest achievement in animation history? No, quite far from it. Is it a little overrated? Perhaps. But there's no denying that Frozen is a monumental franchise that will be remembered for ages. To expect Disney not to make a Frozen ride would be unthinkable. So I don't blame them in that department.

There are so many locations where they could have made this ride. It could have been in the empty lot that was once the Wonders of Life pavilion. It could have replaced another ride like Imagination (don't get me wrong, I love that ride too). It could have even been put in Hollywood Studios, they sure could use another ride or two. The obvious choice of course, would have been to build the ride somewhere in the Magic Kingdom.

The real reason why they chose the Norwegian Pavilion as the site for the Frozen ride is that they thought Frozen was vaguely "Scandinavian" enough that it could represent Norway. The minimal elements that could justify the existence of this ride in Epcot seemed to be enough for Disney to just go ahead with it. They figure that kids won't really know or care that this ride has almost nothing to do with Norway, a real place. That's the mistake they're making. They're trying to force the Disney label onto everything, including real countries, to somehow instill that Disney is this multicultural brand that represents everyone in the world. Take a look at the recent additions to It's a Small World in Disneyland. They've pointlessly added Disney characters to every country, that stand out and almost assault you with the Disney brand. They remind you that while yes, you are riding Mary Blair's beloved project and Walt Disney's gift to her, you're still at Disneyland. They were clearly reaching for the bottom of the barrel too, as the characters range from Lilo and Stitch to the Three Caballeros. How consistent.

Speaking of the Three Caballeros, they recently appeared in another Epcot World Showcase ride: The Gran Fiesta Tour.

This isn't as much of a problem, but it still doesn't really make sense. I don't completely object to having the Caballeros on that ride because it does fall in line with the spirit of the actual film. The movie is basically a tour of Central and South America hosted by the three birds, so why not allow them to appear in the Gran Fiesta Tour? The ride is still themed after Mexico, a real destination and culture unlike Frozen, and it wasn't re-branded as a Donald Duck ride. So I'll give it a pass.

The only problem I have with it is that only one of the characters is Mexican: Panchito. Donald Duck is American and Jose Carioca is Brazillian. Heck, Carioca literally means "from Rio" in Portuguese. So again, they sort of generalized the cultures on hand to fit the theme. It's not a crime, and it's not racist, but it's not entirely necessary either.

So all in all, I'm a little outraged that they're taking this direction with Maelstrom. I love Disney, I love Disney Parks, I love Disney movies, but there's a way that these things should be handled. Trying to incorporate every medium of Disney entertainment and intertwine them into every situation feels so conceited and forced, it just makes Disney World feel a little less special. Imagine if every pavilion was Disney-themed. A Mulan theme in China, a Beauty and the Beast theme in France, uhhh... a Brother Bear theme in Canada? It wouldn't work. If everything was Disney-themed, it wouldn't be a World Pavilion, it would just be Disney World. So no, I don't object to there being a Frozen ride. I object to the current executives tainting the very moral that this park was built on--that Disney isn't all about its movies and characters. It's also about being a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.

End rant.