If there is one thing the internet has taught me this past week, it’s that celebrities sure do like taking naked selfies. A close second lesson is that Disney theme park fans sure are passionate about the attractions and ideals they hold near and dear to their hearts. With the recent official announcement from the Disney Parks Blog that Maelstrom at Epcot will be closing on October 5, 2014, many fans are in a frenzy.
Most likely, with what the replacement will be, a “Frozen” themed attraction which is slated to open in early 2016. If you’re looking for what my personal thoughts are on the matter, you’re in the wrong place. However, after asking for feedback on Facebook on what my reader’s thoughts are, I got a smattering of answers. Many of which I will address here, but first, a little history.
When World Showcase was being conceived for EPCOT Center, the idea was to find countries that would sponsor their own pavilion and pay for most, if not all, of the construction cost and even the cost to operate it. Here is an excerpt from the 1975 Walt Disney Company Annual Shareholder Report to give you an idea of how they envisioned it:
“Each participating nation will be asked to provide the capital to cover the cost of designing, developing and constructing its attraction and/or ride and all exhibits, as well as the Pavilion itself. It will also have the responsibility for funding the housing for its employees in the International Village. Its land lease will cover the cost of maintaining the attraction for a minimum of ten years.
The Disney organization will be responsible for area development, including the construction of transportation systems and utilities. We will also build and operate the internal people moving system, the Courtyard of Nations and central theater facility.”
World Showcase eventually grew into the entire second half of the park instead of just a large building. That entire country sponsorship deal where they basically pay for everything and Disney just takes care of utilities didn’t work out as planned. Ultimately, they couldn’t find any governments willing to plunk that kind of dough for a ten-year deal, even if it would potentially grow their tourist base.
Instead, they turned to corporations (a similar strategy that was used in Future World) to foot the bill for many of the pavilions in World Showcase. Coca Cola, American Express, Mitsukoshi, Goebel and San Angel Inn are amongst many of the sponsors that helped put down payments on pavilions with their own sponsorships.
In 1988 when the Norway pavilion opened, 11 companies chipped in a total of $33 million, including money from the Norwegian government. Even though the sponsorship wasn’t entirely government-funded, they did have a say in how they were represented, mostly through the film at the end of Maelstrom.
Now with a little history under your belt, here are some of the top responses I have read to Frozen taking over the Maelstrom ride in 2016.
#1 I can hear Walt rolling over in his grave!!
First off, Walt was cremated, even though he has a gravesite at Forest Lawn cemetery just a few miles down the road from the Disney Studios in Burbank. I suppose the phrase, “I can hear Walt’s remains swirling around like a tornado in the urn” doesn’t have that same zing, but I digress.
Walt’s vision of Epcot was never fully realized at all. Without him at the helm, it was difficult to sell this idea of a city where people would live as well as visit never happened. That ship sailed right around 1974 when the Disney Company abandoned the idea to build “Epcot: The City” and decided to build “Epcot: The Theme Park.” Sure, you can argue that the park kept that same “spirit” when it opened, but to say that what opened in 1982 is what Walt wanted isn’t remotely true.
Ever since Disney officially dropped the “Center” part of EPCOT Center, that whole Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow thing was quietly shelved with it back in the mid ‘90s. According to Disney, Epcot is now simply a word to describe its second theme park in Orlando and it stands for… well… nothing. It’s no longer an acronym. Which brings me to…
#2 Characters shouldn’t be taking over World Showcase!
Before Michael Eisner took the reigns as CEO, Dreamfinder and Figment were the only two Disney characters guests could see in the park. After Eisner realized they were missing an opportunity, slowly Mickey and the gang also started making appearances in snazzy Future World costumes.
As time marched on, guest demand for characters continues to get stronger. World Showcase became a place where you can meet Belle and the Beast in France, Snow White in Germany and Aladdin and Jasmine in Morocco. While Belle’s origin is French and Snow is certainly German, Aladdin is from Agrabah… which is frankly, nowhere. Sure, it’s only a meet and greet and not a full blown attraction. Still… for some reason, this sparked very little outrage.
Princess Storybook Dining took over Akershus nearly 15 years ago in the Norway pavilion. By far, Akershus had the hardest time filling seats out of any restaurant in Epcot due to the food being a little too out there for many Americans, especially children. Low and behold when Princesses (none of which have ties to Norway in the slightest) show up, every seat is filled often weeks in advance. Where was the cry for false authenticity then? Clearly business demand trumped trying to convince that cold fish items on a buffet are worth trying.
#3 “The lines for Maelstrom are long, so why replace a popular attraction?”
Indeed, it’s a rare day when seats on a viking boat go empty on the ride. However, is this due to the ride’s popularity or to fill a void? Considering there are only two rides in World Showcase and Maelstrom has the “drop,” it makes sense why guests are willing to queue up for about an hour during the busy seasons and FastPasses often are snatched up early on during the day.
However, how many people book a trip to Walt Disney World just to experience Maelstrom? Is it really a driver to get people to visit the Vacation Kingdom anymore… or is it an added bonus? Now consider how many families would book an entire vacation around not only getting to meet Anna and Elsa, but being able to go on the world’s (currently) only Frozen-themed ride. It just makes sense doesn’t it?
#4 “A Frozen ride doesn’t belong in World Showcase, it belongs at Disney’s Hollywood Studios or Magic Kingdom!”
Perhaps this is the strongest argument of all, as the movie doesn’t take place in actual Norway, but a fictional town that is inspired by the country at best. However, the theming that already exists in the Norway pavilion does already lend itself to an Arendelle theme.
While Disney hasn’t officially confirmed that the boat ride is staying or an entirely new ride system is being built… It’s safe to assume that they will use what is already in place.
Building on virgin land or gutting an entire building for a new attraction is expensive. Theme parks, including Disney, always have budgetary concerns. I know many many, many people think Disney can just spend millions and the more money they spend, the better the ride and the more people will come and spend their money, right? Not exactly.
At some point, budgets have to be compromised and in today’s way of doing finance, numbers crunched. No matter what you think, people will still come to a Frozen ride if it’s in World Showcase, Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios. It will be no less popular. There is no need to spend the extra dough on an attraction that will get the same return on investment (ROI) as if it were built from scratch if a ride system already exists that doesn’t need to be designed and constructed. And that’s the reality.
Another thing to keep in mind, the sweeping success of Frozen took everyone in the industry by surprise, including Disney. No one knew that the film would make over $1 billion in ticket sales and become the top animated film of all time. Also, every park in the United States has a budget. That budget accounts for this year, five years and in some cases ten years down the line.
Because of the runaway success of Frozen, there was no money budgeted for this new attraction at all, much less building one from scratch. In this case, a lot of meetings and a lot of approvals of many departments have to buy off on it. Essentially, for a project like this, you have to find and justify the money. Sometimes budgets for other improvements and new offerings get slashed or cut completely.
Other times, the bigger umbrella of the Walt Disney Company gives Walt Disney World extra capital out of the sky as long as they can justify that ROI. While it may sound like a slam dunk to you sitting at home in your easy chair, spending millions to make millions isn’t a decision that’s made lightly. These things take time (often too much time) to get the final green light.
What it boils down to is: Will the new Frozen ride make enough money for Walt Disney World to justify the cost? Clearly, the executives think that answer is yes. Sure, a pavilion (while still retaining the name Norway) will have the majority of its real estate dedicated to a popular film that has very little to do with the culture, history or heritage of the country.
However, neither do any of the princesses who take dozens of photographs in the Princess Storybook Dining. You have every right to feel passionate about Disney or the decision. Just understand that blurring the lines between culture and characters has been going on for years now and this is the latest evolution of that concept. Your thoughts?