Time for another PPF feature – Past, Present, Future.
Today, I’m looking at “Frozen” in the Disney Parks, for one very big reason – Maelstrom, a popular boat ride at the Norway Pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase, will close forever on October 6, and construction will begin soon thereafter to re-theme it as a Frozen attraction. The news was made official by Disney yesterday (Sept 12, 2014).
The news has certainly been divisive. While most absolutely agree that Disney needs to get Frozen into the theme parks, it seems that the general consensus is that Epcot, particularly World Showcase, is not the right place in which to shoehorn Frozen. My thought is that World Showcase – the spirit of it, anyway – is supposed to be geared towards education and displaying the non-fictional stories of that country – the culture, the people, etc. In the past, Disney has certainly gone both ways on the fictionalizing of World Showcase pavilions. While Mexico is home to the Three Caballeros boat ride, those characters make up a minor part of an attraction with generally low attendance (it should also be noted that this is the one pavilion in World Showcase that Disney does not operate). In the past, Disney has given the red light to a Mary Poppins attraction in the UK pavilion and to an Aladdin attraction in Morocco – in the case of the latter, it granted character meet-and-greets, but it deliberately refused to insert Agrabah into Morocco, because Agrabah is a fictional land. Well, the requirement for a permanent Frozen fixture in the parks won out over the wish to fictionalize World Showcase.
Of course, there is a cynical reason for this belief – money. While Epcot is the second-highest attended park in Walt Disney World, it’s possible that this might change over the next three years. Large scale refurbishments to Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Star Wars Land) and Disney’s Animal Kingdom (Avatar/Pandora) to be completed by 2017 may well mean that Epcot could drop precipitously in terms of attendance within the WDW resort, and Disney executives are well aware of the vast improvements being made at Universal Studios (Harry Potter Diagon Alley, new King Kong attraction, new Jurassic Park attractions, potential addition of either Batman/Gotham and Lord of the Rings). Essentially, they need to inject fresh life into a theme park that aside from popular mainstays like Soarin’, Test Track and Spaceship Earth, boasts little else, especially attractions that may interest kids. While Nemo and Friends and Mission Space have their fans among kids, there is admittedly little for them to flock to at Epcot. Attractions like Living with the Land, Captain EO (what kids knows Michael Jackson these days?) and Ellen’s Energy Adventure aren’t enough. But, tell kids that Frozen exists at Epcot? It’ll rival Magic Kingdom for dibs on first-park-visited. Frozen will be the hardest FastPass+ reservation to secure. A gift shop dedicated to Frozen would make money hand-over-fist. It might be cynical, but it’s business.
The past and present of Frozen at the theme parks is roughly the same, as it has only been a few months that Anna and Elsa have graced the theme parks. Their meet-and-greet began at the Norway pavilion at Epcot, but it became apparent that Norway wasn’t big enough to hold it. Anna and Elsa were moved to Princess Fairy-tale Hall at New Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom, and it’s currently the most difficult FP+ reservation to attain – you need to book it 60 days out, no question. When they first arrived in Fantasyland, queues of five hours were reported, and Cast Members had to form a human wall and walk people down Main Street USA slowly in order to control the rope-drop crowds that entered the park and began sprinting and stampeding to be first in line. It’s been a success, in other words. Anna and Elsa could also be seen in the new Festival of Fantasy Parade at Magic Kingdom.
In the summer of 2014, Frozen’s presence was expanded, this time at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: a Sing-Along with Anna, Elsa and other characters, as well as a parade culminating at the Sorcerer Hat. There was also a special merchandise area called Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post, as well as a fun-zone called Oaken’s Frozen Funland, where you could ice-skate and build a snowman.
This year will also mark the first year that Anna and Elsa will be part of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas celebrations, where Cinderella Castle will freeze over, courtesy of Elsa.
We know the immediate future of Frozen, thanks to all the news yesterday – an attraction at Norway, and the “summer” festivities being extended to the end of the year, including the sing-along (I got my FP+ for it!) But, what else might go into theme parks?
First of all, will changing Maelstrom to become a Frozen attraction be the only part of Norway that goes away in favour of Frozen? It’s generally accepted that Arendelle, fictional as it may be, exists in Norway and that the story takes place in the late 18th century (additionally, Arendelle was inspired by real locales in Norway). This may very well provide Disney with the impetus to re-theme other parts of Norway to fit in with Frozen, like changing the wonderful gift shop into a Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post. Askershus, the popular character restaurant, could very easily become more Frozen-centric as well.
Let’s assume that time and budget are not obstacles here, even though they are. With the Hollywood Studios reimagine, as well as the ongoing construction on Pandora (the projects will likely run in the $1.5-2.0 billion range combined), and the next three years earmarked to the two projects, I can’t believe that Disney has the appetite to go after another major construction project, but I’m going to go ahead and dream big anyway.
Let’s go to Hollywood Studios first. Currently, the Streets of America section of the park, nestled between Pixar Place and Muppet Land, contains two relatively unpopular attractions – the Studio Backlot Tour and the Lights Motor Action Extreme Stunt Show. Here’s the deal – Disney has no intention to rip apart Streets of America. During November and December, during the Osborne Family Lights Christmas lights display, Disney makes money hand-over-fist from all of the guests that pack into this back corner of the park. Those two months of extreme profit mean that nuking this corner of the park to do a complete overhaul is generally out of the question – but, what if it was overhauled to accommodate Frozen, it being a “winter” theme and all? You could easily transform the Streets of America into Arendelle, complete with the Castle. Further out, where the Backlot Tour currently runs, they could build Elsa’s Ice Palace, with forest in between (with a giant Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post there). You can have an attraction at the Ice Palace, involving Marshmallow, and it could run the gamut from either big roller coaster to something smaller like a 4D attraction. They can install some some B-ticket attractions as well, like a spinner or small coaster for kids (perhaps one that duplicates Anna and Elsa’s playtime as children where Anna is initially injured), and permanently install Oaken’s Frozen Funland within Arendelle. The unique thing about this set-up would be the ability to then flow seamlessly into Christmas/Osborne Lights, since Arendelle will already have the winter treatment (think Hogsmeade Village at Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure). A project such as this, in this location, may also spell the end of Muppet Vision 3D, which I can’t foresee given that the Muppets are amazing, and Disney loves that they own that property. This construction could squeeze it out though, meaning that either the Muppets find a new home, or Frozen doesn’t fit in here.
The main obstacle to this happening at DHS is that construction would have to begin in 2017 or later, because there’s no way they could put everything except Sunset Boulevard behind construction walls for 3 years. Also, a move like this would pretty much mean Cars Land would never arrive at the Studios, though having Arendelle as a Florida exclusive and Cars as a California exclusive could very well be deemed acceptable by Disney.
Now let’s take that exact same idea from DHS but move it over to Magic Kingdom. My belief, ultimately, is that if given the choice, Frozen would go into Magic Kingdom because it will be considered a classic or legacy property, in the same boat as Snow White, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast. Tucked in between Frontierland and Liberty Square is the Liberty Square River and Tom Sawyer Island. Without filling in the river, you could easily establish Arendelle on the southern island and the Ice Palace and Forest on the northern island, while expanding the land crossing in between to accommodate guest traffic. Retheming the Liberty Square Riverboat to be some kind of Frozen boat tour could also be an option. This could of course destroy the illusion that Disney has built at Magic Kingdom, where the themed lands are generally separate. However, the space exists at MK to accommodate Frozen. Disney World, as always, I will accept lifetime passes and deluxe resort suites as payment for these ideas :)
Ultimately, my thought is that Frozen’s addition to the Disney World theme parks will not end with one boat-ride overlay at World Showcase. There have to more attractions coming – I believe an entire “land” is best – and I believe Hollywood Studios or Magic Kingdom would be perfect to house it. What do you think?