The recent announcement that Disney California Adventure would no longer feature its beloved The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror shocked a lot of diehard supporters. The news that Disney would replace it with a themed Marvel attraction based on Guardians of the Galaxy added another level of intrigue. This wasn’t the first time that the company chose branding over legacy, though.
The Turning Point that eventually led to the demise of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror didn’t actually happen at Disneyland. Instead, it occurred at the second gate at Walt Disney World. It was there that Disney killed a beloved attraction that was both engaging and amiable. They did so in favor of a much more popular brand, thereby returning to their roots as an extension of Walt Disney Animation Studios. This is the story that explains why Disney permanently closed Maelstrom in favor of Frozen Ever After.
A boost to Norwegian tourism
No, I’m not speaking of Frozen. Let’s rewind to the early 1980s instead. In 1982, Epcot’s World Showcase debuted to glowing reviews. Critics loved the premise of a permanent World’s Fair site brimming with international flair. At the launch, nine countries participated, but park publicists promised that other pavilions would quickly follow.
The first of them was Morocco less than two years later. The second one and, in fact, the last addition to the World Showcase for reasons clear only to Disney execs, was Norway. In June of 1985, the Orlando Sentinel alerted the public to the existence of blueprints for what would become the 11th pavilion. The country of Norway believed in the project so much that they footed the bill for a key portion of construction.
Their parliament directed $10 million to the Norway Pavilion. It was their expectation that having a permanent presence at the Most Magical Place on Earth would boost American awareness of their country. They expected an influx of American tourists soon after the pavilion’s debut, and they further projected that this stream of visitors would continue throughout the lifetime of the building.
Whether those expectations were too ambitious is up for debate. What’s inarguable is that Norway and Disney did everything they could to stack the deck. Norwegian businesses lined up for the opportunity to participate in this exciting venture.
“A powerful whirlpool in the sea or a river”
The above is the literal definition of a maelstrom. The Epcot ride based on the premise wasn’t quite as exciting, but it encapsulated several notable aspects of Norwegian culture. The most famous of them is the mythos of Viking lore. Scandinavians celebrate the fables of Odin, Thor, and Ragnarok. The subject matter is fertile for ride development, and even though the World Showcase itself prioritizes accurate reflections of foreign cultures, the attractions built there display a bit of whimsy.
The first of them was El Rio del Tiempo, which laid the groundwork for the current iteration, Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros. The original Mexico Pavilion water ride was the first of its kind at the World Showcase. A few years prior to the Mexican boat trip, Disney offered different World Showcase attractions with their Circle-Vision 360° movies of Canada, France and China. All of them share the same weakness. They’re glorified travelogues with a tourist sales pitch.
In an odd decision, the Norway Pavilion’s new attraction would combine those themes. Maelstrom would offer a journey into the supernatural figures of Norse mythology. Guests would steel themselves for a journey down the path once trekked by actual Vikings. They’d face legendary creatures such as Dökkálfar and Ljósálfar, the Dark Elf and Light Elf.
After the ride was over, guests would have a chance to watch a movie about the actual history of Norway, which involved fewer trolls than the preceding boat ride. The watery splashdown that signified the ending of Maelstrom seemed incongruous with the accompanying documentary about the customs of Norway entitled The Spirit of Norway. It was largely a celebration of their winter sports options, which couldn’t have less to do with Ragnarok unless there’s a heretofore unpublished version of the Norse Bible. World Showcase fans enjoyed the process anyway.