Disney Imagineers are always up for a challenge. They’ve proven this since the early days, back when the idea of the Happiest Place on Earth was simply a thought bubble in Uncle Walt’s head. Today’s Imagineers face a challenge that the first generation of attraction architects couldn’t imagine, though. On occasion, 21st century Imagineers must rebuild and repurpose existing rides and building spaces to craft original concepts.
The most famous recent example of this resides at the space once used for Maelstrom in the Norway Pavilion. This wonderful attraction dutifully entertained guests for more than 25 years. Sadly, it had one design flaw it couldn’t overcome. It didn’t feature either Elsa or Anna, the royal princesses of fictitious Arendelle, a place eerily similar in look and tone to Norway. Once Frozen became a global box office sensation, Maelstrom’s fate was sealed, even though it had done nothing wrong.
In the wake of Disney’s announcement to close Maelstrom forever, fans of the ride commiserated as they expressed horror about the decision. Disney was killing an iconic part of Epcot’s World Showcase in favor of the flavor of the month, a decision they’ve since repeated with Guardians of the Galaxy. It was a business strategy, yes, but it also was a clever attempt to reinvigorate the World Showcase with a new attraction, something the company hadn't done since 2007 with the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros.
Frozen Ever After is a bold new usage of the same space at the Norway Pavilion. It’s also considered the first step toward reimagining the entire World Showcase for the 21st century. Let’s take this opportunity to go Behind the Ride to identify all the tricks of the trade Imagineers employed on their latest signature ride. WARNING: This article will include spoilers about ride elements.
The Experience: Preventing the Maelstrom
The Trick: Killing two elements of the old attraction
While the Frozen license guaranteed instant popularity for the new ride, the conversion process came with its own difficulties. The primary challenge with Frozen Ever After was overcoming its limited space. The Maelstrom land didn’t offer many good options for expansion.
The first step was choosing what could stay and what could go. A couple of hard calls were required. The first of them was to kill a unique element of Maelstrom. Cast members walled off the part of the ride that opened to the outdoors. This bit of construction prevented onlookers from getting a view of the boats from outside the attraction. It also turned Frozen Ever After into a literal dark ride, unlike the occasionally bright portion of Maelstrom.
Disney execs also quickly decided to toss out the post-Maelstrom movie, The Spirit of Norway. Functioning as a virtual time capsule by this point, the 1988 film was more than 25 years old and ridiculously dated. The celebration of pure Norwegian vocations such as sailing, fishing, and ski jumping (no, really) seemed like an Americanized perspective of the country akin to having an Australia Pavilion with a restaurant named Shrimp on the Barbie. Amazingly, the Norwegian government had input on every phase of this video, and that’s why it’s so cheesy that it circles back to fun. Even so, its removal barely caused a blip on the Disney fanatic radar. With the most Maelstrom-ish elements in mothballs, Imagineers could reboot the ride parts that remained.