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Behind the Ride: How Frozen Ever After Forged Into The Future While Paying Homage to its Past

The Experience: Turning Maelstrom into Frozen Ever After

The Trick: Repurposing and altering existing track

The company used this additional space in unexpected ways. Frozen Ever After’s dimensions indicate that it has 964 feet of track, making it exactly the same length as Maelstrom. The placement of the track is different in some key locations, though. The loading section for Maelstrom is now where we see Olaf for the first time. Disney altered the previous unloading section so that it can handle loading duties as well. Changes like this seem trivial but are actually critical to the new version of the attraction.

Frozen Ever After features movie scenes. It’s actually blocked that way. By changing the loading area and adding some curved track where the Maelstrom version had nothing else, Olaf can sing “Do You Want to Build a Snowman,” setting the stage for the entirety of the attraction. Snow and ice are somewhat important to Elsa’s story.

Imagineers had to get creative with the space they had. Otherwise, Frozen Ever After would feel rushed and incomplete. When they repurposed the track, they maintained almost all of the paths. The additions are crucial to the overall experience, though. Similarly, Disney added a couple of show pieces to enhance the pageantry and highlight the grandiose parts of Frozen Ever After. Palatial gates part to reveal the two seminal moments: Let It Go and the reunion of the sisters in their happily ever after poses. These seem like small inclusions for casual observers, but they build a mood and a feeling of expectation/excitement for the rider. The new doors are a wonderful example of the little touches that differentiate Disney from its imitators.

The rest of the track is similar, as are the beloved high spots carried over from Maelstrom. The 28-foot drop is still at the end, and the boats still turn backwards at one point before righting the ship (literally) just before the end. What’s clever is that Disney leveraged these two moments to feature the biggest scene from Frozen, “Let It Go,” and the most adorable characters, the tiny snowmen from Frozen Fever. The physical changing of direction of the Norwegian vessel synchronizes with fantastic story elements. It’s another classic Disney touch.

The only flaw with using Maelstrom’s old track and most of its loading system is throughput. Maelstrom could service a thousand guests an hour, and that was plenty for a hidden gem in the back of the World Showcase. Like Gran Fiesta Tour, it rarely had long line queues. A guest could jump out of the hot sun and enjoy a Viking sailing excursion in minutes.

A ride with the Frozen theme is a different story. A thousand guests per hour for Frozen Ever After is substandard throughput. In combination with frequent malfunctions, the wait for this attraction is rarely less than an hour. Disney doesn’t expect that to change anytime soon, either. Ah well, what’s an hour’s wait to a guest when an epic rendition of Let It Go comes at the end?

The Experience: Recreating the characters of Frozen

The Trick: The best audio-animatronics to date

Quick, when’s the last time you remember Disney adding new Audio-Animatronics to a ride? You probably thought of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, but that’s kind of a cheat. Disney repurposed stuff they already had (a recurring theme in this article). They did this rather than building new Dwarfs from scratch. The reason is simple. It’s much cheaper to update what you’ve already got. The Dwarfs you see on that attraction ARE improved, but they’re not new.

Frozen Ever After can claim something special. The ride offers vastly superior Audio-Animatronics to any we’ve seen previously. The reason why is that technology has advanced dramatically since the last time Imagineers redefined the art of animatronics. They invented the craft in the 1950s and 1960s, but they’ve never stopped trying to perfect it. In the 21st century, the practice has received a boost from a long-awaited source.

Walt Disney himself dreamt of a world of functional robots. He even had a friend named Garco, a robot who cohosted the Disneyland television series during the 1950s. While talking machines were virtually non-existent during Uncle Walt’s time, they’ve quickly become a part of everyday life in the smartphone era. Humans query artificial intelligence programs named Siri, Cortana, and Alexa millions of times each day. Meanwhile, experts in the field of robotics have worked to build machines that can mimic humans almost exactly. Imagineers have dabbled with robotics for decades now, and Frozen Ever After represents the culmination of their research.

The Audio-Animatronics for the denizens of Arendelle combine two techniques at once. The realistic faces of Anna, Elsa, and the gang are a product of projection. Thanks to bitmap projection, Imagineers can replicate features from Disney films (or anything else) onto uneven surfaces such as Cinderella Castle or Arendelle’s royalty. The practice is the same. When you look at Olaf from any angle, his face will appear nearly identical to his CGI representation in Frozen. Thanks to this kind of asymmetrical CGI, audiences quickly buy into the premise that their Viking boat has transported them to the faraway land where Anna and Elsa are the benevolent rulers.

While you appreciate the faces, Disney moves the bodies thanks to state-of-the-art robotics. Frozen Ever After’s characters claim historically unprecedented movement abilities. The mechanical parts of the Audio-Animatronics have a flow that is almost perfectly realistic…or at least as realistic as there can be for a living snowman. When Anna and Elsa hold hands at the end of the ride, any sense of artificiality is absent from the proceedings. That’s in stark contrast to classic Audio-Animatronics from even just a few years ago such as Captain Jack Sparrow on Pirates of the Caribbean. At this moment, Frozen Ever After has the best Audio-Animatronics ever built. But that target is always moving at Disney theme parks.

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Despite what the detractors say and even though I miss Maelstrom as it was part of my childhood (I remember seeing the concept art and being frightened when I first rode it because the art showed pictures of your boat literally going over a waterfall), I believe that this ride is a worthy successor to Maelstrom. So more like Test Track replacing World of Motion vs. Journey Into YOUR Imagination replacing Journey Into Imagination. The animatronics really are amazing.

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