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

The Experience: Let It Go and other huge payoffs

The Trick: Master of synchronization and storytelling structure

One other element of the ride track required fundamental change. Maelstrom told an engaging story of Norwegian fables, including an ill-behaved troll. Frozen Ever After tells a story about the happily ever after that two sisters enjoy in the wake of the events of Frozen (and Frozen Fever). The way that Maelstrom was blocked, timing was important. Otherwise, riders would miss some of the corresponding audio. The way that Frozen Ever After works, timing is EVERYTHING.

As previously mentioned, Imagineers tell the Frozen story in blocks. Think of them as scenes akin to a movie. The introductory scene is especially thematic. A creature made of ice sings, “Do you want to build a snowman?” It sets the tone for a chilly trip through the mountains of Arendelle. Then, you meet trolls, but these are not the ones from Maelstrom. They’re kindly creatures who helped to raise Kristoff back in the day. Later, you get to watch Kristoff sing a duet with his beloved, Anna. Along the way, you meet a moose who has pulled a Flick from A Christmas Story. His tongue stretches helplessly against an icy pole. All of these scenes recreate popular moments from the movie in a more realistic way than ever before at a Disney theme park. Frozen Ever After is a (successful) attempt to place the rider in the movie for a few minutes.

The signature moment is exactly what you’d expect, too. Earlier in the ride, guests approach an ice castle, heightening the anticipation for the seminal moment. Once the vessel barges through the aforementioned palatial gates, they see Elsa for the first time. She immediately bursts into song. You know the one.

Even though “Let It Go” isn’t precisely the halfway point of the ride, it still feels like that’s the intent. The moments prior to “Let It Go” are an introduction to the beloved characters of Frozen. After Elsa, the boat sails backwards down an icy mountain river. The experience is almost as if Disney is letting the rider catch their breath after the dazzling rendition of the iconic song.

The scene with the performance of “Let It Go” is the highlight of Frozen Ever After. It’s probably also the pitch that sold Disney execs on the idea of rebooting Maelstrom. The musical recreation of this moment includes amazing staging. As the boat enters the area, Elsa dominates the point of view, but the room offers plenty more to enjoy. Adjoining projections on side walls emphasize the icy nature of Elsa’s castle. Fittingly, frozen fractals are all around as the ship approaches the stunning Snow Queen.

The audio ascends as Idina Menzel’s inimitable voice tears through the lyrics of the best Disney movie song of the 21st century (if not ever). This is Elsa’s moment, and Imagineers extended it as much as they could. The trip down the mountain includes images of ice, snowflakes, and Elsa. They’re little more than an excuse to extend the song as much as possible during a ride that’s exactly five minutes. And that brings us back to the timing.

Imagine how the showpiece of “Let It Go” would seem if the timing were inexact. Since Frozen Ever After features several musical performances, the boats have to “sail” to the correct spot at the right moment. There’s no give here like Imagineers had with Maelstrom. For this reason, the reason why Disney required almost two years to build Frozen Ever After is that they had to modify the tracks. Yes, they had the apparatus in place, but they had to update it so that the timing of each boat was precise to the microsecond. That’s also one of the main reasons why the attraction breaks down so often. Anything that significantly disrupts the timing of a Viking boat triggers a shutdown. It’s a small price to pay to enjoy the majesty of the center stage rendition of “Let It Go,” though.

Finally, here’s one miscellaneous note for you lovers of Maelstrom. Disney cast members felt a bit guilty about shuttering such a beloved ride. They felt it had nobly represented the great nation of Norway for many years and wanted to honor it. When they constructed the accompanying Arendelle Sommerhus, Imagineers removed the rune stones from Maelstrom and placed them at the entrance to the new area.

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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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