I felt a strange, sinking feeling when I heard it. Evidently, Disney plans to replace the Maelstrom ride in Epcot's Norway pavilion with a Frozen attraction. It wasn't just a rumor. I don't know why, but, as a huge Disney theme park fan, the thought really bothered me somehow.
It's not necessarily because I was in love with the Maelstrom attraction to begin with - it does have a nostalgic charm for me, but it's a very short ride and looks its age. The problem is with the intended replacement.
As far as Frozen goes, I enjoyed the film, although I don't think it holds a candle to the Ashman/Menken masterpieces of my childhood - you know, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid. Speaking of which, have you ridden the new Little Mermaid dark ride in the Magic Kingdom? That's what I'm worried about Maelstrom getting changed into. The Little Mermaid ride is the very definition of theme park mediocrity.
It's technically called "Ariel's Undersea Adventure" but it might as well have been called "Ariel's Disconnected Undersea Static Musical Sequences." I remember stepping off that attraction and not being able to figure out what I was supposed to enjoy about it. I don't say that (merely) to be snarky - it was a legitimate question in my mind. There are plenty of rides I don't enjoy that I at least feel like I knew what the designer was going for. (For example, I'm supposed to be thrilled by spinning around really fast but mostly I get nauseated, etc.) But for the Little Mermaid attraction, I just felt like I was getting shown various dioramas of scenes presented squarely from the movie, as though I was just supposed to say, "Ah, remember that scene from the movie? Wasn't that great?" or maybe "LOOK! IT'S ARIEL!" The only exception was a brief sequence where the sinister eels are beckoning you into Ursula's lair - I actually liked the darkness and slightly threatening feel there. But otherwise, it was a surprisingly dull ride.
Other Disney dark ride attractions have more of an emotional connection to create - Snow White's Scary Adventures was supposed to be scary, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride was supposed to be zany and threatening, Peter Pan's Flight was supposed to be dreamlike and magical. Little Mermaid was supposed to be... what? An authentic 3D replica of isolated moments from the movie? It's one thing for an attraction to fail at its emotional goal, its quite another not to have one at all!
The Imagineers may surprise me when they renovate Maelstrom, but I highly doubt it. If they keep the layout of the existing boat ride, they won't have a lot to work with. Maelstrom is short. Disney promises us we will be "immersed" in the music from Frozen, but how's that exactly? Will we hear two seconds of Elsa singing "Let It Go" while our boat rushes past the place where the polar bears used to be? Of course, I could be underestimating them - maybe they'll figure out a way to make the ride a magical experience somehow. Maybe they'll figure out a way to lengthen the ride. Maybe they'll figure out a way to engage people in a way that isn't just "here's a few characters and songs from the movie." Maybe the attraction will actually be well-written.
I have to say, though, it appears that Disney is relying increasingly on the demand of five-year-olds to see a particular character as the central rationale behind their new attractions. Five-year-olds can certainly motivate their parents to ride through Little Mermaid, or The Seas with Nemo and Friends, or endless character meet-and-greets, but it's not the sort of thing that inspires whole families to actually want to come back. It's possibly lucrative but ultimately destructive.
So I've gotta plead with Disney - please make the new Frozen attraction something with a cross-generational, lasting appeal. Something that could even appeal to a person who's never seen the movie. Something that will still be awesome more than five years from now.