Monday, October 30, 2017

Reawakening the Spirit of Norway, Part Two: The Challenges to Conquer Before The Maelstrom Can Return + Bonus Halloween Maelstrom Three-Headed Troll Jack-O-Lantern

"You are not the first to pass this way..."

(Jeff Krause on Flickr)

"Nor shall you be the last..."

Ever since Maelstrom, the hidden gem and signature attraction of the Norway pavilion at Epcot was closed and replaced with Frozen Ever After (an attraction that at best can claim but minuscule relevance with the real country whose pavilion it occupies), I have deeply missed the true spirit of Norway's presence in World Showcase. In the first part of my musings on Maelstrom, I shared my profoundly wonderful memories of my search for the spirit of Norway. Now, it is time to explore and conquer the problems that froze the Maelstrom over solid.

The Challenges to Conquer Before The Maelstrom Can Churn Again

(Sam Howzit on Flickr)
When it comes to extinct Disney attractions, there are three distinct camps of closed attractions. There are those attractions that were darn near perfect and should NEVER have been closed, such as the original Journey Into Imagination and Horizons. There are also those attractions that were flat out awful and had it coming (take Superstar Limo and Journey into YOUR Imagination for example). Finally, there's a broad group of attractions that each had a unique set of problems that factored into their closing but could've been easily resolved with a proper refurbishment. Maelstrom, a short, low-capacity ride with quirky transitions between the numerous aspects of Norwegian culture requested by sponsors, is most definitely part of this last group. No matter how nostalgic I may be for its Norwegian charm, it is important that I take steps to resolve the problems that plagued Maelstrom til its closing day before I can successfully plan to return it to the Norway pavilion. I shall individually address each of these problems and determine the best way to conquer them.

A Note About Frozen

This film was most definitely NOT my cup of hot cocoa.
It would be a mistake for me to completely ignore the role Frozen plays into Maelstrom's closing. Let's face it: an old, eccentric dark ride featuring trolls and oil rigs never stood a chance against the somewhat-related-to-Scandinavian-culture box office and marketing behemoth that is Frozen. What irks me is that not only was an entire country's unique history and culture eclipsed by a fictional kingdom from a Disney animated feature film, but that jamming a Frozen attraction into a cramped space not built for the massive crowds Frozen attracts denies Frozen fans an opportunity to experience a brand new, wonderful, and long Frozen attraction in Fantasyland. Although not a fan of Frozen by any means, I begrudgingly admit that a new Frozen ride, if Frozen proves its long-term staying power like all Disney classics have, would be a fantastic addition to Fantasyland beloved by many guests. So why did Disney choose the quick and easy way to build a Frozen attraction? Money can be the only answer, and a perfect explanation for why Disney executives said Frozen was a "perfect" fit for Norway when it was so painfully obvious it really wasn't (the recent closure of Universe of Energy for a Guardians of the Galaxy ride shows they don't really care anymore about whether an IP fits Epcot's theme in any way or not). After first having the Norwegian corporate sponsors sell their stake to them and then the Norwegian government not renewing their 5-year agreements to sponsor it at $200,000 a year, the only thing that was really stopping Disney from closing Maelstrom was the lack of a related lucrative IP that a new ride could be based on. Once Frozen came in, it was all over. But for my scenario, I imagine that the new Fantasyland attraction Frozen may deserve is announced, and with it the catalyst is provided for the grand return of Maelstrom.
First Impressions Matter, or How to Fix a Queue

(Special thanks to Jack Spence for permission to use his photos)

(Sam Howzit on Flickr)
(Elisfkc on Wikimedia Commons)

 One minor but important fact that needs to be contended with before the Maelstrom can start churning again is that its original queue was awful. I mean, REALLY awful. Bare wood-accented teal walls lined with Norwegian flags and a map of the ancient Viking world was the only theming (besides the mural) in an otherwise purely basic switchback queue. The massive mural above the loading area, filled with people and scenes from Norway's past and present, was a wonderful thing to admire and study before boarding a longboat, but sadly the only highlight of a queue that otherwise did nothing to impress and build up anticipation before the Maelstrom began. Now maybe such an underwhelming queue made the cool but short ride that followed afterwards more impressive by comparision. But the fact remains that a solid introduction to a ride via a queue, taken to incredible heights in the design of WDW's Pirates of the Caribbean and Space Mountain queues meant the simply themed queue line of Maelstrom left a lot to be desired. 

(Simo Rasenen on Wikimedia Commons)

 Luckily, there is a relatively easy solution. The original concept art for Maelstrom's load area presented a spectacular scenic backdrop. Imagine traveling through one of Norway's great forests, passing through majestic stands of ancient trees, and the mighty Scandinavian mountains towering above you in the distance as you board a Viking longboat. This was the original plan for Maelstrom's queue and load area, one which would make up for the short indoor line by offering an incredible backdrop that instantly transports you to Norway and hints at the grand adventure waiting for us once our boat sails into that mysterious cavern.

A Longer Search for the Spirit of Norway

Copyright Disney

In order to conquer the second challenge in reawakening the spirit of Norway, I must remember the spirit of the seafarer, who sailed across strange and perilous seas in the pursuit of exploration, conquest, and adventure. The original Maelstrom, though underrated and great it may have been, was an awfully short ride, clocking in at roughly 4 minutes. By comparison, the ride duration of Maelstrom was about half the time of WDW's Pirates of the Caribbean (ironically also half the time of Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean). The brief ride time may not have been as noticeable if the ride hadn't had so much ground to cover. The original concept for what would become Maelstrom was a fantasy ride through Norway's mythological world of trolls and fairies, as guests searched for a rainbow bridge to Valhalla. The Sherman Brothers were even writing a song for it. Unfortunately, the Norwegian corporate sponsors quickly rejected the proposal; they understandably did not want their entire country being represented by its myths and legends alone. They requested that the Imagineers incorporate several other things they wanted to see representing Norway in their pavilion's ride: Vikings, polar bears, a fjord, an oil rig, a fishing village, and a troll or two. This extensive checklist of Norwegian history and culture was a very tall order for a 4-minute ride, one that it ultimately struggled to fill. The lift hill took up nearly a quarter of the total ride time, an absurd proportion. Norway's fearsome Vikings and terrible trolls, infamous icons of the country, were given a combined total of four show scenes in a mite over a minute (from the end of the lift hill to passing the tree troll backwards shortly before the Far North), and the Arctic, fjords, North Sea with oil rigs, and modern fishing village had to be content with one scene each for the final two minutes of the ride. This acutely cramped journey through vastly different times and spaces of Norway used time travel effected by the great god Odin as a story crutch for an otherwise nonsensical travelogue of Norwegian history and culture. The original ride had such odd transitions between these scenes such as traveling backwards from a Norwegian swamp to the Arctic and then to a fjord, and dropping from said fjord (a long narrow inlet bordered by steep sides, cliffs, and/or mountains) directly into the middle of the North Sea. The unfortunate brevity of Maelstrom, combined with its undeniably quirky experience, led to two camps of opinion on the attraction; in the eyes of modern day Epcot guests, it was either a cool, underrated, semi-classic ride steeped with nostalgia, or a boring, laughably dated attraction that was overdue to be updated or replaced. This division of opinion sowed the seeds for the high controversy that surrounded its closure and replacement, with numerous guests offering passionate criticisms and defenses of Maelstrom. But no matter the view one had about Maestrom, it was clear that both it and its marginally longer replacement were/are plagued by a short ride time.

In the above picture, I have drawn to scale the original layout of Maelstrom, including more general locations of the original load, unload, and theater. Note the sizeable expansion space (also to scale and carefully designed within the currently under-utilized backstage space behind the Norway pavilion) that I have attached to the back side of the original building. In the third and final part of this series about Maelstrom on Haunted Serenade, I will fill in that expansion space with my fully fleshed out idea for what a new, improved version of Maelstrom could be like.*

*This is no longer the case. As well as concerns about the accuracy and feasibility of the expansion space as shown on my layout board above, I have come to the opinion that a major expansion of the showbuilding would fundamentally transform Maelstrom and cause it to lose some of the nostalgic charm it possessed. A full explanation of my reasons for not creating or using an expanded building are explained in the next and final part of this series.

The Spirit of Norway: Restoring a Neglected Film

(michaelg83 on Flickr)
"To know this land’s heart and soul—to discover its spirit."

With these humble but powerful words, the Spirit of Norway film began to reveal the final part of the true spirit of Norway to guests. When the film first debuted with the rest of the pavilion in the late 80s, it was faithfully modern - the latest fashions and technologies made cameos in the film - yet reflected the ancient, primal spirit of Norway as well. But as time passed, the vignettes of modern Norway, along with the technology used to present the film, began to age. More and more guests grew tired of being held inside the fishing village in Maelstrom's unload area, waiting for the next movie to begin. An increasing number of these guests began to walk straight through the doors of the theater, skipping the film entirely rather then spending the few minutes it took to see it. Eventually, the theater doors were permanently held open, a blessing for those many guests who would rather skip the film, but an irritation for those who still wanted to see the film. But if the "modern" sections of the film aged badly, the rest of it remained as fresh and inspiring as it had been in the late 80s, and in my opinion, it was an underrated gem of a film, sadly neglected in its lifespan more than any other film in World Showcase. I would return the film to the Norway pavilion as a complement to the Maelstrom attraction, and give it the update it badly needed. I would use the blueprint of the update of China's Circlevision 360 film, retaining much of the same narration and footage of the original film, but with a complete upgrade to the film and sound technology, and the addition of modern segments to the film to reflect the changes in Norway's culture since Michael Jackson's "Bad" era (yes, it was THAT long ago). At the same time, to address the failure of both holding guests within the fishing village and perpetually open theater doors, I would construct a bypass path that would allow guests who did not wish to see the film to skip it without waiting or distracting from the experience of the film. In this way, I would restore the last and critical part of Epcot's representation of the Spirit of Norway.


(Dennis D on Flickr)
I have sailed the stormy seas of the history of the Norway Pavilion at Epcot, searching for the problems that led to Maelstrom's closure, and attempting to virtually conquer the challenges in returning the attraction, and with it the true spirit of Norway, to World Showcase. I readily admit my doubts (and resulting frustration) that Frozen will ever release its icy grip from the Norway pavilion. But I've mentioned the only probable course I could think of for Anna and Elsa to go elsewhere, and allow the Maelstrom to churn again. I've also scoured the greatest problems the original Maelstrom had; its queue, the length of the ride, and the post-show theater, and tried my best to resolve them. In the third and last part of this series, I will implement the solutions I create, and present my grand return of Maelstrom, fully showing in detail my new version of the ride, a bigger and better search for the Spirit of Norway then ever before.

UPDATE (June 2018): In the several months between the publishing of this post and the next part of Reawakening the Spirit of Norway, much of the ideas presented here have either been altered or changed completely in the final post. Part Three of Reawakening the Spirit of Norway features a presentation of my ideal plan for the resurrection and improvement of Maelstrom, some of which is much different than the ideas I originally presented in this second installment. I hope you enjoy the plan I ultimately ended up going with in Part Three.

Don't Forget To Read the Previous and Next Installment of Reawakening the Spirit of Norway!

Part One: How I Was Drawn Into A Maelstrom -

Part Three: Revising and Presenting My Ideal Plan For Maelstrom's Return -

HALLOWEEN BONUS! My Maelstrom Three-Headed Troll Jack-O-Lantern (Happy Halloween 2017!)


All this writing about Maelstrom and Norway and trolls gave me the PERFECT idea for carving my immensely huge Jack-O-Lantern. I think the results speak for themselves. I was very impressed with how it turned out, and I hope you are as well! Happy Halloween Everyone!

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