Thursday, July 6, 2017

Reawakening The Spirit of Norway, Part One: How I Was Drawn Into a Maelstrom

"You are not the first to pass this way... nor shall you be the last..."

(Jeff Krause on Flickr)

When Maelstrom was closed and gutted to make way for Frozen Ever After, I took the above words of Odin to heart. I do not believe that the last guests to ride Maelstrom before it closed shall be the last to find the spirit of Norway. The attraction that held that spirit may be gone, but I believe Norway's spirit still haunts its former home, waiting for the day when Odin's eye will pierce through the darkness again. In honor of the anniversary of when Maelstrom first opened so many years ago, I will share the reasons why the spirit of Norway has so captivated me.

How I Found the Spirit of Norway


"We have always lived with the sea, so look first to the spirit of the seafarer..."


(Mark & Paul Luukkonen on Flickr)


Vikings were definitely a significant part of the spirit of Norway. Coming to the top of that lift and seeing the viking village illuminated in flame always brought a rush of excitement. But this scene with a seafarer blowing a strange and wild call on his horn, with longboats in a dark and mysterious ocean in the distance, gave me chills. The flash in this picture may hide how incredible it looked in the dark, but this scene captured in an indescribable but certain way a primal and ancient Norway.


 "There are those who see Norway’s spirit veiled in a land of forests and mystery—where trolls still prowl the water’s edge."


Copyright Disney


"What’s this? How dare you come here?!" "Invaders!" "Stop! This is troll country!" "Look away—be gone!" "I’ll cast a spell." "Yes! Yes!" "You’ll disappear." "Disappear! Disappear!" "Back! Back! Over the falls!"


 Long before an expedition on a forbidden mountain sent guests hurtling backwards into the darkness of a sacred yeti's lair, there was the spell cast by a three headed troll, sending guests back over the falls. So too did the murky swamps of troll country cast a spell, hiding a river troll and the unknown reaches of the forest in a tangle of snags, plants, and rocks. It seemed as though you were far away from Orlando, Florida, sailing through a distant land of forests and mystery, your fate uncertain. 


"Before recorded time, Norway’s spirit roamed the seas of the far north and beyond."

(tonykliemann on Flickr)
(Tom Simpson on Flickr)

This is the part of the spirit of Norway that I wish I could have spent more time in. A journey to the "Far North and Beyond" where Norway's spirit roamed could have been one of the most incredible parts of Maelstrom. I wish the same could be said for the not enough but still neat glimpses of puffins and polar bears (that one rearing up was never as thrilling as the publicity picture above made it out to be). The harsh, icy landscape lit by a cold sun, however, was very cool.

"Today, Norway’s spirit still thunders in her great fjords!"

(Brett Kiger on Flickr)

(Sam Howzit on Flickr)

The great fjords and the forest upon them were a spectacular sight to see, a living embodiment of that wild yet majestic spirit of Norway. This was by far the most thrilling part of the ride; the boats continued to drift backwards, coming within what seemed to be a whisker's length from a horrible tumble over the waterfall that lay outside the ride. It was up to a grotesque and fierce-looking rock troll angered by our presence to decide our fate. In this incredible scene, we not only got to see the beauty and charm of Norway, but also at last face the peril and adventure Odin foretold would be found in our search for the spirit of Norway.

"Hmm, what’s this? You! How dare you come this way! Down to the North Sea with you!"

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

The dark and stormy North Sea was a triumph of projected clouds, thunder, and lightning. The feeling of isolation on a cold and dangerous sea as oil rigs towered like mammoths above the wake was masterfully engendered. The endless motion of the sea, the perpetual flames of oil rigs in the distance, and the din of a thundering storm all made for a tempestuous ocean, the closest the attraction called Maelstrom ever got to its name.

"Norway’s spirit has always been—will always be—adventure!"

(Jeremy Thompson on Flickr)
(Mark & Paul Luukkonen on Flickr)

(Loren Javier on Flickr)

The Norwegian fishing village was one of the most underrated and brilliant places in Epcot. All of the intricate details, from the authentic buildings themselves to the sponsors' names on the store signs to the conversation in Norwegian that could be heard from one of the homes, made this an immersive achievement on the level of Pirates of the Caribbean or Space Mountain's queues at the nearby Magic Kingdom. My personal favorite detail was the small sailing boat that rested in the harbor, ready to sail the waters of Norway and beyond. Much of the "modern" yet familiar spirit of Norway was captured here.

"Our spirit—it lives in our people."

(michaelg83 on Flickr)

I wish I could say that I sat in one of these seats and got to enjoy the marvelous "Spirit of Norway" film many times. Unfortunately, as far as I can remember, me and the rest of my family usually rushed towards the other side of the theater to skip it, and the one time I do recall us seeing it, we had to deal with my severely autistic brother screaming himself sore when the film got loud. I am very grateful for videos of it on Youtube. Though somewhat dated by the end of its run, this film makes the best possible case for how Norway's spirit can be found in its people and the way they lived.

"Back! Back! Over the falls!"

(Sam Howzit on Flickr)

Back over the falls and to the end of our journey we have gone. Man, what an amazing sight it was to see this waterfall, viking ships coming in and out of view of the cave opening. What other dark ride can you think of that used actual daylight in a scene to its great advantage AND teased a part of the ride in such an awesome way well before the beginning of its queue? Like Maelstrom itself, this opening was closed, filled in for the sake of a new dark scene inside. What a shame.

Although the Maelstrom we knew and loved has been virtually wiped from existence and replaced with Frozen, all is not lost. We were not the first to pass its way, and with Odin's blessing, I hope we shall not be the last. The Norway pavilion at Epcot will never truly be Anna and Elsa's home. Eventually, if everyone hasn't become completely sick and tired of Frozen, there will be a demand for a much better and fully fleshed out Frozen attraction, one that can be in a more appropriate location like Fantasyland. You may call it wishful thinking, but I believe there will be a day that the thundering roar of the Maelstrom will be heard once more. In a future sequel of this post, I will share my ideas on how the ride could and should have been expanded and improved, while keeping intact much of the spirit of Norway that drew us all into a Maelstrom.

Don't Forget To Read The Next Installments of Reawakening The Spirit Of Norway!

Part Two: The Challenges To Conquer Before The Maelstrom Can Return -

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

Monday, July 3, 2017

Are they Pirates or Boy Scouts? A Critical Decision

"A scene where women are being auctioned is NOT acceptable in a ride about pirates! We must change this!" Said only the Disney company and people who think pirates of all things should be more politically correct (Tom Simpson on Flickr)
Note: This post originally had the link to a petition attempting to save the original auction scene. For obvious reasons the link has been removed. This post will continue to be a historical record of my opinions about Pirates of the Caribbean and my explanation of my dislike of certain changes to the attraction.

Are they the Pirates or Boy Scouts of the Caribbean? I'm confused.

In the original versions of the attraction at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, they were most definitely pirates. They pillaged, plundered, looted, kidnapped, auctioned and chased after wenches, and burned a city to the ground, all without giving a hoot.

"Just look at that poor man! We need to change him to a pirate and have his pirate friends playfully dunk him in the well!" Said no one ever

In the 60s and 70s, and for quite some time afterwards, there was virtually no complaints about pirates being pirates. Everyone understood that pirates were not nice people, and that they did some terrible things. It didn't (and still doesn't) make sense to try to censor their bad deeds any further then necessary for a family audience. They sought treasure without rules of conduct; they took what they could and gave nothing back. They were having a jolly good time, but like their cursed skeletal counterparts in the caverns, they too would eventually pay the price. Both versions of the ride ended with the pirates either threatening to blow themselves away or die surrounded by their treasure in a blazing fire they started, a terrible fate for equally terrible men. But before that, they got to enjoy the fun of such exploits as kidnapping the town's women and selling them at auction as wenches. Through a romantic lens and Marc Davis's classic gags, guests got to see pirates as the rascals, scoundrels, and villains they really were, with just the right amount of softening (very little) of their exploits.

"Looting and burning is wrong! These Pirates should be doing community service!" Said no one ever

Starting in the 1990s, the Disney Company began to move towards a much warmer, sweeter, pleasant child-friendly image. This was especially apparent in the theme parks, where particularly at Disney World, many weird and scary parts of the Magic Kingdom were either subdued or removed entirely. This was the era where at Disney World, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with its graveyard of lost ships and giant squid was closed and abandoned, Snow White's Adventures was made much less frightening, and a trip to Hell in Mr. Toad's Wild Ride was replaced by the saccharine adventures of Winnie the Pooh. This was also the era in which the company began to change elements of certain attractions to make them more "politically correct", and one of the biggest changes was a major alteration to a scene in Pirates of the Caribbean in which lusty pirates chased after women. Goods such as food or treasure were placed into the women's' arms to change the pirates' object of desire, and later it became the women who were chasing the pirates out of their homes. The gluttonous pirate who was too tired to chase a lively lass had his lines changed so that he either sought food or treasure, depending on the park (this pirate now holds the key and map to the treasure that Jack Sparrow is searching for).



When this highly controversial change was first made to Pirates of the Caribbean, one of its scriptwriters, X. Atencio, called the "improved" attraction "The Boy Scouts of the Caribbean". The rest of the reaction to the change was split; some thought it was necessary to avoid sexism and misogyny, while many believed that political correctness was redundant for an attraction called the Pirates of the Caribbean. Strangely (and fortunately), the iconic auction scene was spared from the PC cannonfire, and still ran a brisk trade. For 20 years after they were no longer allowed to chase after wenches outright, the pirates were still allowed to purchase them at a legitimate enough auction. They could still admire the best item in the auction, who teased them mercilessly with her hypnotizing body and flowing hair. Almost none of the pirates cared for the stout wench who the Auctioneer was trying to sell, and instead yelled "We Wants The Redhead!" only silenced by the shot of a gun. Meanwhile, outside the eternal darkness of the Mercado, part of the world continued to get more politically correct and sensitive.

Not a week ago, the inevitable yet unthinkable happened. The Disney Company announced perhaps their most extreme change in the name of political correctness yet. When both Disneyland and Disney World's Pirates of the Caribbean close for refurbishment in 2018, the Pirates may finally become Boy Scouts for good. The banner of the Auction will read "Surrender Yer Loot" instead of "Take a Wench for a Bride". Illogically and confusingly, the Boy Scouts will take the loot they just stole from the townspeople and auction it to themselves, forcing the citizens of the village to stand in line to give away their treasures. One concession is made to fans of the original scene by making the Redhead a Girl Scout armed with a rifle and swords, assisting the auction instead of being part of it. But the Pirates Boy Scouts of the Caribbean will never be the same again; too many iconic scenes have been altered and compromised, whether it be from movie-tie ins or politically charged changes that create controversy out of thin air. What was once a genuine movement for awareness and respect has become a poison that results in those afflicted like Disney either censoring others or censoring themselves. I wish there was a gentler way to put this, but the auction scene is a classic scene, perhaps the most iconic part of the entire ride, and altering it to purportedly avoid sexism and misogyny risks removing the ride farther away from what made it great (the most bewildering thing about this is how selling women at auction is not okay, but waterboarding the guy who's the mayor of the village is acceptable). Enough damage has already been done with the previous PC changes and the nonsensical movie tie-ins. Both parks have so much to lose from this poorly-advised alteration; the already compromised ride at WDW would be muddled almost beyond comprehension, and Disneyland is about to drastically alter one of the last ride scenes Walt Disney ever stepped foot in and saw to completion, all to make PIRATES of all people more politically correct.

Will this be the future of the Auction? It's up to Disney to decide. (Copyright Disney)

Are they Pirates or Boy Scouts? The time has come for the Disney company to decide. I hope to Davy Jones they're not Boy Scouts.

Unfortunately, in March 2018 at Walt Disney World and June 2018 at Disneyland, the Pirates of the Caribbean came a lot closer to being Boy Scouts, and far worse, have become involved in one of the worst controversies of our modern era, something that should have never reared its ugly head inside the berm of a Disney theme park.