As you are no doubt aware, friends, 2014 has been something of a tumultuous year for fans of Disney theme parks. Please bear with me as I briefly summarize two cases where the wounds are still fresh.
In Anaheim, an expansion of Club 33 made significant and controversial changes to Disneyland’s New Orleans Square. We saw the original entrance door fall into disuse and the original lobby stripped bare and converted into a merchandise storage room. We saw the French lift (custom-built by WED after Walt saw an antique one during a trip to Paris) get taken out of service and converted into a depressing table-for-one. We saw the original logo replaced with a (largely unpopular) new logo. We saw the trophy room get demolished to make way for a larger kitchen. We saw the beloved Court of Angels courtyard get closed off to the paying public, walled off behind “stained glass” gates to serve 33 members only. We saw significant changes to the exteriors in New Orleans Square, too, from noticeably off-centered, clumsy and out-of-scale windows to Art Nouveau flourishes that make no thematic or historical sense.
In the understandable effort to double capacity (and increase profits) with Club 33 members, unfortunately the new space is now largely unrecognizable, wiped clean of its history, charm and personal touches by Walt Disney. All these changes combined, not to mention the loss of the Disney Gallery space above Pirates a few years ago for a posh and largely unused Dream Suite, it’s a very tough pill to swallow for this Disney fan. It’s a sad situation when profit and capacity come at the expense of what made the club special in the first place. I fear this is a sign of more history-cleansing to come.
Then, over in Orlando, fans exploded when Disney Parks Chairman Tom Staggs confirmed rumors that Maelstrom, the quirky 80s-era boat ride in the Norway pavilion at Epcot, would soon close to make way for a Frozen attraction (an announcement delivered in a rather smug and ballsy way, I might add, with Staggs citing a tired Walt quote “Disneyland will never be completed” in an apparent effort to justify the decision and silence dissent). The hashtag #savemaelstrom has been shared on social media thousands of times.
Fan reactions vary wildly, of course, but the most often recurring comment I’ve seen is that we as fans are not against a Frozen attraction – quite the contrary actually – but rather we fail to understand why Frozen must replace Maelstrom, or, indeed, why Frozen belongs in Epcot at all. Although its buildings are sparkling clean and almost fantasy-like in their perfection, World Showcase displays the cultures of real people and real countries of the world. Surely Frozen’s fictitious Arendelle setting would work far better thematically in the fantasy-friendly Magic Kingdom, or the Walt Disney World park that desperately needs more movie-based headliner attractions, Disney’s Hollywood Studios?
I would even argue that Maelstrom, a fairly short boat ride, isn’t big enough and won’t do the Frozen movie franchise justice. Not to mention its small-ish hourly capacity will create nightmarish lines when it opens sometime in early 2016 (apparently after the initial Frozen frenzy, already ebbing, will have died down).
With the full understanding that petitions, letters, emails, phone calls, hashtags, etc. are useless and Disney does what Disney wants, your opinions bedamnned, I began to wonder if people are losing faith in Epcot. Indeed, I have yet to read a satisfying argument why Frozen should replace Maelstrom. It’s become very clear (and maddening) that Disney is unwilling to expand Epcot, despite having several large expansion pads at the ready. In fact, the Norway pavilion itself, which opened over 25 years ago, is the most recent expansion to World Showcase, if you can believe that, and Maelstrom is one of only TWO rides in that very large half of Epcot.
Brand advocates (who insist again and again that every decision Disney makes is the right decision) insist that replacing Maelstrom with Frozen is a great decision because 1) Frozen is popular/profitable (goes without saying, duh) and, somewhat in self-defeat, 2) Epcot as a concept is dead anyway. A point I strongly disagree with. This is Disney, after all, the company that set the golden standard for themed design and set a high bar for what a theme park can and should be.
The question remained, however: Does anyone still believe in EPCOT? I decided to put it to the test on Twitter with a hashtag #BelieveInEpcot. Here are my first two tweets, posted Friday evening, September 19:
What followed greatly surpassed my expectations as the tweets started flooding in, each with a thoughtful take on how EPCOT has created meaning to people over the last 32-ish years. Please take the time to scroll down and read some of them, as together they form a truly remarkable and powerful statement.
Thank you so, so much to everyone who participated. It’s clear that many, many people still beleve in EPCOT.
Do you believe in EPCOT? I want to hear what you have to say! Leave a comment in the space below, or tweet a message with the hashtag #BelieveInEpcot.
And thanks for reading! 🙂 -Matt @DLthings