I love bad attractions. Usually they’re the combined effort of a bunch of incredibly talented people trying something new and failing in a spectacular fashion. For as terrible as the Journey Into Your Imagination attraction was (and terrible is definitely an understatement) it all came from a unique idea of trying to quantify something completely unquantifiable: the imagination. In a way, bad attractions are as integral to the theme park experience as good ones in that they are both completely unforgettable.
Frozen Ever After, now open at the Norway pavilion in Epcot, is not a bad attraction. It is bland, pointless, safe, and completely forgettable. It is completely mediocre, and for me that is the most disappointing thing of all.
Why talk about it then? Well, I want to start a discussion about Frozen Ever After, but also about attractions in general. So read the piece, and then find me in the parks (or on social media) and let’s talk. If you think I’m totally off base, convince me. Seriously, all I want to do is love this attraction. I want my mind changed. Let’s talk.
Norway and the Royal Sommerhus
Before I even get to the attraction building I need to talk about the Norway pavilion. I’m not opposed to Frozen going into Epcot, or even the World Showcase for that matter, but there should be some delineation of what is what. The Royal Sommerhus, Anna and Elsa’s new meet-n-greet digs, is the most vaguely located thing ever. Is it in Norway? Is it in Arendelle? I have no idea, and I haven’t been able to get a solid answer out of any of the Cast Members I ask, including the one who was standing right outside the entrance itself. I realize it’s a small thing, but solid world building is one of the things that Disney is king at, and when your biggest new franchise doesn’t get that treatment all I see is red flags.
Speaking of Arendelle, the queue for Frozen Ever After makes it abundantly clear you’ve crossed borders the moment you step under the marquee and inside the building of the attraction. The first sign you see is for the royal ice master and deliverer of Arendelle, otherwise known as our pal Kristoff. So we’re in the kingdom of Arendelle and I didn’t even have to go through customs. I’m all about that.
The rest of the queue looks like a town square in kingdom where the queen can declare a snow day in the middle of summer. It’s pretty, but there’s nothing going on, which for 21st century attraction design is weird. In the last few years Disney has been adding interactive games and elements to its queues. These active queues range from smartphone knockoff games (Journey of the Little Mermaid, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Space Mountain, old Soarin’) to interactive world building (Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, The Haunted Mansion) to full-blown playgrounds (Dumbo, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh). These experience help to alleviate the pains of long waits and stop people from whipping their smartphones out and reconnecting with the real world.
When Disney decides to bring the one franchise people haven’t stopped clamoring for to a ride system with a notoriously low 1000 riders per hour average you would think the company would craft some really cool experiences to help set the stage for the boat ride to come. You would think that, and you would be wrong.
There is one piece of active storytelling in the queue. It consists of Oaken occasionally drawing lines in the steamy window of the sauna in his new location inside the kingdom proper. He draws some lines, brings his head to the glass, and sings some songs from the film that he had nothing to do with in a cross between a reluctant dad and Weird Al Yankovic.
That’s all the active you get. The rest of the queue is a passive switchback in the outdoor plaza of Arendelle with no way for people to pass the time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more bored, unaccompanied children sitting on the barrels lining the queue than I did with Frozen.
So the queue isn’t particularly great, but it’s not like they had much time, right? And who cares about the experience in the queue anyway? Wrong and wrong.
For one thing, the transition from Maelstrom to Frozen Ever After took 20 months. That’s almost two years. E-tickets get built in that time. Lands get built in that time. Whole water parks get built in that time. That’s a lot of time.
As for the second point, I think that the queue is the next great bastion for theme parks. There’s no better way to start your story off right then with a queue that helps to tell the first act for your tale. It’s something Universal has been bullish with since Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and something Disney seemed to be dipping its toes into doing before this attraction opened. For whatever reason (*cough* FastPass+ *cough*) Disney has backed off from this and the result is a sea of people glued down to their phones and tablets completely ignoring the carefully crafted world around them. It’s a real shame, because if you look at the queue, they have some cute gags and do some really cool things with forced perspective. But enough about the queue. Let’s get to the main attraction, shall we?
I’m going to get this out of the way first: the animatronics for Frozen Ever After, when they work, are some of the most impressive things Disney has ever done stateside. The humans (and trolls) use a near-perfected version of the rear-projected faces that the dwarves on the mine train attraction had. Sven and Olaf are more traditional animatronics with rear-projected eyes (think Sebastian in the Little Mermaid attraction before they cut all of them in the Florida version), but stopping there with Olaf shorts what they did with him.
In his three appearances on the ride, Olaf walks around, ice skates, and tap dances, which is an incredible achievement in itself. His mouth also articulates his words which is one of those small, amazing things that once you notice you’ll never unsee, and every animatronic that doesn’t do that looks terrible in comparison.
These figures are true engineering marvels, and every time I’ve seen Olaf walk to my boat my heart melts. They’re also pretty inconsistent. This is one of those problems that’ll be ironed out soon, but for a twenty month downtime I expect my ride-throughs to be perfect, especially when there are as few animatronics as there are in the attraction and I have yet to have one in my three ride-throughs, which is disappointing.
On the topic of few animatronic, each scene except for the finale only has one or two figures in it. This weird spacing makes these scenes feel barren and simple. These figures are always on one side of the boat, which means looking anywhere else is either met with a black or dark blue wall (sometimes with a projection of some snow or ice). Where the old dark rides tried to impress you with storytelling or spectacle, Frozen Ever After doesn’t.
Speaking of storytelling, Frozen Ever After’s is a bit… muddled. The basics of the story is that to honor the act of true love that Anna performed in sacrificing herself to save her sister, Queen Elsa has declared today a Summer Snow Day and you’re invited to take part in the festivities in Arendelle. Except that’s not what happens. The attraction is actually you getting on a boat, leaving Arendelle and going to Queen Elsa’s ice palace (because on this day of celebration she took herself, her sister, her sister’s boyfriend, and their magical snowman on the day she made to celebrate them to a place outside her kingdom to hide from the all the plebeians celebrating her, duh) only to be sent away from the ice palace (as she decides to build a new wing from the path you just took away from her) and back down to Arendelle where they launch some fireworks. You end with the sisters (in new outfits, of course) and Olaf singing about Summer, because the whole ride took place in summer, didn’t you remember?
Got all of that? If you did that was better than me the first time I went on it. But a weak story has never stopped a Disney dark ride from being great (Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion), and besides, Disney seems to think that the reason people like the movie is entirely based on the music anyway (at least that’s the lesson I’ve learned from the Frozen Sing Along) so the ride is full of the music you love.
Except it isn’t. Other than Let It Go, all of the songs in the ride (and there are three others) are rewritten and rerecorded versions of the classics you probably sung in the queue out of boredom. On top of that the songs (once again outside of Let It Go) are taken entirely out of context of when they were sung in the film, and therefore lose any actual meaning they had.
The expectations game
The last thing I want to touch on is the idea of expectations. You may think mine are too high, but I think my expectations are exactly the expectations that most Guests will have when they come to Walt Disney World for their once-in-a-lifetime vacation. When a normal Guest goes through Frozen Ever After, they won’t be thinking about how complex the animatronics are and how they did such a good job making them forget that the space they’re currently cruising through used to have some vikings and scary trolls in it. They’re going to wait in a line that has no entertainment for their children, forcing them to kill battery on their other electronic devices to keep them entertained to go on a five minute experience that makes no sense and they could only barely sing along with.
That sounds miserable. Worse, it sounds like a sure-fire way to erode your fanbase. And if we as the passionate fans continue to allow Walt Disney World to get away with these shenanigans sooner rather than later we’ll be the only ones left.
Blogs everywhere in their Frozen Ever After reviews are calling the attraction the future of Disney dark rides. I hope not, because if the future of Disney attractions is all tech and no substance then Imagineering has truly lost their way.
Frozen Ever After is a mediocre attraction that you will probably wait hours for and ride (I know because I have), and that’s a damn shame. You deserve better.