The Oncoming Storm: Losing Norway, Culture, and EPCOT’s Vision
On October 5th 2014, EPCOT’s Maelstrom will close and Disney will begin to revamp the Norwegian pavilion to include the characters, music, and narrative from Frozen, last year’s hit animated film.
I’ll put this simply, because it’s too soon to think of anything else to say: I’m angry. And I’m sad.
World Showcase’s original intent was supposed to be so much more than another repository for Disney’s brands and intellectual property. World Showcase and all of EPCOT was created out of Disney’s once unerring ability to be a company that showcased things, and showcased things that mattered. World Showcase was a permanent (if slightly stale) World’s Fair that existed to be an exhibition of the diversity of man, uniting and captivating visitors with the beauty and drama of the human difference. World Showcase was bravely dedicated to cultures that have defined what our world civilization had done throughout time. Does this description sounds grandiose and overzealous? Good. It should. For a very long time, EPCOT Center inspired these thoughts and these feelings with the content that it had on display. Norway and Maelstrom fit this theme like a glove.
While madcap and quirky and often downright puzzling, Maelstrom at least showed off the sinew of Norwegian myths and legends and culture. Brave vikings, mystical trolls, the barren wilderness of the arctic… The idea of Norway was encapsulated in a short ride. It was a romp. It was a short experience in the “genre” of Norwegian culture.
And now? It’ll be replaced by singing princesses that are “inspired” by the Scandinavian culture. This is a problem. Disney can not showcase culture vis-a-vis something made in their own image. Disney’s Frozen is more a reflection of Disney Animation than it is a reflection of culture. Aesthetic and narrative cues might come from Norway, but they were used to create a place called Arendale… a place that is fictional. A place based in pop culture fantasy. To show off Norway as it really is, Disney needed to extrapolate upon the underlying archetypes that existed within our collective unconscious about the place. Maelstrom already did that. Frozen will not. Frozen is a narrow narrative that uses Norwegian aesthetics and adapts one Norwegian story into a fairly enjoyable film.
Frankly, I like Frozen. I saw it in theaters, twice. But this enjoyment of it doesn’t broker any acceptable vision of EPCOT that includes shoehorning a modern film into a space that was meant to speak to the greater aspects of culture and mythology that define an entire country.
EPCOT, which has undergone a tumultuous trajectory over the past decade or so, is now faced with yet another thematic rift. Norway and Maelstrom now join The Seas with Nemo and Friends and Journey into your Imagination and Innoventions and other attractions that do not support a coherent and cogent vision of what EPCOT once was and should be. Some gems in the park will still exist, of course, but this is a large step in misaligning EPCOT’s focus and making the park less unique. Things like the alleyways of Morocco and Impressions of France and Living with the Land can only do so much on their own to support what EPCOT was and is supposed to be.
EPCOT faces an oncoming storm in removing Maelstrom. I hope it can weather it. I am an optimistic person, but a loss as large as this hurts. And it even hurts to admit that. With the removal of Maelstrom and the inclusion of Norway, there is no stopping what Disney can decide to do with other original and cultural attractions. Disney is now crossing a line into synergizing what was meant to be above and beyond what could be found in a magic kingdom park, or any other Disney park.
It’s a wicked storm, indeed. It’s a maelstrom.
to add to this, i remember when norway’s shop had troll dolls and more merchandise that was from the country. that is now in the past and the last time i visited epcot, already they downsized goods.
i can only guess if i wanted to see what was the norway pavilion, i should make a trip to norway itself. epcot opened the world to everyone, even those that never left america.