Something is amiss at Epcot in Walt Disney World.
At Walt Disney in World Florida there is a place called Epcot. Epcot is supposed to be a sharing of technology, science and cultures. A place that, ideally can bring the whole world together or at least parts of it. The park has two parts. The first, nearer to front, is Future World which is meant to showcase advancements in technology which I will admit is in need of some serious updating. The Siemens exhibit (who is also a major sponsor) in Spaceship Earth is at least 10 years late for a tech update. Their exhibit as you leave the ride for Space Ship Earth felt dated and out of touch in 2011 and even more so in 2015. I’ve seen better 3D technology at my friends house. Regardless of this, Epcot is still my favorite place in Walt Disney World. There is and can be only one Epcot, there is a pureness to the place…a feeling of possibilities that you can see and feel there. Maybe that’s just the romantic in me but I would prefer strolling around Epcot for a day with Stacey than the Magic Kingdom no matter how amazing and inspiring that place is even for an adult.
The second part of Epcot is the World Showcase. The World Showcase features cultures, food and music from 11 countries. The countries represented are of course the USA then France, Mexico, Italy, Germany, Canada, The United Kingdom, Morocco, Japan, China and finally Norway. These countries surround a large lake which during the day you can take boat across to get from different areas. At night this lake plays center stage to perhaps the best music and fireworks display I have ever seen. You can view this bit of wonderment anywhere around the lake.
The whole thing (World Showcase) is meant to bring people together to share in a lot of wonderful things about this world of ours. The idea is to bring at least a little bit of knowledge, understanding and appreciation to park visitors for other people, cultures and their individual histories. Even in a consumeristic environment like Disney World I feel like I learn something every time I go, I feel like I learn to appreciate another country just a little more and so do other people. Each area is well designed and features food as well as art and architectural facets of each country. These range from a more modern take like say France or Italy, a more historic focus like China or even a regional focus like Canada with its visual focus on the Indian tribes of the Pacific Northwest among other things. I won’t lie I have a soft spot for the Canadian pavilion.
The World Showcase offers employment and overseas educational opportunities for individuals from the host countries in different fields. The people (often students) working in the United Kingdom pavilion are from somewhere in the UK, the people from Norway are from Norway and speak Norwegian(and English) and the same holds true for all the counties represented. Which gives you the ability to talk with them even when they are trying to sell you something. Even at a place like Epcot the French seemed well….rude lol. Stacey and I joked that Disney must have found the nicest French people they could find.
Many people don’t know this but each host country is expected to pay a certain amount of money to Disney in order to maintain its place in this “Showcase” and to my memory all the countries I remember being there from before are still represented. For me one of my favorite countries in the pavilion is Norway second only to the UK and maybe Italy. I learned a lot about Norway on my trip in 2011. I loved learning about its history both artistically and most importantly its folklore which I find fascinating and I was excited to share it with my fiancé Stacey on our trip. On our last trip to Epcot (her first time there) at the beginning of March (2015) I noticed things changed for that countries exhibit. Something happened that made it far less about Norway and I cant….”Let it go”
That something is Disney’s hit film Frozen.
Epcot’s Norway Pavilion
In an effort to rack up the marketing money Disney is “Frozening” many parts of their parks in Florida and I assume also in California. Wanting to make money off of what is their biggest animated hit in well over a decade is understandable. They did the same thing with Pirates of the Caribbean ride in the Magic Kingdom after the movie franchise hit big. Now Johnny Depp’s character Jack Sparrow, is all over that ride when it wasn’t in my first 2 visits in 1987 and 1990 or 91. In Epcots Norway pavilion the popular and well known ride called the Maelstrom closed last year to make room for a Frozen themed ride which isn’t open yet. Some people might not see an issue with this but as an Epcot “purist” and someone who knows a little about history and cared enough to learn about Norway…I do. While doing some research I found out that Disney wanted the country of Norway to pay a sizable some of money to assist in updating their exhibit of the pavilion which they of course they (Norway) had an issue with.
Why did they have an issue with it?
Because Frozen has nothing to do with the country of Norway. None. Zero. The only aspect of actual Norway even used in Frozen was the Scandinavian geographical inspirations used in creating the fictional Arendelle and its surroundings. The scenery. Disney as I noticed on my most recent visit tried their best to associate Frozen with Norway and the Scandinavian countries in the most superficial ways in an effort to make some cash. In the pavilion there is a small display which shows traditional or historic Norse clothing, tools, artifacts and information and right behind them were stills from parts of Frozen trying to relate the two along with some new write ups. I wanted to throw up. That wasn’t there before. When I walked into the gift shop in the Norway pavilion (one of my favorites in all of Epcot) my heart dropped. Gone were so many of wonderful offerings which represented Norway and other Scandinavian countries (Finland and Sweden). In their places was a whole shit ton of Frozen themed souvenirs. Even the story Frozen was based on, “The Snow Queen” wasn’t Norwegian but rather Danish.
I understand it’s important to make money in place like Epcot. However by inserting a fictitious story into a culture where it doesn’t belong in a way that is not right diminishes what Epcots World Showcase stands for and does nothing but hurt it. It’s disrespectful to all the countries, the people who live there and the people who work in these pavilions and what they represent. All these little girls dressed up like Anna and Elsa who are visiting Epcot with mom and dad are going to get a horribly inaccurate and unfair association between the film and the country. Revisionist history is never good when it’s not true and inaccurate. How can kids learn to appreciate other cultures if what they are being told is lie or if how it’s presented is fudged for the sake of consumerism? They deserve better than that and the country of Norway or even Finland and Sweden do as well.
In a 2014 article I referenced for this post the author among other things theorized about the image of Epcot being hurt for the sake of pandering to a certain age group for a few years who will eventually grow up and I tend to agree. I don’t see Disney telling China to rewrite their history, demand money and adjust its presentation at the park if an animated Disney movie about China hit big and I don’t see China tolerating it just because its Disney. Remember Mulan? I didn’t see much of that movie referenced at the China pavilion at Epcot.
Listen, it’s not like Disney needs the money but making money is nice but it’s not like Epcot isn’t bringing it in either. Last year it was the 2nd most visited park in Walt Disney World second only and obviously to The Magic Kingdom. So how it’s been doing things minus the needed updates in the front of the park have been working rather well for many years. People by and large go to Epcot for the World Showcase. Being there makes you feel like you are sort of really in these countries in a small way. I know of people who live within an hour or so of Orlando who frequent the park and even go there every week for dinner and a fireworks show. If I lived there I would. Season passes for Florida residents are a crazy good deal.
If Disney was going to do anything I think it needs to figure out a way to add another country or 3 to the World Showcase. But given the space I don’t know how that would even be possible unless they eat up some of the front of the park space. Norway was an amazing pavilion before and by and large it still is. I see no reason to ruin it by “frozening” it for the sake making money. Its Norway not Frozen. Have a place to meet Anna and Elsa near Norway and call it good. I see far more adults at Epcot than I do kids anyway. I’ve never been sad going to Epcot but this is the first time I felt let down when visiting what is my favorite part of Disney. So thank you Frozen for ruining Epcot for me a little. One should ask themselves, “what would Walt think about this move”.