If your kids love everything Frozen, they’ll probably show uncritical love for Frozen Ever After, which opened June 22 at Epcot. The new ride has the beloved characters and songs from the movie and terrific animatronics.
But it could have been better.
To its credit, Frozen Ever After has its own story line, which takes place after the events of the movie. It’s just a wisp of a story, a boat trip to Queen Elsa’s Ice Palace for a snow day in summer and a celebration of her icy powers.
The dark ride, tinged ice blue, has a slow start. Olaf, the snowman, sings about the journey we’re taking; an elderly troll tells the story of Anna and Elsa to youngsters in Troll Valley; Anna and Kristoff sing For the First Time in Forever; and Elsa, on the balcony of her Ice Palace, sings Let It Go.
Elsa’s appearance is the high point of the ride, with particularly fine animatronics, as she sends us backwards in our boat and ice walls rise around us.
Elsa’s appearance is the high point of the ride, with particularly fine animatronics, as she sends us backwards in our boat and ice walls rise around us. We also encounter Marshmellow and the snowgies on the way back, and finally, Anna, Elsa and Olaf singing In Summer.
The new ride was built on the framework of the former Maelstrom ride in the Norway pavilion. Right away, that gave it baggage. Although Maelstrom — a boat tour of Norwegian history and culture — was not particularly popular, it fit with its location in the World Showcase. Introducing a fictional story, characters and locale (Arendelle) into a nonfiction section of Epcot drew a lot of criticism.
The advantage, though, was that the conversion could be done fairly quickly — in 20 months. Speed was important: Disney wanted to build on the unexpectedly huge popularity of the movie, which became the top-grossing animated film of all time.
Disney also built an adjoining meet-and-greet site for the royal sisters, who drew waits as long as five hours when they were in Princess Fairytale Hall at Magic Kingdom. Their new home is the Royal Sommerhus, the cabin where the family spent summers when the girls were little and their parents were still alive, according to the story.
Using the building and track of Maelstrom, Disney was able to complete Frozen Ever After in 20 months.
In the makeover, Maelstrom’s loading area was used to lengthen the new ride, but the rest of the track is the same, as are the boats. The spot where Else sends us backwards is the same place where an angry three-headed troll in Maelstrom cast a spell on the boat and sent it backwards “over the falls.”
But compare Frozen Ever After to Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid. Both are passive rides through scenes with characters and music from much-loved children’s movies. The Mermaid ride is jammed with scenes and music that flow from one into the next. Frozen has fewer vignettes and more blank space; it is not as engaging.
The ride had frequent problems the first few days after it opened, closing sometimes for two hours or longer. Some of the animated characters didn’t animate. The waits in 90-plus degrees grew so long that park attendants set up large umbrellas and gave free ice water to those in line. Hopefully the problems turn out to be short-lived. Otherwise, Elsa could spend her summer creating ice for her fans.