Does Disney Want to Build a Snowman? Why attraction development so often feels “Frozen” in time

in Disney, Disneyland Resort, Entertainment, Movies, Theme Parks, Walt Disney World

mermaid-olaf

The overwhelming success of Disney Animation’s movie “Frozen” has led many theme park fans to wonder why no big ride yet? Many ask why the only attraction at Disney’s parks so far is a meet-and-greet.

To understand that, we have to step into the Walt Disney Imagineering time machine and dial it back to 1987. Back then Randy Bright had me working with a team of Imagineers on developing concepts for Disneyland and Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. The team included Mark Rhodes, Kevin Rafferty and an animation artist who had recently transferred over from Disney animation, Joe Lanzisero.

Joe arranged for the team to go to a trailer located in the Imagineering parking lot. That trailer housed directors Ron Clements and John Musker, who were developing classic animated movie, “The Little Mermaid.” The pair took us through the storyboards and we were impressed and very excited about the film and its potential as the basis for a brand new ride.

The four of us went to lunch off of the lot and ideas immediately started to flow onto the restaurant’s napkins. Within a few days, Joe developed some great artwork while Mark and Kevin developed the ride’s storyline. We also reasoned there was enough there to turn it all into a mini-land within Disneyland. I pulled some site plans out and pointed to the area that held the old Motor Boat Cruise. We went down to Disneyland the next day and were convinced it would work.

Old Ursula concept for “The Little Mermaid” ride

We developed a rough site plan for what we then called “Little Mermaid Village,” an area that would look like Prince Eric’s castle and village, housing a dark ride. The village would also include some smaller attractions similar to Dumbo and Mad Tea Party, but using “The Little Mermaid” characters.

Also planned were some specialty shops, a small fast food location and, inside Prince Eric’s castle, a fine dining restaurant on the order of the Blue Bayou. (This should all sound eerily familiar to anyone who has visited Magic Kingdom’s New Fantasyland. Ideas never die at Walt Disney Imagineering.)

Ursula, as finally brought to life in “The Little Mermaid” rides

I worked with the estimating department to pull together a cost for the whole project and less than a month later we pitched it to Walt Disney Imagineering management. Had they approved it that day, it would have been almost three years before it could possibly be completed. All we had were some concept drawings, rough storylines and a basic site plan. There would have to be further design development, permits, construction drawings and more.

But they shut us down. Why? Well let’s face it; at the time Disney Animation wasn’t known for coming out with big moneymaking hits and didn’t want us spending money on what might be a flop. There was also some concern over potential unknown costs from the impacts of shortening the monorail and getting rid of the Fantasyland Autopia as well.

If approved, could we have had it there by the time the movie opened? I doubt it, but I think we could have had it done within a year of the film’s opening. But by the time the film did open and became a smash hit, we were all working on other major projects, including creating Disney-MGM Studios.

Back to present day, we’re seeing a similar situation. Disney Animation has had some recent successes, but the fairy tale movies have not been overwhelming blockbusters lately. While I am confident there are ideas for some big “Frozen” ride-type of attraction floating around at Imagineering, I am also sure there was a similar fear of committing to spend a lot of money on any ideas based on a movie that was not yet proven. Just imagine if Disney had started construction on a major attraction based on “The Lone Ranger” to open when the movie hit theaters.

So to get something in the parks quickly, Disney designed the “Frozen” meet and greets which, judging by their long lines, fills the bill right away for moms, dads, and their kids.

“Frozen” meet-and-greet with Anna and Elsa

Disney can still develop a bigger attraction or even land based on the hit movie. I would bet they’re thinking about that right now. It’d be an arctic blast to actually walk through Elsa’s ice castle or sled into summer with Olaf.


Mark Eades is a former Imagineer and Orange County Register reporter, now offering his thoughts and stories to Inside the Magic from decades of Disney experience.


40 Comments

  1. EricJ

    Fans ALWAYS want the dark ride of a NEW movie, and announced before the Blu-ray even hits. Get the heck over it, already. Imagineers can think of more creative park ideas, that’s why they have jobs at WDI and you don’t. 😉

    (To fans, it’s more about the “validation” of seeing a new movie at the park than the ride itself, and “validation” = “E-ride”. As opposed to, say, meeting the characters at Norway.
    It was because of “Armchair Imagineers” wanting to “immortalize” their favorite movies while they were hot that we got stuck with both Monsters Inc. rides, -and- Stitch’s Great Escape….Happy now? )

  2. Greg

    This is so obvious, that I don’t understand how anyone doesn’t get this simple logic. An idea was also pitched to bring back the inoperational (at the time) Disneyland Sub ride, based on the animated film Atlantis. Well, we all should know how that movie turned out. Good movie, but no blockbuster. Disney is typically reluctant to build a new attraction off of a movie that is not at least a minor hit. And there is no way to know ahead of it’s release for sure. And with the speed (or actually quite the lack thereof) that they develop and then build new attractions, is it any wonder there is no Frozen attraction now, or in the new future? I am disappointed that they did not duplicate Olaf at WDW based on the one at Disneyland, but to expect an attraction right away? No. That being said, Maelstrom lends itself excellently to provide a Frozen based attraction, without having to start from the ground up, so maybe they could get it done in only two years, after at least a year of development, so still three years out.

  3. Jason G

    Take a look at Universal, they just put the finishing touches on Diagon Alley. Harry Potter hasn’t been in a movie since 2011. That is 3 years. So could Disney have a Frozen ride up and running by 2017? I can’t see why not, except maybe for a little project called Avatarland….(what a mistake that will be…)

    1. Jeff Lynch

      “Pandora” is not a mistake. I think going to an alien planet is a cool idea. This is not the Avatar movie…these are the animals of that SciFi world. I think it’s going to be neat. Whenever there is a show on PBS or Discovery Channel about alien life I love it. It’s so interesting to me. I’m glad they have this speculative biology section. It inspires my imagination.

      1. Gustafa

        Nope. Theres not going to be any “speculative biology” involved. Its mostly recreations of the 3D world, glowing trees and big blue aliens. Have fun with that.

  4. Sally

    They’d rather waste their money on a one hit wonder, Avatar. I’ve yet to find someone actually be excited about Avatarland other then being new.

    1. Jeff Lynch

      Funny. That’s what people were saying about “Cars Land” too. They insisted that Cars was a dumb movie and they’d have no interest in “Cars Land”. But, you should see people’s jaws drop when they walk in there. Some people don’t even ride a single ride. They just walk around, enjoy the atmosphere, and have giant smiles on their faces as they take 500 pictures of everything in that place.

      1. Ryan R

        Really? My impression was that people were really exited when they heard Cars Land was coming.

        1. Michael

          Nope – almost everyone HATED the idea of Carsland. No one wanted DCA to become Pixarland and no one thought Cars was a worth-while movie.

  5. Chris

    I agree with the logic on not creating it right off the bat. Also, why can’t the company focus on more origional ideas? We haven’t had an attraction that wasn’t based off a movie in ages.

    Less cartoons. More unique stuff.

    1. Greg

      Actually, there have been quite a few attractions not based on movies in the last decade or so. Soarin’, Test Track, Mission Space, Lights Motors Action, California Screamin, Mystic Manor, to name a few. But, those do seem to be few and far between overall.

      1. Mission Space was co-branded with the flop “Mission to Mars”, iirc.

  6. Chaz

    Personally, I’m kind of okay with the large time gap between a movie’s release and the debut of its ride. If a ride follows a movie too quickly, that said ride becomes part of the Frozen craze that will feel rather dated when the next Disney movie comes out.

    Waiting a few extra years (let’s say at least a decade after the movie’s release) will not only give Imagineers more time to develop a proper attraction, but it will also allow Frozen stand the test of time and move from being the new shiny toy from Disney to a true Disney classic.
    An entire generation passed after the Little Mermaid was released before it received its attraction at Disney Parks.

    In other words, I’ve always thought promoting a property too much too early was bad for its long-term marketability, so it makes sense that we aren’t scheduled for an attraction for Frozen this year.

  7. EricJ

    And sometimes less is more – Which is your favorite incarnation of Tangled, seeing the former Skyway chalet turned into the (restroom) Tower, to add to New Fantasyland’s scenery, and Rapunzel meeting with the characters in the regular spots, or the entire Village that Disneyland built over the old Carnation dance floor? Please don’t answer “The entire village”.
    Cars and Avatar now have fans moving off of “E-ride” dreams for every new hit movie, to thinking “E-ride and ENTIRE NEW LAND area!”, when…there’s only so much real estate you can actually use, and then only for the most generationally-proven classics that’ll be around ten or twenty years from now. That’s why Little Mermaid got a land, Tangled got a Tower, and Frozen got a room and a snowman.

    1. Jeff Lynch

      There is no “entire village” dedicated to Tangled at Disneyland. There’s a little village they built on a piece of land that was junky and had nothing interesting to offer…but it has a Tangled statue in it that’s pretty minimal. There are touches from other movies in there as well. I’d say the Pinocchio touch and the Hunchback touch are more impressive than the bronze Tangled statue. It’s a charming little place that I think complements the existing Fantasyland nicely.

  8. sean melton

    My question is this: what happened to disney imagineering designing great show attractions like haunted mansion and pirates? Why does there seem to be a focus now on building “mini-lands”?

    I am a former Disney cast member and sadly, I feel that imagineering has lost it’s focus and what’s worse is that Disneyland is the park that suffers for I’d.

    1. Don in San Diego

      I disagree. While Walt Disney Imagineering is building mini-lands to complement rides, Mystic Manor at Disneyland Hong Kong has been universally hailed as a great ride attraction with a very different story and using the trackless ride system, than the existing Haunted Mansions around the world. Tokyo Disney Sea is arguably the best theme park ever created with amazing rides, breathless views and ports, and timeless storytelling. The Oriental Land Company gave WDI the money to realize all their dreams and it shows. If the Walt Disney Company gave WDI that much money, they would rise to the challenge.

      I’d argue mini-lands follow Walt Disney’s vision for immersive lands inside Theme parks. Families don’t just want great rides, they want great storytelling to escape and be immersed in the story. Carsland is a huge hit as is Buena Vista Street, and one can argue New Orleans Square is one of the best mini-lands in the world… a re-invisioning which Walt Disney Imagineering needs for Tomorrowland.

      “While there is imagination left in the world, Disneyland will never be complete.”-Walt. Leaving out the Tokyo Disney parks because they are owned and operated by the Oriental Land Company, the Walt Disney Company has invested a great deal of money into Disneyland’s 50th anniversary and the rebuilding of Disney California Adventure. With the recent success of the Disneyland Resort breaking attendance and profit records (and probably satisfaction records as well), the rumors on Disney blogs is for reinvestment in Tomorrowland, the Fantasyland dark rides, and maybe Hollywoodland and Hollywood Pictures Backlot. There is certainly more vision, more rides, and more that is right at Disneyland Resort than there is in Orlando, Paris or Hong Kong.

      I personally can’t wait to ride Walt Disney Imagineering’s Ratatouille and visit Chef Gusteau’s in the worst Disney theme park in world, Walt Disney Studios – which desperately needs a huge reinvestment and reimagining. I’m also looking forward to the world of Pandora and a future Star Wars land or Marvel lands and rides. So no, the situation at Disneyland is either half empty (suffering) or half full (a great Disney resort). I’m sure the Disney fans in Orlando, Hong Kong and Paris wishes the Company would spend the money they did fixing California Adventure on their own major problems.

      In the meantime, I will continue to visit Disneyland and love it – like this past weekend when Disneyland actually spent money and energy in putting together a great Lunar New Year festival. Cause it’s not always about the rides.

  9. Beth

    I just wish they had a character meet and greet with Olaf and Sven. All that is available at WdW is Anna and Elsa.

    1. Jeff Lynch

      I’d love to meet those hunks too! Hot guys must be hard to find in Orlando. They rarely have the princes out. But man, is it a joy when Tarzan is walking around. I fall in love every time I see him.

      1. Greg

        Yuck.

        1. Sarah

          Seriously? “Yuck?”

      2. EricJ

        Well, THAT was trying a bit hard, wasn’t it?… 9_9

        1. Lex

          What was?

          1. Mariah

            @Beth, I heard they’re getting Hans and Kristoff FCs after the coronation(side note:does anyone know the exact date?? is it gonna be televised?), so there’s potential to have a reindeer following Kristoff around to be Sven, but i doubt it. As for Olaf, they might have him as a fur character, but seeing as how he’s known for his jokes and one-liners more than any Disney character in recent memory, i don’t think it would be very popular.

  10. JEANY SANCHEZ

    I would like to see Frozen ride in Norway In Epcot! Because I’m Biggest fan of Frozen!

    1. EricJ

      I don’t think Norway would approve of Disney taking away their oil rig, though.

      1. Caitlyn

        Well, why not. I think having a Frozen ride is a great idea. But I do see what you’re saying

      2. Jeff Lynch

        I think the government of Norway stopped paying the sponsorship fee a long time ago. I don’t believe that anyone is paying any fees to EPCOT any more, are they?

        1. Gustafa

          Norway: This was the last country to be added 1988. It also features Maelstrom, a thrill-type attraction with flumes that explores Norway culture and legend. This pavilion also has one of the few Stave Churches in existence. This was one of the few countries of World Showcase that actually helped finance and sponsor the pavilion, but Norway’s sponsorship ended in 2002.

    2. Mariah

      Me too!! I never really went into the World Showcase on my first/only trip to WDW,mainly because my little brother was easily bored, but i think it would be a great addition. If it were successful, it could maybe lead to attractions in the other countries, like maybe more Alice or Peter Pan in England,etc. There’s a few problems,though. Frozen is set in Arendelle. while this has Norwegian influences, it’s fictional, and many people would probably be upset that they were putting that into Epcot,whose focus is the culture of the countries themselves, not Disney blockbusters set there. Also, while the Malestrom could easily be overlayed with Frozen (Yeti becomes Marshmallow, beautiful detail of Elsa building the ice palace and singing Let It Go,etc.) there’s that part where you have the option of leaving after the actual boat ride, or staying and watching the movie covering Norway’s history. Now,unless that could be easily removed, i really don’t know what they’d put there. More Olaf? Following up on Anna and Kristoff,a la Tangled Ever After? worst case scenario, that would become the permanent Frozen meet and greet spot,maybe with the songs playing during waits or when the characters are on break… I heard there’s going to be something at WDW “in the next 18 months”, because they don’t want a repeat of TLM. But apparently there’s “somehting bigger” planned for Disneyland, after Star Wars and Marvel stuff. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

  11. Dione

    Anything worth doing takes time. Just give Disney the time it needs to make the best attractions possible. Look at carsland! Just give them the time. We are such in a “Now” time of life that we forget that when we rush to get something done its not as good as when we take our time to get the most out of what we are doing.

  12. Mike

    … and then there’s the strange case of The Matterhorn, a tie-in with the nearly forgotten Disney film “Third Man on the Mountain,” but which has become a classic on its own merits.

    1. EricJ

      And Mission Space, introduced by “Mission to Mars” star Gary Sinise, or Lucky the Dinosaur’s handler initially wearing one of the outfits from Dinotopia: the Series.
      Thing is, we remember those as being creations of the Imagineers, not official Mount-Rushmore representations of whatever Disney Studios had hoped would be hits at the time. Expedition Everest isn’t based on ANYTHING in particular, yet it’s one of the more immersive successes in creating a world-story for the specific theme-park purpose it was built for. Like I say, let ’em do their job, that’s what we pay ’em for. :)

  13. Nicole C.

    I’m sure fans would like a Frozen ride. I think they are still old classic movies who need rides before a new movie is grabbed Their own ride…ex: Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, & Pocahontas!

    1. EricJ

      See, that’s exactly what I was talking about–We’ve got Peter Pan in our heads, yes, but why would a RIDE capture the experience better than an area, or just meeting the character?
      There’s no Beauty & the Beast -ride-, but you couldn’t outdo the Be Our Guest restaurant for “movie experience”. Would riding in a Pocahontas log-flume canoe sum up her character (as much as seeing her at AK)? And I’ve never seen the dragon underneath DLParis’s castle, but it still doesn’t make me think “Aurora”.
      Peter Pan’s most movie-memorable moments were about going somewhere, it was about flying over London. That’s why that ride worked, and Alice, Pinocchio, Roger Rabbit, Monsters Inc. at DCA and Little Mermaid…didn’t, really.

      1. Chaz

        I’ll respectfully disagree with you about those rides not “working,” especially the Little Mermaid ride. One of the best (if not THE best) elements of the movie was the music. Imagineers knew that, which is why the ride is largely centered around the songs from the movie. As for the others, they work in their own way.

    2. Mariah

      Well Aurora and Cinderella’s castles are the landmarks for the 2 American parks,because their movies really don’t have much “experience” to go through-heck,Aurora is barely in her movie! While I would LOVE to see a Pocahontas ride, especially because of the music, i feel like there would be a certain amount of backlash from Native Americans, just like there was(and still is) about the movie among that community. Frozen is Disney’s highest grossing animated movie, not to mention the highest grossing animated film of all time,and the #6 highest grossing film of all time. So,of course Disney is going to grab the bull by the horns and develop as much as they can. Fans aren’t going to want to wait 20 years,like with TLM.

  14. Ryan R

    Hey, if it took them 20 years to make a Little Mermaid ride after the movie came out, then I’m pretty sure it’ll be 20 years that a frozen ride will come out after the movie. Plus, why would people get so exited over a frozen ride? I’m pretty sure it would be another slow ride like the little mermaid ride.

  15. Gabriella

    I feel as though a Frozen ride is a predictable, yet smart move for Disney. Considering Frozen has been a major hit and still has its wow-factor months after release, Frozen is bound to be a Disney classic just like Snow White or Cinderella.
    I can imagine the Frozen ride being a dark ride that takes you through the classic scenes of the movie, but uses adventure elements like steep drops and skidding across ice.

    1. Keegan

      I asked every one I know and every one thinks it would be amazing!!

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