Saturday, October 11, 2008

No Love for Norway!

It's been more than two years since EPCOT Central examined the sad state of the Norwegian pavilion at EPCOT's World Showcase.

Now, Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten has caught wind of the travesty that Disney has made of this country's representation. It quotes a Norway pavilion cast member as saying, "Frankly, I’m embarrassed when I show this outdated film to tourists."

Not surprisingly, Disney proves once again how it is embarrassingly out of touch with actual guest reaction. Disney spokesperson Kim Prunty insists to Aftenposten, "The film is only one of many ways of showing Norwegian culture to our guests, who are generally very happy with what they see at the pavilion."

Has she seen the film? That is, if it's even running.

The theater in which it plays looks like it's Scotch-taped together in places, and the badly scratched 70mm film plays like a time capsule from 1988, barely even hinting at the massive progress that Norway has made in the last 20 years.

Or maybe she's referring to the Norwegian musical group Spelmanns Gledje, which performs at the Norw-- oops, that's right. Disney eliminated that entertainment option a few weeks ago as part of a cost-cutting move.

Maybe Kim's talking about the authentic Norwegian buffet you can find at Akersh-- oh, wait, no, that's now the "Akershus Royal Banquet Hall," which offers such Norwegian delicacies as pasta, hot dogs and cheese ravioli. (Granted, there are apparently still some very basic Norwegian offerings on the menu, but I've yet to hear of childless adults who have attempted to dine there recently.)

Visitors to the Norway pavilion would never know that it is one of the most developed, advanced, peaceful, prosperous and, frankly, beautiful nations in the entire world. If you're at all interested in a basic primer on Norway, check out the well-researched Wikipedia entry on the country.

But whatever you do, don't go to EPCOT. You might find some lovely desserts and a C-ticket attraction (which should be so much better). You'll also find incongruous Disney princesses and you'll have to navigate a sea of strollers, harried parents and screaming children, since the extraordinary Akershus restaurant was converted into all Disney-princess dining a few years back.

There's some blame to be held by the Norwegian government itself. From what I've been told, the government decided not to renew its sponsorship -- which is rather odd, considering how wealthy and prosperous the country is. Given the millions of people who visit the pavilion each year, an investment would almost certainly realize a good return by leading to tourism.

Then again, it's quite possible Disney didn't want the Norwegian sponsorship renewed. If it had been, Disney might actually have to perform maintenance and upkeep on Maelstrom, its barren exit and the rarely changed (but quite good) exhibit inside the stave church -- and they might need to get rid of Middle Eastern Jasmine, French Belle and Cinderella, and German Snow White congregating inside the replica of Norway's oldest fortress.

Norway is an extraordinary country. For fun, here are a couple of pictures I took along the Sognefjord last year. (Yes -- the fascination I had with Norway thanks to visiting the EPCOT pavilion did indeed result in a trip there!)

Norway deserves so much better than it's getting at EPCOT, and it's nice to see that, finally, someone else has noticed.


Brian said...

I agree that the Norway pavilion is in a pretty sad state. I'm going to assume that in this case it's not malicious intent (wouldn't it just be easier if it was always malicious intent on some Disney exec's part that caused the decay or something at Epcot?)

Here's how I think it has probably played out: Norway pulled their sponsorship from their own pavilion; Disney was faced with another pavilion that *must* make money (i.e. The Seas). So they cut some corners and shove princesses into the restaurant to help pay for the upkeep of the pavilion. Everything else is maintained at status quo until Norway someday hopefully decides to sponsor their own pavilion once again. (even short films are extremely expensive to produce, after all...)

There's an interesting catch-22 here: "why would we renew sponsorship if you've let the pavilion stagnate?" "we wouldn't have let the pavilion stagnate if you had renewed sponsorship..." etc.

I'm not sure there's a clear answer here - there are probably not too many organizations in norway who would be interested in renewing sponsorship (especially in this economy). I'm going to *guess* that Epcot has a pretty strict policy about not doing much with non-sponsored pavilions (and it really shows - I'm waiting for Universe of Energy to get the axe...)

I will say that I was at "Norway" a few weeks back and it is clean and maintained- like everything else at Epcot. So at least there's that...

Anonymous said...

If by malicious intent you mean, "We've got to continue cutting back on meaningful guest improvements in order to realize greater profit so that bonusable executives can get more money and Jay Rasulo can continue having multi-million-dollar events to announce birthday-party promotions and curry favor with Wall Street," then, yes, I believe there has been malicious intent.

We're seeing the net result of that malicious intent across the board, thanks to those brilliantly educated MBAs, every day when we turn on the news, open the newspaper or check our 401(k) values.

Am I overstating the case? No, I don't think so. Disney could run every pavilion, every ride, every attraction at EPCOT without a sponsor. Walt Disney got sponsors for Disneyland only because he literally broke the bank of the company and couldn't afford to build Disneyland any other way. EPCOT Center was the same way. When it was being built, the price tag was so high that Disney could not afford to fund every aspect of it.

But now, the "sponsor" issue is just a diversionary tactic. Disney could afford everything it wants or needs to do at EPCOT and every other theme park it runs. What it seems like, though, is -- it doesn't WANT to.

Gotta wonder why, don't you?

Smilee306 said...

You have eloquently stated what I've thought for so long - Norway seems like a beautiful place, and it had a beautiful film to promote it - in 1992 when I first visited. The general idea of the film is not bad, and the scenes with the little boy and the ship still inspire me, so I don't think they would even have to redo the whole film. They just need to get rid of the 80's models and a few other scenes that are so painfully out of date. It can't be inspiring many people anymore.

Anonymous said...

You have not heard the rumors then?


David Landon said...

This really isn't shocking; it's been fairly well established that Disney doesn't like to spend money on EPCOT unless it absolutely has to. I look for Disney to kill the film altogether, rather than spend the money to update it.

As far as the menu at Akershus, in my opinion there's a problem with Disney World dining altogether; in fact, I'm working on a blog post about it.

Norway was a pretty strange place to shoehorn the Princesses into; why not France or the UK, I wonder?

Scott said...

I didn't visit the "attraction" at Norway last June, but we did go last October (07) and even with the film in need of at least a new print, and preferably some updating, it does portray a beautiful country. Still, I wish the bean counters would get overruled and upgrades to this and other pavilions could happen, and in an imaginative way, not just the same old stuff...

Eric Hoffman said...

First let me say Maelstrom for all its clunkiness and short duration is actually one of my favorite rides in all of WDW. Yeah, you read that right. Much like the old El Rio de Tiempo was. Lots of atmosphere and interest to both.

However the pavilion is painfully out of date and it is run down. I was there a month ago and noticed the wall treatments (the huge mural) in the oil rig "scene" peeling off the wall. Come on! Shameful.

The cast members' morale really seems to also match the state of the pavilion. No one is rude but there is no joy there. It's just a job for them, a task to be completed. I can sympathize with them.

I also think it was a mistake to force riders to have to either view or move through the theater (after waiting for it to end). It just wasn't a smart crowd control solution.

During one visit a few years ago my then 9 month old daughter got a little "cranky" as a crowd waited at the end of the ride for the movie to let out. After what seemed like an eternity a group of similarly frustrated and impatient adults - our family included - busted through one of the Cast Member only doors and proceeded through a twisting maze of back stage hallways.

We were quickly met and escorted by hordes of polite but firm and irritated security who must have gotten a hot flash or two at seeing about 2 dozen guests walking around back stage.

It was the most entertaining and educational visit to the pavilion since other than my initial visit from years past.

Anonymous said...

Eric -- I also noticed the peeling mural on the oil-rig scene. Horrifying!

But why on earth would you go through cast member doors? Because you didn't want to wait a few more minutes for the end of the previous show?

That sounds like equally horrifying behavior to me!

Eric Hoffman said...

Trent, it was actually much longer than a few minutes, it was over 20 minutes. They apparantely were having some technical troubles although nobody in charge ever said anything to the growing crowd. That little area was not made to hold 20 minutes worth of riders exiting the ride during peak visitor traffic. It was actually getting a little tense...

All things being equal I'd normally be happy for the downtime and opportunity to admire the details of the area.

Anyway, yeah, not a proud moment and certainly not something I would advocate people do.

Anonymous said...

Well, that kind of explains it, and makes me wonder why no cast member acknolwedged it!

One thing I'll say, on another note, is that I've spent some time in Bergen, Norway and it's really cool to see just how authentic that holding area is. It may seem impossible, but the exit area of the Maelstrom ride really does feel like being in that area of Norway for a few minutes!

Anonymous said...

The idea that the World Showcase lands inspire tourism to the actual
country, just like someone said earlier about Norway is very true
I think. My brother just sorta up and decided to go to Norway after
a visit to Epcot with the family oh, about late 90's or so. I think
he had just gotten out of rehab for
a nasty cocaine addiction and it was the basis of his VAST improvment. And you know somthing? It wasnt the ride, or the decor or
themeing or whatever that made him
decide to do this, it was the nice
young Norwegian lass he met that was so friendly and told him all about her native country. It's sad
to see that Disney is letting the state of thier attractions decline to the point where the castmembers dont do the job thier really supposed to which is put the best face on their country possible.

BTW When I mean he went to Norway I dont mean for a 2 week vacation.
He got on some kinda program and went and spent six months on a farm in the coldest part. The stories he brought back and the experiance he had was priceless, especially when compared with the cost of keeping an attraction up.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Epcot82's comments on the matter, I made a point of going to see the Norway pavilion and its attractions last time I was at Walt Disney World for work.

Yes, the movie was horribly outdated. Yes, Maelstrom was a bit clunky. Askerhosen (or whatever it is called) did have peculiar "Norwegian" foodal imports. But thanks to one shop, I can tell you that Disney it doing its best to keep the Norway pavilion alive. I discovered and purchased something from Helly Hansen!

Now, I had never heard of Helly Hansen before, but I was in need of acquiring a new ski jacket, and there, in the middle of a hot and disgusting Florida day, I found the perfect one. At Helly Hansen! Since then, I have bought the matching snow pants to go with the jacket, and my skiing last season was the best ever. THanks to Helly Hansen!

I will forever thank Disney for turning me on to Helly Hansen. For what defines modern globalization and cultural exchange more than shopping?

Dan said...

I just returned from Epcot, and agree that Maelstrom is showing its age. Having just seen the film in January, I skipped it and walked through the open doors. More than half of the crowd did the same thing. This is not a good sign. Epcot needs some serious updating, particularly in World Showcase. Would it be so hard to add a few new attractions in the countries?

J.D. Contos said...

Norwegian homesteaders built the house 5 generations of my family inhabited here in central Florida, and yeah, the Maelstrom was a childhood favorite. EPCOT is a blur, but here I am looking to cast Norwegian speakers for my debut feature film—a fantasy adventure in Norsk, not kidding. I wonder where all the Norwegians in Orlando wind up after Disney’s done with them? I could use some actors/ language consultants.. any leads? Thanks!
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Norsk forsøkers bygde huset 5 generasjoner av familien budd folk her i det sentrale Florida, og ja, det Maelstrom var barndomshjemmet favoritt. EPCOT er en dimme, men her er jeg ute å kaste norsk høyttalere for min debut spillefilm - en fantasy eventyr i Norsk, ikke en spøk. Jeg lurer på hvor alle nordmenn i Orlando vind opp etter Disney's ferdige med dem? Jeg kunne bruke enkelte aktører / konsulenter .. eventuelle salg?

Unknown said...

i was just there yesterday and omg the norwegian boys are SO hot!

Dave said...

Was at Epcot a couple weeks ago for my free birthday day.

You're kind of right. Norway is looking rather dated in places. The movie is old and the ride needs some kind of tech update. The waiting area just before the movie is actually rather pleasant to just sit there.

While it was rather early in the day on my pass around the lagoon, I will admit that the whole "princess" spiel turned me off from visiting Akershus. The bakery is definitely a go: clodhorns and jarlsburg cheese soup.

As far as El Rio Del Tiempo: missed feelings. It was strangely one of my favorite rides: it was out of the heat, a boat, and full of Maya and Aztec. I knew it was fake; but still great.

The greatest risk at the Dis, is that in any tech update there is a really good chance that they'll rip out what works and put bs in it's place. For example: the most recent update they've done to Spaceship Earth: dumbed down and condescending with several scenes either removed or reworked.

Oddly enough, I find the World Showcase pavillions that are holding up best to the passage of time are the ones without rides or movies: Morrocco, UK, Germany, maybe Italy. Only exception to my statement is the American Adventure, which is still pretty killer.

ses0007 said...

I was at Epcot last week. I agree the Norway film is way outdated, but so it that of some of the other countries. China anyone? I don't think that any of the countries have been updated much though. Disney really should make some updates and modernize there countries to show how they are today.

Anonymous said...

I went to the Norway Exhibit over 10 years ago and I laughed myself to death. The show started with a low key Americanized intro to Norway. We sat on a ride made to look like a viking ship. As we were riding around we were given a glimpse of Norway from an American point of view. At the very end of the show, Thor, our gracious host, splashed us with water and told us not to come back. I laughed very hard imaging what Norwegians would think of an exhibit that makes them out to be a bunch of creeps.

The China exhibit was very good, however. I think Disney doesn't want to piss off an enormous potential market.