So you’ve probably heard about a little film coming out this November called Frozen 2.
And you may have seen that earlier today, Disney dropped the first official trailer for the movie, following behind February’s teaser.
The new footage contains a revelatory bit of Disney heritage, but before we dive into that, check out the full trailer (for the eighth time, probably).
The tone of the trailer is consistent with its teaser –– ambitious, mysterious, and even somewhat brooding. This is night and day from the publicity from the original Frozen in 2013, which similarly had a November release. That year, at this same point in June, we got a cutesy, cartoony teaser starring Olaf and Sven. That’s a far cry from what this new Frozen 2 trailer is. This sequel takes itself seriously, and wants us to know it. Not only that, but its marketing thus far seems to intentionally exclude Olaf from being the center of attention. He’s visible, and will certainly be a main star in the finished film, but in this early publicity he hasn’t yet spoken and is only at the forefront of a select few shots. (Perhaps Disney wants to cleanse our palette and rebuild the reputation left in the wake of the great Olaf vs. Coco debacle of 2017?)
The trailer is clever to leave many of the story’s details cryptic. We still don’t know exactly what’s going on, but we can make out some version of the plot being the gang traveling beyond Arendelle to seek answers to Elsa’s past and the origins of her powers. Grand Pabbie is quoted, proclaiming ever-so-trailer-esque, “We have always feared Elsa’s powers were too much for this world. Now we must hope they are enough.”
We also get a first look at Nokk, who Disney describes in its caption distributed to the press as “a mythical water spirit that takes the form of a horse — who uses the power of the ocean to guard the secrets of the forest.”
But here’s the really intriguing part of the Frozen 2 trailer, at least if you’re a fan of the Disney theme parks. One brief scene in the trailer depicts Anna and Olaf in a boat, traveling along a tranquil Scandinavian river before entering the mouth of a cave.
Once inside, things seem to wind up a bit more turbulent than the pair expected. Uh-oh! Down a tumultuous waterfall they go!
This seems awfully familiar to a certain controversial Walt Disney World attraction. In 2016, Disney opened Frozen Ever After, a boat ride taking Epcot guests through the kingdom of Arendelle, beginning as a peaceful journey before escalating with a plummet down not one, but two waterfalls.
So, you might be thinking to yourself, “Oh, cool. Frozen 2 has a nice little nod to its theme park ride. That’s neat.” Truth be told, though, there is a lot more happening between the lines. Piping hot tea coming through!
The decision to open Frozen Ever After was met with a hefty share of opposition from adult fans, partially because of the saturation of the Frozen franchise across endless media platforms everywhere, but mostly because of the ride’s location. Many fans felt that the attraction belonged in Magic Kingdom, a park known for its fantasy rides based on classic Disney fairy tales. Instead, Frozen Ever After was built at Epcot, a park largely comprised of international pavilions spotlighting real-world nations that set out to educate, inform, and inspire families about each country. Frozen Ever After was based in the fictional country of Arendelle rather than the very real nation that hosted its real estate in the park, Norway. Furthermore, Frozen Ever After didn’t seek to connect with the culture of Norway at all, but instead was strictly a ride celebrating its source movie. A fun ride? Absolutely. A good fit for an educational pavilion about Norway? Hmm, the jury’s out on that one.
On top of all that, Frozen Ever After replaced Maelstrom, a longstanding fan favorite that *did* connect to Norwegian culture, albeit with random sequences that didn’t have much to do with one another (jumping from polar bears to oil rigs to trolls within seconds) and left many guests confused. Still, it was a staple of the park, and had fans who would’ve been heartbroken to see it leave in any capacity, that disappointment all the more amplified by what replaced it. Frozen Ever After employs the same ride vehicles and layout that Maelstrom did before it, switching out the sets and characters for something entirely new. By and large, while physically it may be the same ride, thematically it most definitely is not.
All that to say… only a fraction of Epcot guests are aware of this context. The average guest in the average family goes into Frozen Ever After expecting a fun, mid-level family attraction, and gets it. The ride includes lifelike Audio-Animatronics figures, but doesn’t break any huge ground technologically. It satisfies expectations, delivers many young ones’ yearning to see Anna and Elsa in a ride, and leaves it at that. Most people probably don’t stop to consider if or how the ride teaches them about Norway, if they even realize Arendelle and Norway are not the same locale in the first place. Most people probably don’t know about the ride that formerly inhabited this same space. Most people probably don’t pause to ponder the grander purpose of Epcot as an educational experience as they sit down in their boat. Quite frankly, most people are here to ride a Frozen ride and just don’t care at all that other stuff.
But should they?
It’s a tough question to answer considering the history of Epcot and the pivot the park is currently making into its future. There is traditionally a lot of thought put into every detail of the Disney theme park experience, not just in individual attractions, but also in regards to those attractions’ placement as part of a larger “land” and the role they serve to tell the land’s bigger story. Here, there’s a distinctive reality that the ride itself and the outside pavilion simply don’t connect. What’s more, Epcot is currently seeing a trend in infusing familiar Disney characters into its content, sometimes maintaining a focus on education and other times disregarding it completely. (A Ratatouille attraction will open in 2020, followed by a Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster in 2021.) One could make the point that Epcot is evolving into a park that truthfully prioritizes the excitement of characters and the thrill of adrenaline rather than the seeking of knowledge. Whether this direction is good or bad is definitely open for discussion, but one can’t deny that this direction is what’s happening, and it’s not stopping.
With that framework in mind, Frozen Ever After actually *does* fit in Epcot, or at least in this new version of it.
That being said, I believe this oh-so-small glimpse in the Frozen 2 trailer into one individual waterfall sequence from the film is trying to tell us something. The similarities of the scene to Frozen Ever After are simply inescapable. It’s difficult to imagine the attraction not serving as some source of inspiration for the inclusion of this scene.
The message the scene is saying is open to interpretation, if it’s saying anything at all. It might just be an unimportant reference. But I think Disney puts too much intention into their work for that to be the case. No, I think by including a scene with a boat entering a Nordic-looking cave and descending a waterfall on film, Disney is essentially sending a swift rebuttal to those who said Frozen didn’t belong in a Nordic-looking cave and descending a waterfall at Epcot. I don’t think Disney will change the existing ride to depict this specific scene, but I do think the inclusion of the scene in the movie cements justification, once and for all, that, whether everyone agrees or not, Frozen Ever After fits in the space it occupies. It belongs. And if it didn’t before, it certainly does now. Why? Because its source material, which is now expanded to include a second film, matches verbatim what is experienced here, even if that identical media was created retroactively. It’s synergy, it’s charisma, it’s Disney making a bold statement to naysayers of the new direction the company is taking Epcot.
Or, it’s just a scene in a cave with a waterfall.