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A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Norway in Epcot’s World Showcase



By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

NORWAY IN EPCOT’S WORLD SHOWCASE

By Jim Korkis

The Norway Pavilion was the 11th and last (so far) country added to Epcot’s World Showcase–in 1988. Norwegian Showcase (NorShow) was a consortium of eleven companies established to pay for the pavilion and represent Norwegian interests. The Norwegian government also helped pay for the pavilion.

Disney Imagineers first proposed an attraction called SeaVenture, where guests would ride along a 946-foot water flume and encounter trolls, gnomes, and the legends about them, with a theme song written by the Sherman Brothers. Another proposal was Vikings on their way on the Rainbow Bridge to Valhalla.

The Norwegian sponsors wanted the attraction to be more of a travelogue to encourage increased tourism. NorShow gave the Imagineers a list of items they wanted shown in the attraction that they felt uniquely related to the story of Norway including Vikings, a fishing village, a polar bear, a fjord, an oil rig, and perhaps, if there was room, a troll or two.

Attraction Designer Bob Kurzweil came up with the new approach that it would be a time-travel experience through the history of Norway to give guests the experience that “those who seek the spirit of Norway face peril and adventure, but more often find beauty and charm.”

Disney Imagineer Randy Bright stated, “It’s the first ride that actually goes backwards, and the first ride that will utilize Audio-Animatronics in a black light environment.”

An Epcot press release at the time described the attraction as “Visitors take a fantasy voyage that departs a modern-day village on a Norwegian fjord and journeys up a cascading waterway into the Norway of old. The trip is aboard small ships patterned after the dragon-headed craft of Eric the Red and his fellow explorers.”

The boats were some of the first concept art work done by Imagineer Joe Rohde for Walt Disney World. It was also some of the last work done by famed Imagineer Jack Ferges, who built the model for the ride vehicle ship, and also sculpted the polar bear maquettes.

Originally, the polar bear (who stood 11 feet tall) scene was going to feature extensive rockwork but, to cut costs, most of it was replaced with black-light painted flats.

Adding to the attraction’s appeal would be various drops including one of twenty-eight feet, and visual effects, as well as a unique directional change with the ride vehicle briefly going outside over a waterfall and then return into the attraction and go backward. The new designs also called for a full-scale replication of a North Sea storm to include wind, waves, rain, thunder, and lightning.

Over the years, there were a few minor changes made to the attraction. The smoke effects in both the Troll scene and the reverse scene were toned down. The wave and rain effects in the North Sea Storm scene were also muted, and the Tesla coil that originally created the lightning effect over the oil rig was replaced with strobe lights.

At the end of the boat ride was a theater showing a six-minute film entitled The Spirit of Norway, directed by Paul Gerber, about the beauty of present day Norway. In later years, guests often walked straight through the theater rather than watching the outdated film.

In the first full year of operations nearly 5.7 million guests rode the Maelstrom attraction.

NorShow sold back its interest in the pavilion to Disney in 1992 for $26 million, a loss of more than $8 million on its initial investment of close to $34 million. In September 2014, Disney announced that the attraction would be replaced with a new attraction based on the animated feature Frozen (2013) that would immerse guests in favorite moments from that film.

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Disney Never Lands, and about planned but unbuilt concepts, and Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

 

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