Sometimes it seems like there’s no news, and then all of a sudden… the deluge.
The New York Times has provided the first official confirmation of the long-rumored changes to Walt Disney World’s Hall of Presidents. The attraction, which has been closed for refurbishment since last October, will re-open on the 4th of July with an entirely new show and the addition of an animatronic Barack Obama.
Details in a moment, but first I have to say that I’m incredibly excited about this in the most nerdy way possible. The Hall of Presidents has long fascinated me, and grown into one of my favorites over the years. For obvious personal reasons, I haven’t been able to properly enjoy it for the last eight years. Even before the recent troubles, though, there was the ill-conceived refocusing of the attraction’s narrative in 1993 that muddled the theme of the show and added an awful narration by Maya Angelou.
Thankfully, all that seems to be in the past as an entirely new show has been created with a narration by actor Morgan Freeman. Even more exciting is the fact that the new presentation is based on a treatment by presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of the bestselling Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. I’m quite the fan of Goodwin, and the fact that her work on the project began two years ago shows that this won’t be a fly-by-night upgrade.
The article mentions that the theater will receive a new sound system, which is a blessing, and that Abraham Lincoln will now recite the entire Gettysburg Address. This is indeed news, and should make for an excellent and relevant presentation. The Times also mentions something that we reported last year; for the first time in the Hall of Presidents (or any Disney attraction), George Washington will have a speaking role. Not only is this much deserved, but think of the impact – all of you who are life-long Disney fans, think of Abraham Lincoln. I guarantee that you have a voice in your head and a notion, at least, of his personality. Then think of Washington. Despite his incredibly prominent and crucial role in American history, he’s far less vivid (in my head, at least). I chalk this up, in part, to Lincoln’s constant presence in Disney parks since 1964. I’ve seen Lincoln speak. It will be fascinating to see him joined by Washington.
Then, of course, there’s President Obama. On March 4th, Obama was joined in the White House Map Room by Imagineering writer Pamela Fisher and senior show producer Kathy Rogers. He then recorded a short speech that had been drafted by Disney’s writers and polished by White House speechwriter Jon Favreau. Mr. Obama also recorded a re-enactment of the presidential oath of office, which will apparently be part of the new show. The article mentions that the new figure created for Obama is Disney’s most detailed yet; they have made some incredible strides in animatronic technology in recent years, so it should be fascinating to see in action.
There’s something about the atmosphere that the original Imagineers created in Liberty Square that I find incredibly appealing. Perhaps it’s because the land features a theme that WDI has not attempted since; the American Adventure pavilion at EPCOT Center is less an exercise in placemaking than an architectural brainteaser to cloak the massive war wagon that drives the show inside. It’s why I long for Disney’s America – the attraction lineup for that park is fairly unexciting, but the theming would have been exquisite.
In any case, we’ll get to see how it all comes together this Fourth of July. The involvement of Doris Kearns Goodwin gives me hope that the new film will be both classy and coherent, and hopefully will provide a perspective on the role these 44 men (although I’m on to you, Chester A. Arthur) have played in the history of our nation.