Adding President-Elect Joe Biden to The Hall of Presidents: Two Differing Options
With a U.S. election just completed, President-elect Joe Biden appears to be heading not just toward the White House, but the Hall of Presidents at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World. We take a quick look at the history of this attraction, consider the challenges that came as a result of President Trump’s addition, and then consider two possible approaches for moving forward differently on this attraction. Already the Washington Post and others have weighed in on what happens next with this attraction. For such a sleeper experience, where most park attendees go to take naps, it’s curious how this attraction has become a centerpiece for how we think of the Commander in Chief. While this is by no means intended to be a partisan piece in any form, it’s still important that we be honest about what makes sense for this attraction as it moves forward, especially into Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary.
A Patriotic Heritage
Below are some key moments that led to the Hall of Presidents we know today:
- Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln opened as a pavilion for the state of Illinois of the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. It would come to Disneyland shortly thereafter.
- Liberty Street was a concept to be added adjacent to Disneyland’s Main Street, USA. It would offer a Hall of Presidents. It was designed, but it never happened.
- The Hall of Presidents opened as part of Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom in 1971. Paralleling the Disneyland attraction, it was a cinematic experience with five screens and an animatronic showcase that followed. The following is a reconstructed version of this:
- Bill Clinton became the first U.S. President to lend his voice to an animatronic. George W. Bush and Barak Obama would follow. The film to one degree or another would also change, with a remarkably unique narration performed by Maya Angelou for Bill Clinton, and Morgan Freeman for Barak Obama. This later version also included for the first time President George Washington speaking.
Changes With Trump
Many changes came with the current version of the Hall of Presidents:
- President Trump would be added, creating 44 audio-animatronic figures (Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms).
- Ties to Walt Disney was made in the foyer and the film’s preamble.
- The Cast Member introduction emphasized a “reverent” presentation.
- A scalloped finial border was added between the audience and the stage.
- The film emphasized how the people chose the president, and how a president was different than a king or dictator.
- President’s Trump’s presentation was short and non-partisan.
- The Battle Hymn of the Republic was moved along with the rotunda of the Capitol building and clouds morphing into an American flag.
- Security Cast Members were present for each presentation.
Since the attraction re-opened with President Trumpo one or two park goers gotten social media attention by protesting the attraction. But for the most part it has not had really any ongoing difficulties. And more people see it each week than ever went online to protest the change in the first place.
Moving Forward with Biden
There are many critics who have differing opinions to what should become of the Hall of Presidents. There are important problematic challenges with the concept of the show. First, it is a show displaying a lack of diversity, with 44 men, no women, and only one non-caucasian. Second, many of these individuals were slave holders, and frankly, individuals one could fairly reason should not be honored in any manner.
The facility takes up a lot of space. It is a big show building that could be used for other purposes. Some suggest bringing in talent like Lin-Manuel Miranda to do something more contemporary with the show. No question, talent like his could offer something creative. But Hamilton is a unique signature piece. It stands alone. If something were to be done in a creative manner, I believe it needs to ultimately stand on its own merit, while filling the vision intended by Walt Disney himself.
But beyond the politics involved, one of the big challenges with a new president is the operational downtime of adding another president. Therefore I detail in the podcast two options for moving forward:
- A Return to Lincoln. Let Abraham Lincoln have the final say at the end of the presentation. This is what occurred in the original presentation. Simply remove having the new U.S. president speak. This would allow the current presentation to continue up through the inauguration, close for a few weeks, and then open with a new presentation that would be timeless. As new presidents were added to the show, the theater would go down for a week or two–not for a year or two.
- Offer an Inter-Presidential Debate. Another concept I propose is to give the presidents more stage time by having them share their opinions on some key, important topics. What would it sound like if Franklin Roosevelt agreed with John Adams, while disagreeing with Ronald Regan? Can you imagine Lincoln and Andrew Jackson discussing comparisons and contrasts of the Civil war with Null and Void Tariff Laws. Using words originally stated by them but directed toward others not of their generation, it might be interesting to have such a presentation.
I align with Walt Disney’s original intent, which was to honor America by honoring the office of the U.S. Presidency. As a youth I spent my lawn money on an album of The Hall of Presidents. Actually, the original album became worn and I obtained a second version while still young. I learned the order of the presidents as they were announced. And I became an admirer of the speech Abraham Lincoln paid. In the current version, he shares the Gettysburg Address. In the original version, he gave remarks comparable to Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. This is a compilation of several speeches that you can find listed here. When Lincoln spoke in of threats to America, critics saw Disney as creating a commentary against communism and socialism, relevant themes in the 60’s and 70’s. But I have studied and listened to this compiled address again and again. It is not about any other enemy, than the enemy we author ourselves.
The American Adventure is to The Hall of Presidents like the Hall of Presidents is . The American Adventure at Epcot is many things. As one of eleven world showcase pavilions, it offers a gallery, entertainment, retail, and food & beverage options. But uniquely the name of the pavilion is also the name of its primary attraction, which is a condensed theatrical show portraying of the history of the United States. It sits in a grand theater that is seldom full. There are many reasons for this. But I believe if one truly understood the messages of this show, one would not only attend, but find context and solutions for today’s world, and importantly, hope for the future. Part One can be found here. It is Episode 96. Part Two will be offered at a future date.