Renovations to bring Disney World's Hall of Presidents into 21st century
Sentinel Staff Writer
October 31, 2008
Barack Obama or John McCain -- here's one more issue for voters to consider: Which one would they rather listen to at Walt Disney World in the Magic Kingdom's Hall of Presidents show?
One of them will get to address visitors each day in the theme park once the animatronic attraction undergoes a renovation.
To make room for a new, robotic version of the 44th president of the United States, Disney will close the 37-year-old Hall of Presidents after today for an extended refurbishment. The show will stay shuttered for more than eight months so Disney can update the hall's aging light, sound, mechanical, projection and show systems, just as the company has done in recent years with other "classic" Magic Kingdom attractions such as It's A Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion.
"We're about to get a new president. And so, since we have to shut down the show anyway to welcome No. 44, we're going to take the opportunity to . . . refurbish the attractions and the facility and also kind of wave the magic wand around a little bit," said Pam Fisher, senior show writer for Walt Disney Imagineering. Updating a '70s show
First envisioned by Walt Disney in the early 1960s, the show premiered when the Magic Kingdom opened Oct. 1, 1971. In an auditorium, visitors view a 10-minute, panoramic film of American history. The film projects, onto five screens, narrated images of paintings produced by Disney artists in the styles of American masters, from John Trumbull to Norman Rockwell. When the film ends and the screens rise, people see a large stage where life-size, robotic figures of every U.S. president are grouped, standing or sitting, for a roll call and a couple of speeches.
The show has always featured a speech by the Lincoln figure. In the 1990s, Disney began adding a second speech by the current president. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush recorded their addresses, and Disney hopes to entice the next president to do the same.
"We'll do everything in our power to make it so," Fisher said. "We've been really lucky so far. It is quite an experience to arrive in the White House and actually be present when the president records his speech for the Hall of Presidents."
When the show reopens next year July 4, a third figure, George Washington, will also be given a speaking part.
Like many Disney theme-park attractions dating from the 1950s through the early '70s, the Hall of Presidents' artwork was created by renowned Disney artists such as Herb Ryman, Sam McKim and John DeCuir. The 70mm film projectors will be replaced with digital-video projection systems, which should give the presentation fresh boldness and clarity, Fisher said.
All of the presidents' faces were sculpted by Disney artist Blaine Gibson. But he's 90 years old and, though he remains involved, he is handing off the job of sculpting the 44th president to prot�g� Valerie Edwards. Better view of presidents
The attraction's technology upgrades should improve the view of Gibson's (and Edwards') work as well. As the narrator introduces each president, a spotlight shines briefly on that figure, which waves or nods. But the presidents are randomly arranged, the introductions pass quickly, and the spotlights flit about, so some viewers have a hard time following the progression. With LED lighting, 21st-century controls and a longer spotlight for each president, it should become easier for the audience to tell John Tyler from James K. Polk.
"That is my No. 1 dream and hope of the show: to make the introduction of the presidents easier to follow," Fisher said. "We think that's really the highlight of the show." Scott Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5441.