Monday, February 18, 2013

The Hall of President's: an Attraction History and Overview

Whether you “LOVE IT” or... your eyes and feet take the opportunity for a 25 minute break the Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom is iconic because it is an original attraction, opening with the park on opening day October 1, 1971. Before his death in 1966, Walt Disney had planned an attraction featuring all the presidents for Disneyland in California. Facing too many technical challenges, he instead created an Audio-Animatronics figure of President Abraham Lincoln which then debuted at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. It ultimately became part of the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln attraction which debuted in 1965 at Disneyland in California, which some have called the “big brother” to this attraction. In 1971, with the technology time tested and perfected, Abraham Lincoln and every other President at the time appeared onstage in The Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square at Magic Kingdom park on Opening Day. Since then, every U.S. President, including the addition of Barack Obama, has been added to the roll call.

The building for The Hall of Presidents is modeled after Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The pre-show lobby features presidential portraits, display cases filled with personal artifacts of presidents including Gerald Ford, Franklin Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover and treasures such as George Washington’s dental instruments and Abraham Lincoln’s leather portfolio. There are also large display cases exhibiting dresses and personal objects worn by several first ladies, including Edith Roosevelt (Teddy’s wife), Elizabeth Monroe and Nancy Reagan.

The original show remained largely unchanged from 1971 until 1993. Several parts of the show and script were rewritten at this time. From 1993 through today each sitting president has been featured with his “figure” giving a speech. It was also closed November 1, 2008 for it's most significant refurbishment ever and reopened about July 4, 2009. Before the actual show starts, there’s a patriotic film about the origins of the constitution & the U.S. Some of the other highlights of the show: Obama gives the Oath of Office, Lincoln delivers the Gettysburg Address, and Washington explains the importance of the presidential oath of office using portions of a speech he actually gave during his second inauguration ceremony.  Previously presented in 70mm film (using a special process created by Disney Legend Ub Iwerks) that was made to take up the audience's natural field of vision, the movie that tells the presidents’ story is now projected in high-definition video on three 30-foot-by-18-foot screens. The Imagineering team combed through the National Archives, Library of Congress, museums and private collections to acquire more than 130 new images ultimately woven into the show. They then digitized many of the huge paintings of scenic America created for the original movie. 

So if you haven't taken the time to take in this attraction recently, you might want to give it another try. Who knows, you might find that you enjoy this revised version. If nothing else, you'll be participating in a bit of Disney history with an original MK attraction and viewing some of the best audio animatronics in existence today, if not learning some American history or viewing some national treasures/artifacts in the process!

A few interesting tidbits:

Each one of the Presidents has his own wardrobe. The Imagineers went for total accuracy, picking out clothes that were close to what the men actually wore, and keeping with the style of their respective eras.

Obama’s Audio-Animatronic is one of the most hi-tech and accurate ones to date. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are also presidents who are in the AudAnim Hall of Fame.  These figures are some of the most lifelike because of the subtlety and smoothness of  movements and facial expressions.

Disney Legend Blaine Gibson, who designed the original animatronics on the ride, came out of retirement to design Presidents Reagan through H.W. Bush.

Disney legend Blaine Gibson sculpted every president except Obama – his protégée, Disney sculptor Valerie Edwards, sculpted Obama with oversight by Gibson, now 91.

Hidden Mickey fans: In the lobby, look for a picture of Washington standing among a bunch of colonial-ere men. Look at the end of his sword.

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