Monday, March 5, 2012

Attractions - The Art of Plussing (Hall of Presidents)

Continuing our popular series on Disney's rich tradition of "plussing" attractions, we will take a look at the Hall of Presidents.

For many, this attraction is an ideal location for taking a power nap during a mid-afternoon jaunt through the Magic Kingdom. For others, it is second only to the Carousel of Progress as the best place to sit and cool down during the sweltering summer months in Orlando. But, for many of us history buffs and Disney fanatics, this attraction is nothing short of magical.

The magic begins as soon as you enter the doors. The Presidential Seal greets you in the floor, directly in the center of the room; while portraits of many past presidents gaze upon you as you wait. In several areas around the room are glass cases containing personal objects and artifacts from a few select presidents. George W. Bush's boots, a wine glass from James K. Polk, coat buttons from John Adams, Ronald Reagan's belt buckle, and Herbert Hoover's fishing reel are among the objects on display. This glimpse into the personal lives of past presidents simply solidifies that fact that these giants among men were and are merely men - human beings called upon by a nation to serve in the highest office imaginable, only to willingly give back the mantle when their time for service has passed.

Once ushered into the auditorium, you rest (after moving as far down the aisle as possible) in a seat facing the large, red curtain. After the announcement that "Walt Disney proudly presents The Hall of Presidents" it occurs to you that this attraction most likely highlights Walt's own love of America. You nostalgically begin remembering images of Walt-as a child-dressed as his childhood hero, Abraham Lincoln. Suddenly, the curtain draws and the narrator carries you through a summary of America's founding and it's struggles from 1776 until today. The narration is captivating, while the images stirring. Each working together to stoke the fires of a building pride in America. Each serving to remind us that America is more than a location, it is more than even a nation of laws, it is a nation of ideals, of people. A resilient nation that has fought diligently over more than 2 centuries to establish and maintain a home for freedom. A beacon of hope for the world. And, at the head of that nation sits one man, who represents all mankind within its borders. One man, who has more power than imaginable, yet willfully gives up that power once his term is finished; without struggle, without strife; the President of the United States.

The Hall of Presidents honors both the men who have held that office and the office itself. Highlighting the uniqueness of this country and its government. But, while the history buff swells with pride, the Disney fanatic sits with childlike elation, taking in the details of the surroundings. One noteworthy detail comes in the presidential clothing. In fact, Disney Imagineers not only took painstaking measures to create lifelike audioanimatronic figures of the presidents, the clothes worn by those presidents is both authentic in the look and in the manufacturing process. That's right, Thomas Jefferson's shirt is not only period correct, it is sewn using the very sewing techniques that were correct for that time as well. Just another Disney detail that makes WDW so amazing.

This attraction, one of my favorites, opened in 1971 and remained unchanged at Walt Disney World until 1993; with the exception of adding Ford, Carter, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush when they were in office. When Clinton was added in 1993, the show received an overhaul, which lead to a greater focus on slavery and other historical issues. Lincoln's speech was also re-written, and a new musical score was added as was Maya Angelou as narrator. Clinton also recorded a speech as well.

In 2001, George W. Bush followed suit, while another narrator took the place of Angelou. Finally, in 2009, Obama was added as was his recorded speech. The voice of Morgan Freeman also became our guide through time as he elegantly highlighted points of our nation's story. For this history buff, the greatest addition was a speaking role for "His Excellency" George Washington (voiced by David Morse who portrays him in the 'John Adams' HBO miniseries based on David McCullough's best selling biography).

Though your opinion of whether or not these changes actually "plussed" the attraction may depend on your personal political views, in all, it is my opinion that the attraction has indeed improved.

Let us know what you think. Are the attraction changes always positive? Add your comments in the comments box, we would love to hear from you.

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