November 10, 2008
Building A Better MouseTrip
I’ll bet you thought it was too late to visit the 1964 World’s Fair, didn’t you? The fair was actually held over for an additional year, but even by the most generous measure, you’re about 43 years late for the New York venue.
Several of the most popular attractions are still alive and going strong, though, albeit with a few updates and expansions along the way.
You can begin your trip through the Johnson Administration at the Carousel of Progress, which was designed and built by Disney’s Imagineers on behalf of General Electric. Walt designed the show with heavy emphasis on GE product placement (causing his project lead to dismiss the whole thing as a “refrigerator show”), but loosely based on Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town, in that it follows a single family through time and acknowledges the audience.
Yes, Carousel of Progress is campy, and I’d even agree that it has been clumsily updated…it would be far more interesting to see the 1960’s vignette rather than the modern day scene currently on display…but the narration at the beginning, pointing out Walt’s love of innovation and progress, could not be more true.
Next stop is the Hall of Presidents, which is the successor to an attraction built for the State of Illinois, featuring Abraham Lincoln. Walt was most personally involved in the development of this show, for which he was sharply criticized by those who believed that his treatment would lack respect or would cheapen Lincoln’s legacy…after all, 1964 was the 100th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. The audio-animatronic Lincoln was well-received by most, however, there’s another interesting sidebar to this story: The original body movement measurements and studies were done with Buddy Ebsen, the actor who would go on to portray Jed Clampett. Lincoln continues to dominate the Hall of Presidents and has, ironically, provided a sense of realism to a larger-than-life historical figure for generations of students (including me), though I confess that I have used the hall as punishment for my misbehaving children.
Finally, head over to the happiest cruise that ever sailed, it’s a small world. Walt was always working to line-up corporate sponsors, which was his usual method of financing his grandiose plans. With his staff already hard at work on the other attractions, Walt arranged to build a “little boat ride” for Pepsi and UNICEF in an irrationally short amount of time. The original idea was for the figures to sing their national anthems, but the result was an indecipherable wall of noise, which is why you’ve had that cute theme song stuck in your head for decades. Interestingly, Walt was also courting Coca-Cola at the same time, trying to interest it in sponsoring an audio-animatronic bird attraction that would eventually become the Enchanted Tiki Room.
Though it didn’t appear at the fair, Walt was working on an audio-animatronic bear band for a ski resort project at around the same time. The resort never materialized, but unless I’m mistaken, the band is still playing at the Country Bear Jamboree. Not many people would walk into the Magic Kingdom and only do the rides and shows that I’ve mentioned here, but old Uncle Walt personally touched all of them and believed that these kinds of attractions would be a big part of his legacy. He was absolutely right.