After almost 9 months the waiting was finally over. Today was the Annual Passholder Preview of the newly renovated Hall of Presidents in the Magic Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
I was very excited when I first heard this attraction was being overhauled. It has always been one of my favorites. For me the Hall of Presidents epitomizes the very essence of what Walt Disney had in mind for his theme parks. It brings together masterful story telling, powerful imagery and cutting edge technology to draw the park visitor in and entertain while educating.
After the initial excitement wore off, the fear sank in. I know from experience that ‘upgrades’ and ‘rehabs’ don’t always have the best results, especially when dealing with timeless attractions that have a mythic place in most WDW veterans park going memories. I feared that my beloved attraction would be mutilated in some way that would sadden and disappoint me.
I am very happy to say that the current incarnation of this attraction does not disappoint! While many of the original elements remained, there were several improvements that I felt only helped to make the show that much more enjoyable.
The first change is the new signage outside the attraction as well as updated name….The Hall of Presidents – A Celebration of Liberty’s Leaders.
The atrium/pre-show area has been updated as well with added Presidential portraits and memorabilia. Getting the opportunity to see real articles owned by past Presidents is truly a treat. The area of the pre-show that got the most attention was the display of First Lady Dresses. Currently you can see one dress each from Edith Roosevelt, Elizabeth Monroe and Nancy Reagan.
The opening movie retains many of its original visuals but the picture is digitally projected and allows for the sharpest of imagery. I found the narrative is cleaner, precise and much more relevant than before. Veteran actor Morgan Freeman does the voice over and is a perfect choice. Subtle yet recognizable he manages to capture the energy and spirit of the narrative without overshadowing the context. The visuals and opening have been edited to make it shorter than before, yet using many of the old images to help deliver a similar message of the hardships the USA faced in its struggle to find a national identity. Of course no discourse on American history would be complete without a mention of the civil war.
At the end of this ‘first part’ of the movie, a spotlight shines on Abraham Lincoln sitting in a chair, alone on the stage. He rises and proceeds to give the Gettysburg Address. Smooth and flawless in his motions, there is no indication this is an audio-animatronic on the stage and not a real live, human being.
After that, Lincoln sits back down and the movie and narrative continues with a focus on the struggles that all Presidents face as they strive to perform a most unenviable job. Images of some of the most recognizable Presidents fill the large tri-paneled screens. Names and faces like FDR, JFK, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush remind us that each President faces his own challenges during his Presidency.
The curtain rises and we see all of the Presidents. They are introduced to the audience one at a time in the order of their Presidency. The introductions are much more fluid and much quicker than in the past, which is a welcome change to those of us who are waiting for them to ‘speak’.
Once the introductions are over, George Washington stands and addresses the audience. This is a huge change from the previous version of this attraction and the first time Mr. Washington has spoken in this attraction. Our first President is voiced by David Morse who also played George Washington in the HBO mini-series “John Adams”. A perfect match.
President Washington reminds us of the importance of a sacred oath each President must take and uphold. He then introduces President Barack Obama who repeats the Oath of Office and then gives a short speech which was written just for this attraction. This is where it truly got exciting for me. I had read that the President Obama Animatronic was going to be the most sophisticated one ever. Not quite the “next generation” Animatronic; but because the entire world has seen so many of his speeches the Imagineers had to get his facial expressions perfect. I feel they really hit a home run here. His lips purse, his brow furrows and his cheeks puff in a perfect mimicry of our current President.
My only complaint is that I feel that the face of President Obama is just a little ‘off’. It seemed to not be an exact likeness, but pretty darn close.
Overall I was very impressed and happy by the changes made to this attraction. And by the sound of the applause from the audience when it was over, I don’t think I was the only one. I even saw some eyes being dried when the lights came up (Kevin).
I also want to thank the person/people who changed the handicap seating area in this attraction. Now the entire back row of the theater is for mobility challenged guests and their families (similar to Mickey’s Philharmagic). In the past the handicap seating was on the sides of the theater in the ‘wings’ on the slope portion of the floor near the doors. Thank you to whoever put in the time and thought to correct this.
The Hall of Presidents will officially open to the public on July 4, 2009 with shows running continuously during park hours. The space is beautiful and well air conditioned, however larger guests will find the small theater seats a bit uncomfortable. Luckily the entire show isn’t too long and it is definately worth a small amount of discomfort. This attraction also boasts state-of-the-art equipment that make it fully accessible to hearing impaired guests.
I encourage everyone to put this on your ‘must do’ list for your next Walt Disney World vacation.
Category: Disney World