Throughout the development of EPCOT Center, the one shining constant was a pavilion representing the United States of America. The park layout did indeed change several times in the planning stages and it placed the host pavilion in various spots until it landed in the center of World Showcase. However, The American Adventure we know today didn’t always start off as the largest animatronic stage show ever created.
Early on, most World Showcase pavilions were getting rides and Imagineers originally considered revamping an idea for the Magic Kingdom which never came to be, the Western River Expedition. Before Big Thunder Mountain, Frontierland was slated to get a boat ride designed by Marc Davis. A similar boat ride concept was considered for EPCOT Center. America would have been represented through music and song along with classic folktale legends like Paul Bunyan. However, the idea was scrapped in favor of something that actually told the history of America and took a more serious tone.
Narrowing down over 200 years of history and telling the story in a Disney way was not an easy task. You can’t avoid heavy topics like slavery, Native Americans or even voting equality. When the idea for a ride was scrapped in favor of a stage show, they wanted prominent figures to represent the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.
Notice in the sketch above that there are three animatronic figures in the final scene of The American Adventure. Ben Franklin was chosen to represent the 18th century, while Mark Twain became the spokesman for the 19th century.
There was even a time when the show would have featured some of Twain’s most famous characters, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, floating by on an animated raft. That idea was scrapped, but the raft still remains in the show in the Frederick Douglas scene.
Twain was an obvious choice to act as host, but who would represent the 20th century and act as the third narrator? Many names were tossed around and nearly all of them, no matter how noble, were tossed out because they were considered too controversial and Disney’s isn’t a fan of causing a stir. Finally, they arrived on Will Rogers.
He seemed to be the right fit. A unique American hero that didn’t have too much baggage that was well respected across the board. The problem was name recognition.
Disney decided to take the concept of The American Adventure and present concept art to about 150 political science college students. Only five knew who Rogers was and thus, the show went from having three hosts to the two we ultimately have today.
As we all know, Will Rogers still plays an important part of The American Adventure in his scene representing The Great Depression. He’s also the first animatronic to actually twirl a lasso, which is one of my personal favorite effects in any attraction anywhere.
Come back next time and we will look at a World Showcase pavilion that never made it off the ground. Until then….
Make sure to follow Theme Park University on Instagram, on Twitter and like our Facebook page! Doing any online shopping? Click on any Amazon link on this page and it helps TPU pay the bills and costs you nothing extra!
Images Copyright: Walt Disney Company – All Rights Reserved