Well, this one is surely going to ruffle some feathers. Let’s dip into the old mailbag and check out the latest question to the TPU inbox regarding the Hall of Presidents at the Magic Kingdom. Theme Park University reader Jon asks:
Would love to see your thoughts on this issue. Is it time to discontinue the Hall of Presidents and replace it with something less controversial? What was once an amazing showcase of technology featuring an animatronic Abraham Lincoln, has become an embarrassing reminder of our real-world divisive politics that seems to have no place in a fantasy park where the world vacations to get away from stressors like politics. There are plenty of other places within the Walt Disney parks to see fantastic animatronics. Who goes to Disney World to get a history lesson? The attraction has run its course, is poorly attended, and could be replaced by a much more entertaining, and less controversial attraction. Is it time to scrap the whole thing and replace it with something new?
Well thanks for that powder keg, Jon. Let me point out that Jon’s question didn’t pertain to where he personally sits politically. I don’t know if he’s a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian or just plain doesn’t care about politics at all. It is with this analytical and logical hat that we are going to try to look at the fate of the Hall of Presidents. I know the headline alone got many people’s blood boiling, whether you are a fan of Donald Trump or not. For now, I’ll put party politics aside and look at the Hall of Presidents strictly from an analytical perspective. This article won’t represent Republican, Democrat, The Walt Disney Company or any kind of agenda.
For starters, there is a lot history behind The Hall of Presidents with the Walt Disney Company. In 1957, Walt Disney had plans for a Liberty Street in Disneyland. A side street just off of Main Street USA that would feature a Hall of Presidents attraction. Originally the idea was to have wax figures, then robotics were decided upon. However, it would take years to perfect animatronic technology, much less make it cost effective. Once Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln debuted at the 1964 World’s Fair, it paved the way for human animatronics to be used in attractions.
Fast forward to the opening of Walt Disney World in 1971 where audio-animatronics were prominently featured in nearly every attraction. Even though Walt himself never got to experience The Hall of Presidents because he passed away in December of 1966, this was an attraction that he would have been very proud of on the opening day of Walt Disney World.
Let’s also talk about how popular The Hall of Presidents used to be. Yes, popular. When the park opened, the attraction required a D ticket for entry. Meaning it was considered a just below top-tier attraction (4 out of 5, if you will, on a ranking scale). While we are on the subject of popularity, you know the Liberty Square Market to the left of The Hall of Presidents? During the first few years the Magic Kingdom was open, that shaded structure served as an extended queue for Hall of Presidents. Wrap your head around that for a second. The rotunda holds enough people for one show. That means if you’re waiting in the extended queue area, you’re waiting an hour for The Hall of Presidents.
Fast forward to the last ten years or more, you’d be hard-pressed to find the theater even filled to half capacity even on the busiest days of the year. So what happened? How did we get here? Has party politics driven a wedge so deep in our society that we can’t enjoy a show celebrating the history of the leaders of the United States? Something that the founder of the Walt Disney Company clearly cared deeply about?
Hold those horses and put down the pitchforks. Jon’s question above echoes a familiar sentiment shared by many (and I would dare say most) modern visitors to Walt Disney World: who goes to Walt Disney World to learn a history lesson? In a way, he has a point. If the idea of a Disney (or any theme park) vacation is to escape the real world, should the history of the United States (or any country) good or bad, be a part of that sense of escapism? Clearly, that’s a question you have to ask yourself as an individual. Based on how the attraction has been attended in the last few decades, I would dare say more guests than not are no longer interested in learning much of anything on vacation in a theme park.
Now let’s talk about that divisiveness a bit. I’ve been lucky enough to remain pretty close friends with employees of the Magic Kingdom who have worked at Hall of Presidents for the last few decades. Believe it or not, they have some of the best theme park guest stories you’ll hear anywhere on the planet. Going back as far as Bill Clinton (and the Monica Lewinsky scandal), nearly 20 years ago, guests will sometimes go as far as to boo an animatronic on stage when it’s time for them to speak.
To be clear, this is not a Republican or Democrat issue. Over the years, it really doesn’t matter who’s in office, people get heated and will vocally boo the sitting President animatronic likeness. On the other hand, I’ve also personally been in the theater when unsolicited applause happens when the current sitting President is introduced. Typically this happens more after an inauguration, but it was also pretty frequent in the months following the 9/11 attacks.
No question, things are even more divisive than they ever have been when it comes to party politics in the United States right now. Even now, protests often happen at Donald Trump rallies and they can often get violent. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who isn’t passionate about the 45th President one way or another. That passion, regardless of which way it sways, can often turn normal civilized people pretty ugly.
Let’s summarize. You have an opening day attraction that was heavily influenced by Walt Disney himself. A society that would rather escape from everyday life (such as politics and history) than be reminded of it. And an increasingly divided country that boos robots that can’t even hear those boos. Not to mention rallies and events that can get pretty ugly and Disney does everything it can to stay away from controversy. Yet here we are.
The hard part is no matter when you pull that plug and close The Hall of Presidents, the public can easily perceive it as party politics. No way around it. And frankly, you’ve got people who are so passionate about the current sitting President (either now or 10 years from now) that they could easily cancel their trip to Walt Disney World. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It’s also fair to mention that Disney has announced that the Hall of Presidents will reopen at some point, but a date has yet to be set as of the writing of this article. I think at some point, it has to close. However, no matter when it happens, it will not be an easy decision. Nor will it be pretty. Your thoughts?
WAIT! I’ve got an idea. You, the person reading this article right now, are a special breed. You take the time to read an entire article about an attraction that very few people really care about at the end of the day. Typically speaking, most people who get passionate about TPU articles on social media only read the headline and maybe skim the article at best. But you… you are what makes this website tick and I genuinely appreciate you taking the time to read my stuff.
To prove my point that 1. party politics are divisive and 2. a lot of people make comments without even reading the article… I am going to reward you. Jump over to the Theme Park University Facebook page and leave a comment with the following: “#IReadTheEntireArticle”. Yup. Do that. And if you do that by Saturday, September 23, 2017, at midnight EST you’ll be entered into a random drawing for a $10 Amazon gift card. It’s my way of saying thanks for being a rational human being. We need more of you out there. Yes. I’m 100% serious.
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