The Hall of Presidents is one of the original Magic Kingdom attractions. It debuted on Oct. 1, 1971. Located in Liberty Square (one of the park’s seven “lands”), The Hall of Presidents is a multi-media presentation based on United States history. At the center of the story are the presidents, all of whom are showcased in the form of lifelike Audio-Animatronics figures. The attraction reopens July 4 after receiving its most significant makeover ever.
Ahead of his time
Before his death in 1966, Walt Disney planned an attraction featuring all the presidents at Disneyland in California. Facing many technical challenges, he instead created an Audio-Animatronics figure of President Abraham Lincoln:
- The animated Lincoln figure debuted at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
- It became part of the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln attraction which debuted in 1965 at Disneyland in California.
- When Walt Disney World Resort opened in 1971, the Hall of Presidents attraction brought to life Walt’s original idea of a showcase for all the presidents.
- In the 2009 re-launch of the attraction, Lincoln recites the Gettysburg address with the original Royal Dano recording directed by Walt for President Lincoln’s World’s Fair debut.
Walt Disney Imagineers have renamed the attraction The Hall of Presidents: A Celebration of Liberty’s Leaders, based on the new storyline that pays tribute to the bond between America’s presidents and “We, the People.”
Diggin for Details
The Imagineering team combed through the National Archives, Library of Congress, museums and private collections to acquire more than 130 new images ultimately woven into the show.
220 Years in 25 minutes
The “cavalcade of U.S. history” that Walt Disney originally envisioned remains key to the 25-minute show, with the rewritten story transcending the events by bringing into full focus the bond between the people and the chief executives that has guided America through the challenges:
- Every president – life-sized, three dimensional and fully animated – who has served the nation appears on stage in the form of an animated figure.
- Since opening in 1971 duriBarack Obama.
All Spiffed Up
Some of the animated presidents were sent to wardrobe for a change of costume. Because of the repetitive movements of the figures, the clothing gets stressed from the inside – especially around elbows and knees – and wears out over time. Some of the presidents also received new wigs and beards.
Let’s Get the Number Straight
If Barack Obama is the 44th president, why are there only 43 men standing on the Hall of Presidents stage when the curtain rises? Obama is the 44th president, but Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms, so he is both the 22nd and 24th president.
Front and Center
The new Audio-Animatronics Barack Obama stands on stage next to Abraham Lincoln and George Washington:
- His figure is one of the most lifelike because of the subtlety and smoothness of its movements and facial expressions.
- Disney legend Blaine Gibson sculpted every president except Obama – his protégée, Disney sculptor Valerie Edwards, sculpted Obama with oversight by Gibson, now 91.
Barack Obama, as the sitting president, is one of three presidents programmed to speak to guests in the updated show:
- Abraham Lincoln recites the complete Gettysburg Address rather than his previous, shorter speech.
- George Washington speaks for the first time in the show, explaining the importance of the presidential oath of office using portions of a speech he actually gave during his second inauguration ceremony.
- Barack Obama recites the oath and delivers a speech about “the American dream.”
- The first contemporary president to speak in the show was Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush followed eight years later.
When Imagineers met with President Obama, they were scheduled to record his speech in the White House Map Room. The sound quality wasn’t optimum for the recording, so White House staff placed upholstered screens around the room to achieve good acoustic quality.
A talented team of all-stars shines in the updated show:
- Emmy-winning composer Joel McNeely wrote the soaring musical score.
- Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman narrates the “re-Imagineered” story.
- David Morse is the voice of George Washington (he also played Washington in the 2008 Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning HBO mini-series, “John Adams”).
- Late character actor Royal Dano is the voice of Abraham Lincoln.
- Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin provided historical insights for the storyline.
The Music is Beautiful
Emmy-winning composer Joel McNeely’s soaring new musical score brings each historical chapter of the story to life, and a moving choral rendition of “America the Beautiful” replaces the previous finale song, “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
The latest technology brings new richness and life to the large-format movie that tells the presidents’ story on three 30-foot-by-18-foot screens:
- Imagineers digitized many of the huge paintings of scenic America created for the original movie by Disney legends such as Herb Ryman (who designed Sleeping Beauty Castle for Disneyland) and Sam McKim (film and attraction artist).
- Previously presented in 70mm film, the movie now is projected in high-definition video.
- An all-new audio system offers crisp, digital sound.
Lighting experts were able to illuminate the show with energy-efficient LED lighting that enhances the color and texture of the show.
White House Humor
Fun anecdotes are woven into the show: Did you know that Andrew Jackson’s staff had to put tubs of punch out on the lawn to entice the throng of country folk out of the executive mansion during Jackson’s inauguration celebration? Or that Teddy Roosevelt was the president who dubbed the executive mansion the White House? It was white, and “executive mansion” didn’t seem to fit “the man of the people.”
Sit Back and Enjoy
The theater seats 700 guests, with expanded seating areas for guests using wheelchairs.
Closer to History
The pre-show lobby features presidential portraits, display cases filled with personal artifacts of presidents including Gerald Ford, Franklin Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover and George Washington, and large display cases exhibiting dresses and personal objects worn by several first ladies, including Edith Roosevelt (Teddy’s wife), Elizabeth Monroe and Nancy Reagan.
18th Century Charm
The Hall of Presidents building recalls the Federal-style civic buildings of Philadelphia.