When I worked at attractions in Walt Disney World, I started out at Pirates of the Caribbean, and I quickly cross-trained at the Jungle Cruise. Because Adventureland and Liberty Square were linked, I was also able to pick up training at the attractions there, too. Uninterested in working at ATT (Aladdin/Tiki/Treehouse), Haunted Mansion, or the Liberty Belle Riverboats, I WAS interested in the Hall of Presidents. Having a keen interest in American history, I felt the dignified atmosphere would be a refreshing change of pace. I enjoyed pulling shifts there, largely due to its leisurely pace, the educational aspect, and it was largely indoors. Plus, I prided myself at knowing the lyrics to Animaniacs‘ “The Presidents”, a skill that was by no means applicable or necessary.
I worked there in 2013, while Barack Obama was president. Never once during my time there did I stumble into a guest outwardly express displeasure at Obama or partisan politics. I know, right? You’d think the Hall of Presidents would be a breeding ground for bad-faith political platforming, but if there was any, I wasn’t there to see it.
A Brief History of the Attraction
Not long after Disneyland opened in 1955, Walt began plans for an offshoot off Main Street U.S.A. called Liberty Street, which included a show called One Nation Under God. The idea waned in Development Hell at WED Enterprises until the late sixties. The show was scripted to feature all 30+ presidents onstage as animatronics. However, because Disney only started making animatronics for the Enchanted Tiki Room, which opened 1963, the technologic know-how to make humans was pretty limited. Long story short, they started by making one of Abraham Lincoln, which would result in the New York World’s Fair exhibit, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.
During the development of the Florida Project, Liberty Street was revived as a land to include that would differentiate itself from Disneyland. Now that imagineers were a touch more experienced with making human animatronics, One Nation Under God was also revived, and now featured all 36 presidents from George Washington to Richard Nixon. Over the years, the show remained virtually unchanged, aside from adding a new animatronic when new presidents were added: Ford, Carter, Reagan, and H. W. Bush. But in 1993, a new precedent emerged: when Bill Clinton was added, the incumbent president was now not only addressing the audience, but the speech was recorded by the presidents, too. Since then, W. Bush, Obama, and Trump have all followed suit and recorded speeches for Walt Disney World patrons.
So Why Should it Go?
I have a lot of respect for this attraction. I appreciate its legacy and the attention to detail that was applied to over 40 commander-in-chiefs. I appreciate its spirit and purpose. And while I truly hope the events of the past decade are a mere phase, I fret that the partisan divisions that have plagued our country have grown too toxic to keep an attraction like this Walt Disney World.
The Magic Kingdom has always been designated as a magical realm of fantastic escapism, if not by Disney, then most certainly by the guests who usually go there to have fun. It’s a place so removed from reality, there are still people who go there expecting the place to be under a climate-controlled dome. Liberty Square is certainly escapist: it’s a romantic New England town idealizing the era in which America was founded. Tricorns and fifes and pinafores and stocks and flags with thirteen stars and old world spellings like “Ye Olde T-shirt and Frozen Merchandise Shoppe” or something (It’s been a while since I was last there.) It’s a physical embodiment of “The Spirit of ’76”, the kind of land Americans want to believe looked and felt like when those stoic and brave Founding Fathers gave ol’ King George what-for and declared freedom for all* or something. In a sense, it’s no different from New Orleans Square or Main Street U.S.A. or even Frontierland, to an extent. So escapist and fantastic, in fact, get a load of Why there’s a river of brown gravel in the middle of the walkway.
But I don’t have a problem with Liberty Square as a whole, per se. It’s definitely not my favorite land. But aside from the fact I don’t have a better idea of what kind of theme to replace it with, we all know Disney would not invest the money to re-theme an entire land, especially since one of their biggest attractions, the Haunted Mansion, is already so deeply themed to the land. So that’s why I’m focusing on just the Hall of Presidents.
Okay, so What’s Your Point?
For nearly fifty years, the Hall of Presidents has celebrated both American history and its 45 presidents through the Vietnam War, the oil shortage, Watergate, Reaganomics, the Cold War, the Gulf War, Bosnia, 9/11, the war on terror, the Iraq War, Abu Ghraib, the 2008 recession, and the Trump administration. At every point, whether Democrat or Republican or third party, there has been a time when some patrons have attended feeling like America was not really worth celebrating. So why am I saying it should be closed now? Because one of the two main political parties is growing increasingly radicalized and said group is becoming less fringe.
Oh sure, numerous Republicans have denounced Trump’s action and his fanbase to varying degrees. But many of them aligned with Trump and his rhetoric, assured plausible liability, and fought on his behalf to make sure he was clear of any and all charges. As I write this, with mere days left to Trump’s lame-duck session, a smattering of Trump’s allies have split. His reach to punish his dissenters is rapidly decreasing, but a poll cites 45% of Republicans were okay with the Capitol Hill Riot on January 6th, 2021. Say what you will about the Democrats, but at least the radical ones are demanding universal healthcare, gun control, and stricter environmental regulations, not violence in the name of political ends. And a show in the Disney theme parks that wants to be as neutral and bipartisan as possible, maybe it should not do that anymore, regardless of who’s in office.
That’s not to say a show honoring past presidents or American history is inherently bad. But the problem is featuring the incumbent president as the highlight of the show. While I can’t comment much on when previous presidents spoke, frankly, I’m shocked something hasn’t happened already. I can’t say much about Clinton, but no one made a scene during W. Bush’s installation, when his popularity plummeted after the debacle of the Iraq War? Tea Partiers didn’t get crazy during the Obama version? However, Disney showed some good foresight after Trump’s inauguration and posted extra security at the theater and added spikes along the edge of the stage to deter would-be protesters. Meanwhile shenanigans like these:
…Also went down and were quickly dealt with. And these are when Trump was in office! Can you imagine these same radicals just going away quietly when a Democrat is in office?
See, and that’s the crux of my point: If a divisive and polarizing figure like Trump is in the White House, and his fanbase continue to troll everyone around them with acts like these that make Disney paranoid enough to fortify a freaking robot show, is it a good idea? I think we can all agree the fanatical zealotry of Trump’s fans isn’t going to go away anytime soon and even if it does, it will most likely evolve into something similar. And in times such as these, is it worth the risk of the safety of other parkgoers? This isn’t “political correctness”: it isn’t removing controversy for the sake of not offending people. It’s a question of removing something potentially inflammatory to avoid harm to life and limb. If Disney can shut down the parks moments after the twin towers were struck in 2001 for guest’s safety, surely this can be considered.
Whatever. What do you suggest?
Well, I have a few ideas…
1. Bring back The Muppets Present…Great Moments in American History
From 2016 to 2020, Liberty Square presented a new show that was seen in the gift shop adjacent to HoP in the second story windows. A live performer and Muppet favorite Sam Eagle recounted either the signing of the Declaration of Independence or “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” alongside Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo, and Miss Piggy. For whatever reason, the show ended in early 2020.
Funny thing is, the Muppets already get criminally underutilized by Disney. While I don’t think they should just bring back the same show, they could revamp it and move it into the HoP theater and expand upon it. With that much space and seats, they could make the show longer, include more Muppets, detail more Revolutionary War enactments. Seriously, just imagine Lew Zealand and Crazy Harry throwing fish and dynamite at each other to represent one of the many battles. Imagine Kermit wanting to salvage at least one crate of tea while his friends chuck the rest other the edge of the ship for the Boston Tea Party. Imagine the show opening with Rowlf playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” on the piano, but closing out with Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem jamming out to a full rock and roll rendition of “Stars and Stripes Forever”. Seriously, the comedy writes itself.
But then the last two questions are: do they rename it A Salute to All Nations But Mostly America, and will Sam finally get his glorious three-hour finale?
2. A in-park production of “Hamilton”
Look, I’ll admit: it’s 2021 and I still haven’t seen “Hamilton”. Yes, I know it’s on Disney+, and yes, I know the world thinks it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. And I’m sure some may think bringing a Broadway play to a theme park full of tourists in mouse ears and t-shirts may cheapen the integrity of the three-time Tony Award winning musical. But suppose they put on a production not unlike Voyage of the Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage where it’s a truncated version of the show.
Heck, combine this with my last idea: have Lin-Manuel Miranda be the sole live actor (On screens, of course) trying to direct the latest production…starring the Muppets. Seriously, who wouldn’t want the Muppets doing their own covers of the “Hamilton” show?
Of course, this depends on if the popularity of “Hamilton” and if it endures as time goes on. Still, why not take advantage while Miranda and Disney are still on good terms?
3. The American Revolution: As told by Amos Mouse
In 1953, Disney released a charming featurette called Ben and Me. Starring My Hero Sterling Holloway, Amos was a mouse who latched himself onto Ben Franklin during his formative years, helping him invent the stove and bifocals, as well as move on from Poor Richard’s Almanack to the Pennsylvania Gazette. As Amos hung around Ben, he helped the man with some of his most significant milestones, but their relationship was tested when Ben’s famous kite experiment caused Amos injury. Amos and Ben reunite when the two help Thomas Jefferson write Declaration of Independence. It’s a great short film and it comes highly recommended. I’d always hoped they’d add Amos to a lamppost somewhere in Liberty Square, but this seems like a good place for the pair.
Maybe as a sort of sequel to the short, Amos (naturally voiced by Jim Cummings) would give us his fly-on-the-wall recollections as he narrates to the audience where he was and what he saw in various events during the American Revolution.
4. The Headless Horseman Returns!
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was half of the 1949 feature The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. The story of Ichabod Crane takes place in 1790, freshly still in America’s infancy, and even took place just outside Tarrytown, New York, which is perfect, considering the architecture of the next door Haunted Mansion is meant to evoke upstate New York in the Hudson River Valley.
The ideal suggestion is to have a dark ride dashing through the creepy and infamous hollow, outrunning the phantasm. However, given the limited space and the fact the show building is connected to Peter Pan’s Flight, so major modifications are out. However, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to feature an immersive stage and screen production, complete with the catchy Bing Crosby numbers. Of course, the climax would be the wildly intense chase between Ichabod and the Headless Horseman, out lookin’ for a head to swap, which could happen in and around the theater.
5. America Sings 2.0!
America Sings was an attraction in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland from 1974 to 1988. Utilizing the speciallly-designed theater made for the Carousel of Progress, the show showcased music from different eras from different parts of the country. It closed when attendance numbers ran low and it was deemed a better use to reuse the animatronics for Splash Mountain.
While it may be just another animatronic musical revue like the Mickey Mouse Revue , the Enchanted Tiki Room, or the Country Bear Jamboree, there are ways to spruce it up and invigorate it to appeal to younger audiences. Plus, it wouldn’t be the same show anyway, seeing as retrofitting to be a rotating theater wouldn’t fit into the show building.
6. The Hall of Presidents 2: Golden Receiver
The other five suggestions were really just me armchair imagineering if they could come up with a new attraction out of original cloth. But let’s say you want to preserve Hall of Presidents. I certainly wouldn’t blame you. But if Hall of Presidents absolutely has to remain, what I recommend is keeping a similar show in place, but the caveat is this: the most recent president be no less than two administrations prior: with Biden the incumbent, that means no Obama and no Trump.
Why? Well, I think I made it pretty clear why I think highlighting the incumbent president is a bad idea, but even now, there are plenty of people who have a grudge against Obama. While George W. Bush certainly had his share of controversies, it’s been awhile, and those who had an axe to grind have cooled considerably. Once Biden is out of office, then instill the Obama animatronic, and so on. I hope even if Biden and the next guy serve only one full term each, it will have been eight years since Trump and we’ll be in a healthier place. Hopefully.
The key thing here is focusing on the past that has led the United States to present day. With partisan politics making a lot of people very touchy these days, it’s just safer to focus on what has happened rather than what is happening. This would ideally be the easiest option, as it would essentially be the same exact attraction. And while I don’t think Disney will actually enact this change, it’s certainly food for thought.
I like Hall of Presidents. I truly appreciate it. But times have changed and it’s in Disney’s best interest to keep guests safe in red-hot political climates. Feel free to disagree, but until we can get a grip on the radicalization of partisan politics, the Hall of Presidents may need to be removed from office.