Saturday, July 4, 2009

Classic Ride Review - Hall of Presidents (George W. Bush Edition)

So it was either fly to Orlando to review this before Independence Day or just re-post my old version. Guess which one I chose to do?

Intro: Back in 1964, Walt Disney designed a show featuring an animatronic Abraham Lincoln to be the centerpiece of the Illinois pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. After the fair, the show moved to Disneyland where it was known as “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.” In an attempt to give Walt Disney World everything Disneyland had, only bigger, the Imagineers decided to multiply the number of presidents in the show by 37. The Hall of Presidents was born.

Queue: A large rotunda is the home to numerous pieces of bizarre presidential memorabilia. Trust me, this is the only place at Walt Disney World to find George Bush’s fishing rod or Harry Truman’s sweat socks.

Trivia: Apparently there is a staircase somewhere around the entrance to the attraction that includes an actual step from Monticello. Monticello is, to my knowledge, still standing so I don’t understand why it is without the need for one of its steps. I’ve also never seen the step so it’s entirely possible that it’s an urban legend. But really, who would make something like that up?

Show: Grand dramatic music, the beginning to “Hail to the Chief,” I believe, plays as a large blue curtain opens in front of us, revealing silhouettes of “American people.” One guy is holding a bucket; someone else is holding what appears to be a Christmas tree for some reason. “We the people…” Our narrator in a deep, almost intimidating, voice continues reading from the Declaration of Independence before musing on how that declaration defined us as a nation.

So, anyway, our narrator continues with a quick American history lesson as we look at paintings describing the events he’s discussing. Delegates meet to write a constitution but they seem to be having some sort of disagreement. You see, the guy with the English accent thinks that unalienable rights should extend to slaves while the guy in the southern drawl wants to hang onto his slaves, doggone-it! Naturally, George Washington steps forward to say that he trusts the people to make changes to the constitution. Benjamin Franklin agrees. So everyone claps and the constitution is signed. I bet that’s exactly how it happened.

George Washington gets elected president and the frontiers expand. There were runaway mine trains, singing bears, and if you don’t believe me just go outside and walk a few hundred yards. Anyway, the brilliant and courageous Andrew Jackson threatens to murder some people from South Carolina (seriously, he does) and the story moves on. That’s about as brilliant and courageous as he was when he ordered the genocide of 8,000 Cherokee Indians.

In the meantime, there was this self-taught lawyer from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln who was not too thrilled with the idea of America being half-slave and half-free. He manages to get elected president…just in time to fight a civil war. When it was over, the nation was preserved and slavery was gone forever. Yep, just like that. So, we build a transcontinental railroad and immigrants come to the country. “We the people” means all the people, the work of America will never be done, and each new generation leaves unfinished tasks for the generations that follow. Kind of like the big dig…or social security.

All this talking leads up to a big red curtain opening up and revealing animatronic figures of all 43 U.S. Presidents. We’ve got all the famous ones like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy. Plus, you’ve got plenty of characters likely to invoke a collective “who?” from the audience, like Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and Chester Arthur. They do a roll call of everyone and the president being announced gets to nod to the crowd. During the whole thing, the presidents react and appear to be discussing among themselves which is a nice touch. Also their outfits are made in proper period style and include historical touches like Franklin Roosevelt’s leg braces.

President Bush gives a speech about making sure that nobody is left behind by the American dream. “We the people are just getting started” he adds, in a nice bit of continuity. It is kind of sad listening to his speech, recorded before 9/11, when you realize that he wanted to be remembered as the guy who saved failing public schools and restored traditional family values to America instead of the guy who was president during a bunch of wars. Of course, you can also argue that he is to blame for that, but that’s certainly not the point of this review.

President Lincoln stands up and delivers a nice speech about freedom and the legacy of America. The dome of the capital rises behind the presidents as the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” plays and an American flag appears behind the stage. The curtain closes and the show is over.

Thoughts: The first part of the show is nothing more than a quick fortune cookie version of American history up until 1900 and really does not do much to focus the attention of the show on the presidency. The second half of the show, with the role call of the presidents, is very well done and is the only reason to see this one. There is nothing here that isn’t done better at the American Adventure so, unless you’re interested in history and the presidency, it’s an easily skippable show. Of course, there are never any waits and its in an air conditioned theater, so it’s a nice 20 minute respite during a hot Florida afternoon. Seeing the show won’t kill you or anything, but neither will missing it. I’m going ***, but mostly because I love history, politics, and air conditioning.
Overall Rating: ***

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