Thursday, July 2, 2009

Ride Review - The American Adventure

The 4th of July is always a fun time to go ahead and re-post this one. Get your flames ready...

Intro: Joining the nice movies and little boat rides representing countries in World Showcase is America’s contribution: a multimedia extravaganza featuring some of the most advanced audio-animatronic characters ever created. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I’m just saying.

Queue: It’s unlikely that you will ever have to stand in a queue here, as the theater is simply enormous. The building that houses the theater also has a gorgeous colonial style atrium where you can wait for the upcoming performance and also view some preshow entertainment.

Preshow: The “Voices of Liberty” singers and other groups sometimes perform in the atrium or outside the building at the United States pavilion. If you have the time and/or desire to see them, they put on an excellent show.

Ride: The show opens up in darkness permeated by the voice of Ben Franklin. He lets us know that America was built on work, bloodshed, loneliness, and fear. Then an audio-animatronic scene rises up onto the stage. Ben Franklin continues talking, joined in the scene by Mark Twain. Many different people make up America, and over the years we have become more alike than different. Franklin offers to let Twain know about the beginnings of America. This leads into a video and song about the pilgrims. Thankfully, Ben and Mark do not do the singing; instead they allow a rather talented choir to do it. The song is about the Pilgrims’ desire to be free and their endurance through hardship in the New World. All this is making me crave turkey.

The song ends and this leads Franklin to talk about the passion governing the desire to break free from England. A video chronicles the Boston Tea Party and the King sending troops into Boston. This leads us to an audio-animatronics scene featuring Ben Franklin paying Thomas Jefferson a visit as he writes the Declaration of Independence. He reads some of the Declaration and this leads us into another video scene of pictures of the Revolutionary War shown as what sounds to be an old marching song is sung. This leads us to the next AA scene, in Valley Forge. George Washington stands atop his horse as two soldiers bemoan the bitter cold. Then the singing continues. When it is all said and done, 13 colonies become the United States and we are free.

Mark Twain chimes in to let us know that he is proud to be part of the next age in American history as we expanded westward. It’s nice to know that Twain is proud of leading to the extermination of an entire indigenous people. Then Twain delivers the line of the show: “it seems a whole bunch of folks found out that "We the people", didn't yet mean all the people.” It’s “a whole bunch of folks” that makes it gold. Who is he? President Bush?

Fredrick Douglass doesn’t like slavery. And really, who does? Still, he manages to sum up his feelings in a little speech about hope. Nice of him not to get us too melancholy, after all, we ARE at Disney World. Then this leads to a family, presumably from one of the Border States, getting a photograph taken (with a VERY primitive camera). Two brothers argue the cause of the war, one taking the North’s side and one taking that of the South. They actually manage to work “Billy Yank” and “Johnny Reb” into the 4 sentence exchange. This leads to the photograph being taken (and then displayed on the overhead screen) and leads into a beautiful slow song as photographs from the war are shown.

A sample of the lyrics: “one was gentle, one was kind, one came home, one stayed behind; a cannonball don't pay no mind, if you're gentle or if you're kind, it don't think of the folks behind.” I was actually going to make fun of this and now I’m practically tearing up. They may have glazed over the slavery issue but they did an amazing job with the human drama of the brother vs. brother saga. This is why I could never study too much history, it’s just too depressing. Just to drive the point home, after the song ends they show the picture from the beginning of the scene, only now just the one brother appears.

This leads into Ben Franklin talking about the rebuilding of the nation and the influx of immigrants to the country. He calls it a new dawn for the American Adventure. Chief Joseph appears on stage in AA form and he’s mighty pissed. “Enough! Enough of your words! Let your new dawn lead to the final sunset on my people's suffering. When I think of our condition, my heart is heavy. I see men of my own race treated like outlaws or shot down like animals. I hope that all of us may be brothers with one country around us and one government for all.” Well, he had me up until “one country around us.” Unlike Fredrick Douglass’ soft spoken oratory about slavery, Chief Joseph does a good job actually sounding mad. Of course, because we want this to be a happy show, he claims to want to have one big happy government. Yeah, he actually says “government.” I BET that’s what the Native Americans wanted, one big happy government.

Everyone quickly forgets about the Native Americans as we head right into a scene about suffrage at the Centennial expo. Susan B. Anthony wants equality while Alexander Graham Bell wants people to marvel at his telephone. Andrew Carnegie chimes in to brag about his steel company building a new concert hall in New York. What was the point of this scene? Speaking of no point, Theodore Roosevelt is then shown on a cliff marveling at our natural wonders while complaining about the lumber industry. John Muir wants Teddy to spearhead the effort for conservation. Quick, who’s John Muir?

Next we are informed that America was thrust into the job of being a world leader. Yeah, it’s not like we want to bully around all the smaller countries, we were thrust into the job, poor unfortunate souls that we were. Some video of war planes somehow manages to lead into Charles Lindbergh. Then, immediately we hear a news report of the stock market crash leading into the Great Depression. Some down trodden AA people at a gas station sing a song titled “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime.” They then hear FDR delivering a radio broadcast. This leads to an AA Roosevelt giving his “the only thing we have to fear…” speech. The scene switches back to the AA folks at the gas station. They hear Will Rogers on the radio and this leads to an AA Rogers twirling a rope and talking about the nation potentially going to war. We immediately hear FDR’s speech following the attack on Pearl Harbor (with the part about Japan cut out). This leads us to a full stage scene in a shipyard. A woman (representing Rosie the Riveter) works on a ship. Then the AA’s head back under the stage and a full screen displays a video of clips from the 20th century as the attraction’s theme song “Golden Dream” plays. It is all very inspirational. JFK delivers the famous line from his inaugural “ask not what your country can do for you…” and then Martin Luther King delivers a part of his “I Have a Dream” speech. This is followed by the moon landing (“the Eagle has landed”). The song continues and concludes with fireworks over the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor.

This leads to Franklin and Twain appearing on the top of the statue. Franklin says the Founders were visionaries, not dreamers. Ben continues to taut the merits of our constitution. Twain points out that America is still a very young nation. Franklin says that we can all fulfill the promise of America, freedom for all people. “The American Adventure will continue for a long, long time.” “Golden Dream” reprises as the sun rises in glory over Franklin and Twain on the torch of the Statue as the show concludes.

Thoughts: Here’s the problem with a show like this: you can not make it without getting people mad. Think about what the movies and rides in the other countries are about. Norway has Maelstrom, a ride about Norwegian folklore. Canada and France both have movies about the beauty of their countries. But America has to go out and make a huge spectacle about our history. There is simply no way to properly do that in a theme park. To make matters worse, the show does not simply gloss over the negative parts of the country’s history, it trivializes them. “There was this terrible institution of slavery that led to a bloody civil war, but really it was because the South did not understand the North’s love of freedom.” “Sure, we wiped out an entire race of native peoples, but really all the Native Americans wanted was to be part of our government.” Please!

The show does have some very uplifting and powerful moments. The songs are all quite moving and the ending is particularly inspiring, but the history is all cleaned up and “Disneyfied.” If you can go into the show willing to ignore the glossing over of all the bad parts of our history, you will leave with a new sense of patriotism. If you want to see a truly historical show, you’ll have to find one elsewhere.

Overall Rating: *** 3/4

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