"I believe in emphasizing the story of what made America great and what will keep it great."
(Korkis, Jim. Walt's Words: Quotations of Walt Disney with Sources. Theme Park Press.)
In honor of President's Day, I thought I would provide an update on the recently re-opened Hall of Presidents in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Like many Disney fans, I had been keeping an eye on the Hall during what turned out to be just less than a year-long closure. Honestly, I thought Disney was putting off reopening after the election just to postpone any protests or other backlash that could come from adding President Trump to the show. During one visit to the Magic Kingdom over the summer, I asked one of the cast members what was taking so long. Without missing a beat, he said everything was proceeding as planned but they just couldn’t get the new Trump animatronic to stop doing this (and then moved his hands like he was posting on Twitter). Whatever your political leanings, that was a pretty clever response.
While procrastination might have been part of the delay, it turns out Disney did a lot more to the Hall during the closure than just add a new President to the lineup. (Maybe I was the only one who assumed that was all they were doing.) In fact the whole show has been updated—including the narration—and the theatre has been refreshed with new lighting and sound, a new digital projection system, new carpet and seats, and a fresh coat of paint.
The new show maintains numerous elements (images and music) from the old but recasts them in interesting ways. For example, many of the still photos now move with added effects such as snowfall. My favorite addition is panoramic view of the White House behind the presidents that updates as leaders from each era are introduced.
Although several of the prior presidential artifacts still line the lobby walls, most have been replaced with new ones. For example, George W. Bush’s inauguration cowboy boots are gone, replaced with a pair of monogrammed Luccheses that belonged to LBJ.
The funniest addition, in my opinion, is a set of three autographed baseball cards that belong to President George W. Bush. As a kid he pasted each one onto a card and mailed it to one of his favorite players, including a note that said, "Dear Sir: Please sign name." I wonder how he felt about Tony Taylor crossing out "Chicago Cubs" because (apparently) he had been traded by the time George W. sent him the card.
There's also a new exhibit (near the Lincoln bust in the photo above) that provides background on the sculpting process and how meticulous Disney is about gathering personal effects to make the presidential figures as lifelike as possible.
Finally, there are also two Security cast members permanently stationed near the back of the theater, one on each side. I asked one of the guys if anything crazy had happened since the Hall reopened, and he said no: people have been behaving. The only odd occurrences have been a guest here and there leaving a derogatory note behind "about one of the presidents" (diplomatic, as always). I'm not sure what that accomplishes, but whatever makes their vacation more magical.
Prior to seeing the new show I had seen a lot of photos of the Trump animatronic online. Frankly, it looked pretty bad. People were even joking that it was a Hillary figure made over to look like the Donald. When I saw the show, however, I didn’t notice anything odd or off-putting about the figure—it looked just as realistic as others in the lineup. One of the cast members in the lobby pointed out that the animatronic figures aren’t designed to be viewed from 5 or 10 feet away. Instead, they are crafted based on the fact that audience members are at least 20 feet away from the stage. The figures thus have certain exaggerated facial features to make them appear more lifelike from that distance. When you use a telephoto lens to zoom in and view an animatronic from a much closer distance, it’s obviously going to look distorted. His comment reminded me of those magnifying mirrors you sometimes find in hotel bathrooms. I never look at them on purpose, but it's always a little jarring to accidentally catch a glimpse of my face in one. (Remember Brobdingnag in Gulliver's Travels?)
If you haven’t seen the updated Hall, it is worth a stop during your next visit to the Magic Kingdom. Don’t assume that if you saw it before, the only thing new is the Trump animatronic! If you’ve already seen the new show, what did you think? Please share your reactions in the Comment section below.