LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – A remarkably lifelike Audio-Animatronics figure of President Barack Obama enters the spotlight in a revised and refreshed Hall of Presidents show that reopens July 4 in Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort.
The recently installed figure of the country’s 44th chief executive – which comes to life with recognizable mannerisms and makes comments that were recorded recently at the White House – is only part of an eight-month makeover so significant that the iconic attraction in the park’s Liberty Square has been retitled Hall of Presidents: A Celebration of Liberty’s Leaders. Other updates to the “re-Imagineered” attraction which has been entertaining Magic Kingdom guests since 1971:
* A re-programmed Abraham Lincoln delivers arguably the greatest speech in the history of the presidency – the Gettysburg Address.
* For the first time in the attraction’s history, George Washington stands and delivers a stirring speech.
* Developed with the assistance of Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, the show now tells a moving story of the bond between the presidents and “We, the People,” focusing on the chief executives who have guided America through trying, turbulent times.
“Our goal with every major Disney attraction is to completely immerse our guests in a compelling story,” said Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “The stories associated with the American presidency are some of the most engaging and relevant our guests will hear while they are with us. And, like all great stories, these stories inspire, motivate and teach us to appreciate the challenges and personal triumph that comes with overcoming adversity.”
True to Walt Disney’s vision, Hall of Presidents features the appearance on stage of every United States president – life-sized, three-dimensional and fully animated. Seven presidents have been added to the “Hall” since the attraction opened during the presidency of Richard Nixon.
The figure of President Barack Obama is not only the seventh addition but also the most dynamic figure Disney has ever created. Disney Imagineers, who’ve been refining Audio-Animatronics technology since 1963, have discovered new ways to integrate an array of subtle movements and facial expressions into the figures. Imagineers also worked closely with White House staff to create realistic clothing and accessories worn by the figure in the show, right down to a lapel pin and watch.
Kathy Rogers, senior show producer for Walt Disney Imagineering, says the show pays particular tribute to the strength of the bond between the people and the president “that led us through the most troubling times in our nation’s history.
“We still present that ‘mighty cavalcade of history’ that Walt Disney originally envisioned,” Rogers says, referring to “headline moments” of America’s past that are depicted in the film, “but it is viewed through the lens of the presidency.”
The 25-minute show begins with the story of George Washington and the struggle to build a new nation. It continues through today, highlighting presidents who have reached out to the people during times of strife. Disney senior show writer and director Pam Fisher, who worked closely with Kearns Goodwin to develop the story, describes the revised Hall of Presidents as “a very human story – one that we hope strikes a chord with all guests.”
A soaring new musical score written by Emmy-winning composer Joel McNeely adds another emotional dimension to the experience.
The show’s impact is bolstered by the stirring performances of actor David Morse, who voices Washington, and the late veteran actor Royal Dano, who voices Lincoln. Morse played Washington in the award-winning HBO miniseries, “John Adams.” Dano was selected by Walt Disney himself to voice the first animated Lincoln figure, which debuted at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and later became part of the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln attraction at Disneyland in California. Obama’s speech, recorded in the White House Map Room, includes the presidential oath of office and his thoughts about “the American dream.”
In the tradition of earlier versions of the show, the rewritten story begins with a large-format movie, but this time it is projected in crystal-clear, high-definition video. Imagineers digitized many of the huge scenic paintings of historic America made for the original movie by Disney legends including Herb Ryman and Sam McKim. In addition, the 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.
Imagineers enhanced the soundtrack with digital production and state-of-the-art speakers; they also upgraded the lighting with energy-efficient LED technology.
The new Hall of Presidents experience begins in the pre-show lobby, which has been transformed into an expanded gallery of presidential artifacts. The inaugural exhibit showcases the women behind the presidents. Large display cases exhibit dresses and personal objects worn by several First Ladies, including Edith Roosevelt (Teddy’s wife), Elizabeth Monroe and Nancy Reagan. The historical gallery also displays presidential portraits of Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and other chief executives, plus two cases filled with personal artifacts of presidents including Gerald Ford, Franklin Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover and George Washington.