I was invited to a special preview of the new Hall of Presidents show today (June 28, 2009). The actual grand opening is July 4th. Here’s what I experienced.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the name of the attraction now has a subtitle -“The Hall of Presidents – A Celebration of Liberty’s Leaders.”
Beneath the porch is a new “countdown” clock indicating how many minutes until the next show begins. Hopefully this will save the cast members from having to answer this question innumerable times a day.
I didn’t really notice any changes to the cast member’s costumes, but to be honest, the old ones weren’t burned into my memory so I can’t be sure.
For the most part, the interior waiting area has not changed significantly. As always, the first thing you’ll notice upon entering this room is The Great Seal of the United States.
On the back wall you’ll find the new title of the show.
When you visit, be sure to check out the display cases that contain actual artifacts from previous presidents. One of the many items of interest is a Tea Caddy/Game Box used by George Washington at Mount Vernon.
Many of the same portraits that we’re familiar with still hang on the wall.
The biggest change to the waiting room is the addition of a display showcasing dresses of three first ladies, Nancy Reagan, Edith Roosevelt, and Elizabeth Monroe (dress pictured).
In the past, those traveling in wheelchairs entered the theater first to allow them a chance to get situated before the rest of the crowd. Now, wheelchairs line up on the right side of the waiting area and enter the theater with everyone else and are directed to a special area toward the back of the room.
Because this was a preview, Disney asked that no photography of any kind be used during the performance. So, from this point on I have no pictures to share with you. Once the show has its grand opening, things will return to normal and photography should be allowed as long as you don’t use any flash equipment.
Spoiler alert! I’m going to do my best to describe the new show. For me, there was one “surprise” that caught me off guard and moved me to tears. If you want to experience this unexpected moment for yourself, stop reading now.
First, the movie is digitally projected. In other words, there is no film to become scratched and faded. The movie is crystal clear and the colors look vibrant. Next, the sound system is all new and everything was digitally recorded. Once again, voice and music sound better than ever.
Morgan Freeman narrates the show which begins with a brief discussion of the war for independence and George Washington. We’re told that by Washington refusing to become king and then stepping down after his second term, he helped set our country in the direction that any man, not just the gentry, could rise to the highest office in the land.
To prove this point, the next president highlighted is Andrew Jackson. A common man that played a pivotal part in our country’s early years.
Next slavery is discussed, and with this, Lincoln becomes the focus of the film. After several minutes, the center screen rises and we see an Audio-Animatronics figure of this great man, sitting all alone on stage. He rises and delivers the Gettysburg Address. This was a stirring moment and I wasn’t the only person wiping the tears from my eyes. At the conclusion of his speech, the screen lowers and the movie continues.
As the film progresses in time, paintings are replaced by photographs and then videos as Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush are all briefly discussed or highlighted. A sharp eye will notice a picture of a high school-aged Clinton meeting Kennedy.
Many of the paintings used in the film are familiar to us from the previous show, but many of them are new. Also, only three of the five screens are used in this new feature, but that’s entirely okay. You don’t miss them at all.
When the film concludes, the curtain rises on all 43 presidents. As always, this is awe inspiring. The roll call commences and the new lighting system highlights each president. Their position on stage has been rearranged so the audience can follow the introductions better.
When the roll call concludes, George Washington stands and talks about the importance of the presidential Oath of Office that all of the men here on stage have taken. He then gestures to Obama who recites this oath. Interestingly, this was recorded in the Map Room, the same room he retook the Oath of Office after a slight mishap occurred during the actual inauguration.
When Obama finishes, Morgan Freeman gives him a second, more elaborate introduction. Obama then delivers another short speech about the significance of the American dream. The show concludes with a stirring rendition of “America the Beautiful.”
At this point, the theater erupted into applause and many were wiping tears away. I knew a number of people in the audience today. After the show, we discussed what we had just seen. It was unanimous. Disney has done an outstanding job of reinventing this attraction. The Audio-Animatronics figure of Obama is stunning. Please, please put this on you “must see” list on your next visit to Walt Disney World. You’ll be glad you did.
For more information about how this show was created, click here for an official Disney press release.