The Hall of Presidents is an attraction located in Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom in the Walt Disney World Resort. The attraction is a multi-media presentation and stage show featuring Audio-Animatronic figures of all 42 U.S. Presidents. It opened on October 1, 1971 with the rest of the Magic Kingdom and Walt Disney World's Opening Day Celebration(s).
The show consisted of a pre-show film on a screen with a depiction of paintings done to represent Illinois. The Illinois state song could be heard during this time, as was narration by Paul Frees. The voice used for Abraham Lincoln, that of Royal Dano was also present in the preshow. Guests then entered the main theater where the theater curtains eventually were removed to reveal an Audio Animatronic figure of Abraham Lincoln sitting in a chair. He rose out of the chair, stood up, and gave a 5-7 minute oratory consisting of a collection of his famous speeches. The show concluded with more theater curtains revealing the Rotunda of the United States Capitol Building. An abstract image of the American Flag was eventually revealed behind the Rotunda as a backdrop, and a rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" could be heard. The overall narrative and purpose of the show dealt with inspiration, justice, and the meaning of the United States, its Constitution, and its citizens. It was meant to evoke celebration and inspiration in the guests in the theater.
While the original version of the show that played in New York during its showing at the Fair was eventually dismantled and demolished, a similar version was created even while the Fair was going on in 1965. Great moments with Abraham Lincoln was closed down for Disney's 50th anniversary, and currently has no plans to be reopened.
With the help of paintings from the era, the Constitutional Convention is reenacted. George Washington (voiced by Disney veteran Paul Frees) and Benjamin Franklin make speeches to the Convention. They assured all that this government was going to be different. After the formation of the Constitution, the first test of the new republic was the Whiskey Rebellion, which proved that the government would use force to "ensure domestic tranquility."
Years later, President Andrew Jackson was the first to deal with secession by the Southern states. Luckily, the talk was quelled and Jackson escaped the threat. The film then segues to the time of Abraham Lincoln, when secession was a real threat. These paintings and vocal performances are similar, if not identical, to the same segment in the "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" presentation.
The American Civil War portion of the presentation is based on the "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" presentation, including a nearly identical script, although, to fit the much bigger screen of the theater, rather than the much smaller one at Disneyland, new paintings were required to fill the screen. The Constitution survived the conflict, making America a truly unified nation.
A huge era of progress occurred after the war. All the while, the Constitution remained the tent pole of the country. The film then turns toward the future, saying that the leaders of tomorrow have to be committed to the Constitution and its principles, if the country is to survive. A Saturn V rocket takes off, and the screens then lift up, and the U.S. Presidents take center stage.
After the curtain lifts, all (then) 36 presidents are called, in chronological order. (At the time the attraction opened in 1971, the roll call ended with Richard M. Nixon. Over time, each newly elected President has had an Audio-Animatronic added to the show in their likeness.) Each one responds to their name with a nod, wave, or other sign of acknowledgment. During the presentation, the Presidents fidget, talk to each other, and look around; all the while making the illusion seem quite real. Abraham Lincoln then stands and takes center stage. His speech is remarkably similar to the speech he gave in "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln". After his speech, the show concludes with a rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," (the same rendition used in "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln."
In 1993 the biggest changes came to the "Hall of Presidents", and the majority of those changes remain in some way, shape, or form to this day. The change to the show is credited to Eric Foner, a history professor at Columbia University. He was able to persuade various Disney executives, most notably then CEO of the Disney Company, Michael Eisner that a new adaptation of the show was needed. Foner is responsible for completely rewriting and changing the script of the show in order to focus more on slavery and other ethical and civil related issues in the United States of America. He is also responsible for rewriting Lincoln's speech, which was originally nearly identical to that which Lincoln gave in the original version of "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln".
While the format of the show remained in the sense of the photos, films, and other features used in the film and elsewhere in the presentation, the speed at which the films played, and what was shown on them was redone to fit the changed script. A new music score was also introduced. The changed script, possibly historically inaccurate, created very different feelings for the same material being shown before guests dating back to 1971. Despite this, it covers generally the same events shown in the original film (omitting the Whiskey Rebellion).
Also no longer would prominent members of the Disney Company narrate parts of the film. Lawrence Dobkin no longer narrated the film or did the roll-call of the U.S. Presidents. Paul Frees and Royal Dano also no longer narrated the character's voices. Instead, African American Poet, Maya Angelou narrated the revised script and gave the roll-call of the U.S. Presidents. New amateur actors gave the voices of the characters in the film.
For the first time, the current U.S. President would give a speech. Foner is responsible for writing the speech which President Bill Clinton would read and tape at the White House. Followed by the current U.S. President's speech, President Lincoln would give his completely revised speech, also done by Foner. Lincoln also now wore eye glasses, and held a piece of paper used to glance to and from his speech. Some objected to this, saying that it dumbed down the depiction of Lincoln as a prominent and iconic figure.
In 2001, African American singer, and actor J.D. Hall read the script that Maya Angelou read in 1993. He also performed the roll-call of the U.S. Presidents. The voices, and all other features used in the show in 1993 remained the same. Also in 2001, President George W. Bush gave a speech as the current U.S. President. The Audio Animatronic figure created for President Bill Clinton was recycled and used for President George W. Bush. President Clinton is now a lesser Audio Animatronic Figure, and the same is expected for President Bush when he leaves office. The Audio Animatronic used for the current U.S. President is expected to remain as such, but it is unknown how the show will change when a new U.S. President comes into office in 2009.
"My Fellow Americans, when we look back on the history of this country, we see a record of almost unbelievable energy, sacrifice, hard work - of impossible dreams that our ancestors dreamed and made real. We see injustice, too, that weighs on our hearts even today. But for every injustice there has always been a voice crying out to right it. And America has always listened to those voices.
"We're listening today. And perhaps it falls to us, to this first generation of 21st century Americans to say, once and for all, that no child, no race, no creed, no ethnic community will ever again be left out of the American dream. Through education, through the opportunity to work and to enjoy the fruits of that work, we can open every closed door. We expand the horizons of every American.
"Again and again we return to the same simple principles - freedom, equality; the freedom to create, to prosper, to dream; Equality before the law, in the workplace, and the chance for a better life. And each time in the process America grows stronger. The beacon of democracy grows brighter. The world looks with new astonishment at what free people can do. We the people are just getting started."