The Hall of Presidents

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It’s Presidents Day week so I thought I’d take a look at an attraction with direct ties to this patriotic holiday: The Hall of Presidents (HoP).   Now, we all know I’m a Disney geek, but if you really want to hear me ramble on about nerdy things get me started on the Hall of Presidents, Liberty Square, or the American Adventure.  I’m something of an expert on these attractions since I spent a year eating, sleeping, and breathing them while I wrote my senior honors thesis about them and their representation of American history and culture.  You can even hear me talk about the previous version of HoP on Lou Mongello’s wdwradio podcast shortly before it closed.  So as you might imagine I was really excited to see the Hall of Presidents get a little love from the imagineers.  This attraction usually receives some attention when a new president is elected.  However, this time around when the Magic Kingdom attraction was shut down to add President Obama the show was completely redone.

First, guests may notice a few additions to the displays in the attraction’s lobby.  A special exhibit celebrating the first ladies has been added displaying a few dresses once belonging to these special women.  There are also several cases presenting artifacts from early presidents to George W. Bush’s inaugural cowboy boots.  Portraits of the presidents are also hung throughout the lobby for guests to enjoy.  The cast members working at the Hall of Presidents are often full of knowledge of American history and usually willing to chat with guests about the exhibits in this area.

Once inside the theater, guests are seated and wait for the show to begin.  The attraction starts with a film highlighting the trials and triumphs of some of our past presidents. The film has been completely revamped and the focus has changed to feature presidents’ leadership through hard times in the United States.  Morgan Freeman has taken over the narration duties of the Hall of Presidents and he was a great choice.  His voice has the poise and a warm familiarity perfect for telling the story of the American presidency.  The script has been completely rewritten, but some of the paintings projected on the massive screen have been reused throughout the movie.  Without going blow by blow through each scene, I’ll just point out a few highlights.  In the newest version of the attraction, the film is briefly interrupted for Abraham Lincoln’s auto animatronic to recite the Gettysburg Address during a segment about the Civil War.  The movie segment is concluded with a montage of some presidents at their most trying moments; just a few examples include Bill Clinton mourning those lost in Oklahoma City, and George W. Bush rallying the country after 9/11.

At the conclusion of the film the curtain rises and the audience gets to see all 43 past presidents as well as our current president, Barack Obama.  Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and President Obama all have speaking roles in the newest version of the Hall of Presidents.  It’s pretty amazing to see these life-like audio animatronics address the audience.  All of the other presidents are introduced by Morgan Freeman and they acknowledge the crowd with a nod or wave when their names are mentioned.  Something I’ve always loved about this attraction that during the roll call of past leaders, all of them fidget and move throughout the introductions.  It seems as though many of the figures have been improved and move more fluidly.  The most advanced of the figures belongs to our current president.  Mr. Obama’s animatronic movements are incredibly lifelike to go along with his a recording of the actual president.  President Obama recorded the oath of office as well as a short speech written for the show.

I was very happy with the new version even though it made me teary eyed.  As a history buff and patriot I appreciate the content of the Hall of Presidents.  There are a lot of little things that impress me about this attraction in all of its versions.  The attention to detail is simply amazing (hang out with me in Liberty Square some time to hear all about those details).  I think the imagineers were able to keep the integrity of the previous versions while enhancing it to appeal to a modern audience.  They have picked up the pace to keep the attention of guests, while still providing a decent amount of educational material.  While I loved the older version, I love this one just as much, and I think it has more mass appeal than its previous incarnation.

I’m sure the excitement is partially due to folks wanting to see the newest addition to the presidential line up, but it was nice to see more guests in the theater than I had ever seen before.  It seems as though guests have taken a liking to the latest version of a WDW classic.  Small kids may get antsy during the attraction so use discretion with your little ones.  Older kids may think the animatronics are cool since they are so lifelike.  As for adults, even if you aren’t a history buff you will probably enjoy this feel good presentation.  The Hall of Presidents is meant to insight patriotism and pride in Americans while teaching them a little something about their own history.  And if none of that appeals to you, just think of it as a place to sit in the air conditioning for about 25 minutes.  Whatever your motivation, I encourage you to check out this oft overlooked attraction.  Hey, you might learn something (gasp!).

Have you seen the Hall of Presidents since it was renovated?  Let me know what you thought of it!

Next week I’ll discuss my upcoming trip (yup, I’m heading down to WDW again)…

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Posted on February 18, 2010

21 Responses to “The Hall of Presidents”

  • Thanks, Kristen, for an excellent summary of this refurbished and plussed attraction!
    I was fortunate to be able to attend the official re-opening on July 4, 2009 with my daughter. We found it to be so moving and inspirational! The audience for that show burst into applause both after President Lincoln’s speech and President Obama’s words. She and I were not the only ones wiping tears from our eyes.
    We checked ourselves when we revisited in early January. Had we been caught up in patriotic fervor just because it was July 4? We brought along someone who had not seen the improved attraction as sort of a ‘control group,’ and we didn’t tell her what to watch for. I’m happy to report the same responses from her and the audience as we had witnessed the first time around!
    Disney has truly improved what was always a wonderful attraction. Thanks again, Kristen, for an excellent summary that captures the spirit of The Hall of Presidents.

    • In your experience Kristin, were the crowds well-behaved? The last two times we went to HoP (in 07 and 08) there was lots of booing and yelling back and forth among guests as certain Presidents were announced. It really detracted from the attraction, so much so that we decided to skip it during our trip last Thanksgiving.

      I wish people would just respect the office of the Presidency, which IMHO is what the attraction is about, instead of demonstrating against the guy(s) guests happen to dislike.

      • by Kristen Helmstetter on February 18, 2010, at 11:25 pm EST

        I’ve heard some things about guests behaving badly, but I’ve never experienced it. It bothers me that it happens and I completely agree with you that its about respect for the office even if you don’t agree with policies. I’m sorry it turned you off so much that you skipped it on your last trip. You should definitely give it a try now that its been reimagineered!

    • I love HOP but my family goes “just for Dad” so I have to alternate between the American Adventure and HOP on our trips. If I did both I think I would end up going to one or the other by myself. You can also add me to the list of those who get a little teary eyed at both shows. I truly enjoyed the updates to HOP when we visited last August it was a job very well done.

  • by Kristen Helmstetter on February 18, 2010, at 2:25 pm EST

    Thanks so much for the kind words, Phillip! I’m glad I’m not the only one who gets a little misty eyed. Keep spreading the word that the Hall of Presidents is a great attraction!

  • I love HoP, but my favorite parts will always be watching the little details the Imagineers have added to the animatronics — it’s truly like several shows in one. Great post!

    • by Kristen Helmstetter on February 18, 2010, at 5:18 pm EST

      Thanks AJ! The details really are amazing. Since President Obama is new I don’t know as much about his figure, but George W. Bush’s clothes were made by the same people who usually make the acutal man’s clothes and they got one of his watches made as well. I love that all of the clothes were made as they would have been during that president’s term. George Washington’s clothes are handmade of heavy wool even though no one would ever really know the difference. I love those crazy imagineers! We’ll have to geek out at HoP together sometime… before a drink around the world.

  • Great Job Kristen – I LOVED the new Hall of Presidents that I was ecstatic to take my 11 yr old daughter to November 09. In Nov. 08 we were bummed when we went because it wasn’t open….so it made going in November 09 even more worth while as something I loved as a kid, had been revamped and updated and it absolutely amazing!

  • by Caroline Baggerly on February 23, 2010, at 9:24 am EST

    Kristen,
    I love the Hall of Presidents. I learn something everytime I go. I have also been there when people were behaving badly. I wish everyone would be on their best Disney Behavior.
    Let’s go together in March ;)

  • by Randy Speck on March 10, 2010, at 9:17 am EST

    Just saw the new edition of HoP, earlier this week and was once again moved by the art and images on the screen. Does anyone know if some of those images are available for purchase, specifically the one with Lincoln’s head bowed and the soldiers on either side

    • by Kristen Helmstetter on March 10, 2010, at 4:20 pm EST

      I’m glad you liked it so much, Randy. I don’t think the images from the show are available, but then again I’ve never looked that hard. The best place to look would be the shop right next to the Hall of Presidents. However, the attraction’s poster displayed near the entrance is available for purchase. I’m not sure if you’d have to turn to ebay (like I did) or you could find it through an official Disney channel. I have this poster hanging in my office!

  • by Jen from Baltimore on May 13, 2010, at 1:40 pm EST

    So glad to hear that HoP has been redone! I agree that it doesn’t get enough attention. I remember watching on TV as they made a shameful bid for tourists during the Sunday Disney show as a kid…that’s when the fascination started. It was the ride I most wanted to see, and it didn’t disappoint. I get teary-eyed at everything in Disney, but I love how proud to be an American I feel when I’m there!

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