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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)…