Walt Disney World
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Carousel of Progress
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Walt Disney--The Man
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"There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow. . ."
Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress was created by WED Enterprises as the prime feature of the General Electric's Pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair. After the World's Fair the show was moved to Disneyland's Tomorrowland where it stayed until 1973 when it was moved to Magic Kingdom, Florida where it opened in 1975. In 1974 a new show called America Sings opened in it's place at Disneyland. The show demonstrates the joys of living through the advent of electricity and other technological advances during the 20th century via a "typical" American family. The attraction has been updated five times (in 1967, 1975, 1981, 1985, and 1994) and has had two different theme songs, both written by the Sherman Brothers. Of all the attractions he presented at the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair, Walt seemed most fond of the Carousel of Progress. The Carousel of Progress holds the record as the longest-running stage show, with the most performances, in the history of American theater. The Carousel can likely trace its root to an idea Walt worked on in the late 1950's--after Disneyland Park's initial success--to expand Main Street, U.S.A. by adding two new areas, International Street and Edison Square. In Edison Square, guests would be treated to a show hosted by an "electro-mechanical" man named "Wilbur K. Watt". The show would chronicle the evolution of electricity in the home, from the late 1800s to the present and beyond--showing how electrical appliances, from proposed sponsor GE, have benefited American life. After each time period, or act, was over, the audience would get up and walk to the next act. However, the Main Street expansion idea remained just an idea; for one thing, technology of the day was not capable of doing what Walt envisioned. The idea, however, stayed in Walt's mind for the next few years. And GE still wanted to work with Walt, but a better outlet was needed. (The idea for an International Street became part of Walt's concept for E.P.C.O.T. the city and later EPCOT's World Showcase.)
In preparation for the New York World's Fair General Electric asked Walt to develop a show for its pavilion. Walt leaped at the chance to rekindle his relationship with GE, who would fund the project and the new technology necessary to bring it to life. Reaching back to Edison Square, Walt Disney again pitched the idea of an electrical progress show, which General Electric executives loved.
During the planning phase, Disney's Imagineers perfected the Audio-Animatronics technology necessary to operate the "performers" in the show. They were not the most advanced, but it was enough to get the show running. The technology used in Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln--another attraction designed by Disney at the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair--made the Carousel of Progress possible. Besides the Audio-Animatronics, the Imagineers (led by Disney Legends Roger E. Broggie and Bob Gurr) also devised a "carousel theater", so that the audience rode around a stationary set of stages instead of walking from stage to stage.
Singing cowboy Rex Allen was provided the voice Father, the host and narrator of the show that replaced the "Wilbur K. Watt" character. Allen later commented that he did not know exactly what he was getting into. Walt Disney asked Disney songwriters Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman to create a song that could serve as a bridge between the acts of the show. Walt explained to the brothers what the show was about, and they wrote a song with his enthusiasm in mind. The song was titled "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow". The Shermans later stated that they believe that the song was Walt's "theme song," because he was so optimistic and excited about the future and technology.
The show was named Progressland and was one of the most-visited pavilions at the Fair. The show was made up of a circle of six theaters (all connected by divider walls) that revolved clockwise around six fixed stages every four minutes. Two of the six theaters were for loading and unloading, and each of these identical theaters featured the dazzling wall of light, or Kaleidophonic Screen. The other four theaters featured Audio-Animatronic performers in the 1890s, 1920s, 1940s, and 1960s. Hence, Carousel of Progress. More than 200 people entered and exited the attraction every four minutes, but it was not uncommon to wait over an hour in line. For the 1965 season of the Fair, a massive covered queue was constructed next to the General Electric Pavilion.
At the end of the Carousel show, fairgoers were invited to journey up to the second floor of the pavilion and see the General Electric Skydome Spectacular. The Skydome Spectacular projected images of nature and energy into the domed roof of the GE pavilion, similar to a planetarium. The show demonstrated the many ways that GE was harnessing electricity and the power of the sun for the benefit of its customers.
The Carousel of Progress opened at Disneyland Park on July 2, 1967, as part of the New Tomorrowland. Due to the success of the attraction at the Fair, General Electric agreed to sponsor the Carousel of Progress at Disneyland.
The actual attraction was located on ground level, and a new nearly identical theater system was constructed. The sets and performers all came right from the Fair itself and remained nearly original. There were some slight changes: a new voice was recorded for Mother, "Christmas in the Home of the 1960s" was slightly updated in set design and technology, all references to General Electric's passé "Medallion Home" campaign were dropped, and Father from "The Home of the 1940s" now sat on a bar stool, rather than on the kitchen nook bench.
After the show, guests boarded a speedramp that would take them to the second level of the building. On the upper level, a 4-minute post show, narrated by Mother and Father, showed guests an enormous model of Progress City. Progress City was based on Walt Disney's original concept for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow and the Walt Disney World property.
In the 1970's the Carousel of Progress saw dwindling audiences. GE thought they were not getting the most for their advertising dollars, surmising that 80% of the people that saw the attraction were Californians, and had seen the attraction many times. GE asked Disney to move the show to their new Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. The Disneyland show closed on September 9, 1973 and was packed up for Florida.
Disneyland soon incorporated The Carousel Theater into its plans to celebrate America's Bicentennial by creating a salute to American Folk music in a new show called America Sings. America Sings used the same rotating theater concept to present music from four different time periods, much like the carousel of progress but with music, and all of the animatronic performers were animals; ducks, geese, frogs. When this show closed in 1988 many of these animals were relocated to Disneyland's Splash Mountain which served to keep the budget for Splash Mountain from getting out of control.
Nothing would occupy the theater space for another ten years. It wasn't until another revamp of Disneyland's Tomorrowland in 1998 that the Carousel building reopened, this time featuring a West Coast version of EPCOT's popular Innoventions--exhibits of new technologies. Disneyland's Innoventions uses a stylized rendition of "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" as its theme song.
The Carousel of Progress was one of two attractions that opened in the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland on January 15, 1975; the other attraction being Space Mountain. General Electric signed a 10-year contract to sponsor Carousel of Progress at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World. Unlike the small changes that had occurred when the Carousel of Progress moved from the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair to Disneyland Park, extensive changes were made when the attraction moved to Walt Disney World.
A new carousel theater building was designed to house the attraction: a one-story pavilion, with a loft above. The loft was created so the Tomorrowland Transit Authority could pass above it. The interior and exterior of the building received new color schemes with blue and white stripes that grew smaller and larger as the building turned. Also, the theaters now rotated counterclockwise, rather than clockwise, like the two former theater systems.
The Florida version was planned with no post-show (no going up stairs to a tech expo). Guests would load and unload on the first floor. The Progress City/EPCOT model was significantly sized down so it could fit in a window display that could be seen from the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. The display is still part of the TTA Peoplemover tour of Tomorrowland, it can be seen on the Left Hand-side upon entering the lands north show building.
Because of the changing times, a new theme song, written by the Sherman Brothers, was created for the Florida show. GE asked the Shermans to write a new song because they did not want their customers to wait for a "great big beautiful tomorrow;" GE wanted them to buy appliances today, so a song titled "Now is the Time," also known as "The Best Time Of Your Life," was created. Although the song was still very peppy and positive, the Shermans still felt that "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" was a better fit. The Sherman Brothers write in their joint autobiography regarding the history of the pavilion: "Three years after Walt Disney World opened, the Carousel of Progress moved east from Disneyland to Florida, and we were invited to write a brand new theme song: 'The Best Time Of Your Life'. In 1996, as a special tribute to the dreams of Walt Disney the Carousel of Progress was "updated" back to its original show, featuring our original theme song, 'There's A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow'."
Other changes to the show included the finale, which was changed to "Christmas in the Home of the 1970s," and the family dog changed breeds. In 1981, the finale was updated to showcase "Christmas in the Home of the 1980s." A new script was written for this scene change, but the rest of the show remained the same. The attraction closed briefly so that the changes could be implemented. On March 10, 1985, General Electric's contract expired, and they chose not to renew. The attraction closed shortly thereafter so that all General Electric references could be excluded from the attraction. But the GE logo still exists on several household appliances throughout the attraction.
In 1993 the attraction closed for refurbishment, to better reflect the theme of the New Tomorrowland: "The Future that Never Was." The attraction and show were re-named Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress. The finale was updated to "Christmas in the House of 2000" (as envisioned in 1994). A new cast was hired for the narration recordings, with American writer, raconteur, and radio personality Jean Shepherd as the voice of the father. For the first time, names of some of the characters in the attraction were revealed. A 4-minute pre-show about the creation of the attraction was played on monitors while guests waited in line. A contemporary version of "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" returned as the attraction's theme song. The attraction reopened in 1994, as the New Tomorrowland was unveiled in phases. Since then, the attraction has undergone many slight mechanical and cosmetic changes.
Because of a decrease in attendance following the September 11, 2001 attacks, Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress closed in October 2001. It was reopened soon afterwards on a seasonal basis, causing fans to become concerned for the attraction's future. Although numerous "permanent closure" rumors still plague the attraction, Disney has consistently said that there are no plans for permanent closure or any closure at all. For various reasons, the attraction has had some minor refurbishments in recent years. Though it is still listed as a seasonal attraction, it has remained open nearly every day of the year and during the Magic Kingdom's regular park hours since 2003.
Walt's legacy lives on.
Below: Home of the Future from the 1980's.
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