Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress is not just an attraction – it’s an important piece of history (Disney and otherwise). Therefore, it should not be allowed to literally rust away.
First, a bit of history for those not intimately familiar with this piece of American pop-culture.
I think part of the reason I am so enamored with Disney is partly because of the time period it is positioned in. Exciting technological and industrial improvements were being made and discovered at a rapid pace – mostly without the aid of computers, and certainly not the internet. If somebody wanted to create something back then there was no way to build a computer model and test everything in a virtual environment; working out the most major problems before actual physical development. They just built it. Of course, money still needed to be considered. There wasn’t an infinite pile of wealth. There were still budgets and advisory committees and shareholders. So, not only did they have to just build it, they had to build it right… the first time.
Try imagining your boss coming to you with a sort-of technological problem and you’re unable to have instant access to answers via the worldwide web. During discussions with your boss you discover the problem is actually a project with a deadline. Furthermore, the technology for developing this project probably doesn’t exist yet. Also, there’s not really anyone practical you can ask for help because, as far as you know, there isn’t anyone with an expertise in this project’s scope. Oh yeah, and you’re not really familiar with this type of project either because your background is in camera work or animation. But none of that matters because your boss firmly believes you’re the person who can successfully pull this off.
At WED (now known as Walt Disney Imagineering) the above scenario was all too familiar.
In the early 1960s, General Electric approached Walt Disney to develop an entertaining, yet educational, show for their pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Naturally, Walt leapt at the chance because GE agreed to fund the project and (more importantly) the development of all the necessary new technology. This allowed Walt’s boys in WED to explore and create without spending a dime of Disney’s money.
The attraction originally opened as Progressland; and to say it was a success would be a gross understatement. It was a smash hit – one of the shining stars of the 1964 Fair.
After the fair the attraction was boxed up and moved all the way across the country to be installed in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland ’67 redo.
Once Walt Disney Word had opened all of the Carousel’s set pieces were once again crated up then moved back to the east coast; where, after a few minor tweaks and adjustments, the attraction reopened January 1975.
Some rather extensive changes were made at this point. For instance, the rotation of the theater changed from clockwise to counterclockwise. The Imagineers completely scrapped the entire post-show. A new song was written to replace “Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”. New performances of the vocal tracks were recorded by an all new cast (with the exception of a cameo appearance by Rex Allen, the original Father). Even the breed of the family dog changed.
There were some minor cosmetic changes and “set refreshing” made to the first three acts; while the final act was completely overhauled to represent Christmas in the 1970s.
This means, even with the changes mentioned above, The Carousel of Progress is likely the only attraction in all of Walt Disney World to have been physically touched by Walt Disney. From the set pieces in the first three scenes to the Progress City model upstairs (the fraction of what’s left) chances are Walt had a hand in most of this attraction.
It also means that letting this attraction rot away in a reclaimed Orlando swamp is unacceptable!
I propose a complete overhaul of the entire attraction! Every single scene. The new attraction would honor the vision of, and pay homage to, the original (and not in the Michael Eisner / Paul Pressler definition of terms) while respectfully updating its message and theme.
Don’t go crazy and start sending me hate mail quite yet, Disney-fanatics! I think there’s a way to do this that avoids turning an old favorite into a travesty of justice (ie: The Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management).
The basic message of mankind’s progress (and comfort) via technological advances would remain obviously the same; but updated and refreshed. More than a coat of pain and new carpeting this attraction needs a fresh revitalizing – especially as we approach its 50th anniversary.
Below, I have listed the most basic outline of the updated scenes:
Valentine’s Day 1925 –This should be the same basic scene from the current Carousel (giving prominence to electric lighting, radio, the sewing machine, home cooling, etc) with obvious updates to the dialogue. Allowing this scene to retain the original Carousel’s layout and design is not only a nice tip o’ the hat to the original; it sends an immediate message that “we desire to adhere to the original message”. More than a mere token hidden in the background – only identifiable by the purest of Disney geeks – beginning the attraction with an entire scene pulled from the previous attraction sets a tone that the attraction’s tone and story will remain faithful.
Fourth of July 1950 – This scene illustrates the full crossing over; or the general populace leaving the analog world behind while embracing the digital world. The nations’ building excitement and approval are paralleled with the excitement surrounding local Independence Day celebrations. This scene includes references to SciFi Movies (20K Leagues) and Television Westerns (actor Rex Allen), transistors and Cowboys and Indians (CinemaScope / Vista Vision). Additionally we could showcase color television, vaccines and Xerox technology.
Halloween 1975 – VHS and Betamax, 8-Track, muscle cars, transitioning from the space race to the space age, Earth Day, and the dawn of personal computers. Also, this is a good chance for some easy laughs as the 70s were generally a pretty goofy era.
Christmas 2000 – The year 2000 had, for many generations, been pinned as the year that represented the beginning of “the future”. Our scene will focus on translucent and fruity-colored personal computers, compact discs, microprocessors, Internet, medical advances, and a general sense of looking forward. Sure, the last scene is already dated… but that’s the idea. It’s stuck in a specific date; rather than an ambiguous “future” that already looks dated by the time the attraction reopens. By fixing the final scene at a specific year you run a much lower risk of the scene looking corny – at least no more corny than the other three scenes set in the past.
The key to any refreshing of this attraction – via my method decried above, or otherwise – will be completing it with excellence. I’m certainly not proposing a limitless budget, but doing things “on the cheap” (as Roy E. Disney used to say) should be avoided. Quality will out.
“Well, by this time my staff, my young executives, and everything else, are convinced that Walt is right. That quality will out. And so I think they’re going to stay with that policy because its proved that it’s a good business policy. Give the people everything you can give them. Keep the place as clean as you can keep it. Keep it friendly, you know. Make it a real fun place to be.” -Walt Disney