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Walt Disney World's Hall of Presidents: An Appreciation

Walt Disney World's Hall of Presidents: An Appreciation

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Because most morning radio programs are utter drivel, and I'm too cheap to spring for satellite, I often listen to audio from Walt Disney World attractions on my drive in to work. Recently, I've been listening to a digitized version of the original Hall of Presidents recording (Disneyland Records STER-3806), issued sometime between 1972 and 1974. It's a marvelous recording of the entire attraction's audio, from the opening reading of the preamble, to the closing strains of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

After listening a couple of times, I was impressed with the original script's use of language, especially how the writers didn't try to simplifying wonderful phrases such as "make manifest our unanimity." Heck, the script even mentioned the Articles of Confederation, possibly the first time many young people would have heard of it. With one notable exception (see below), it was a remarkably solid piece of writing.

Perhaps, though, the writing was too good. I was certain (certain!) that the script had been "dumbed down" in recent years, and I was ready to blame all manner of culprits: the shortened attention spans of a Playstation-addled youth, MTV, and a time-starved culture that couldn't spare nineteen minutes to hear the whole spiel in all its original glory.

But I was wrong. Not only does the most recent version contain its own flowing, inspiring language, voiced largely by Maya Angelou, it's actually aimed at a more educated audience than the original. Standard tools, such as the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level software found in most recent versions of Microsoft Word, can give you a rough idea of the average education level someone would have to have in order to understand the text.

For the original Hall of Presidents production, that education level was 8.5 - the middle of eight grade; the script used between 1993 and 2001 had an education level of 9.2; and the current script in use since 2001 has a reading level of 8.9. Like the United States itself, Disney script writers can occasionally surprise you with what they're capable of doing.

A couple of items from the original script no longer remain. The post-Civil War section that transitions from the middle of the nineteenth century into modern times used to contain a quick shot of an Apollo moon rocket launch:

Narrator: ... Under its guarantees, men were free to speak, free to worship as they pleased, free to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and free to explore new dimensions of their universe.

Mission Control: Ten, nine, eight, ignition sequence start, six, five, four...

Mission Control 2: There's fire.

Mission Control: Three, two, one zero.

That's been removed, and one can't help but be reminded that there's an entire generation of youngsters who lack completely the firsthand experience of seeing American men walk on the moon. Not only is it arguably the world's single greatest technical achievement, but it illustrates both the unflagging optimism and can-do spirit that sits at the core of our national being.

It's unfortunate, too, that the current Presidents script no longer includes arguably the biggest load of BS in the history of Walt Disney World attractions. It's in the paragraph that follows the discussion of the ratification of the Constitution. See if you can spot it:

The [Constitution's] first test was not long in coming. It occurred in George Washington's second term as president, an incident known as the Whiskey Rebellion. In colonial times, corn was an abundant crop but difficult to transport, and for convenience was often converted to distilled spirits. Since this important byproduct was shipped from state to state, the federal government saw fit to levy a tax upon it. But the people objected in principle, and before long their opposition had flared up in riots. Here was the first challenge to the federal authority.

So...people make whiskey because corn is just so darn hard to carry around? Riiiiight. I didn't realize Jack Daniels was an un-credited author to this script. Apparently Disney thought it unseemly to mention that our country's forefathers thought inalienable their right to get drunk as cheaply as possible. One hundred and ninety-two years before the release of Licensed to Ill, our democratic forbearers were keenly aware of the need to take up arms in their fight for the right to party. I'm not sure if this section was cut out to make the attraction's running time shorter, or because the idea of telling innocent school children that the founding fathers were moonshiners would somehow undermine the "Original Intent" school of constitutional interpretation. It's probably the former, but the latter is funnier.

So here's to us, we Americans, on our nation's 229th anniversary. Next time you're in Walt Disney World, stop by Liberty Square for a quick reminder of what makes this country great.

Thanks to Steve Burns and his Hall of Presidents website for the original and second scripts to this attraction.

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