New Kid on the Block
Disney’s Hall of Presidents reopens with ‘Robobama’ in the spotlight.
|The new, Audio-Animatronic Barack Obama steals
the show at the revamped Hall of Presidents.
Barack Obama ran for office on a platform of change, and his message has been heard at Walt Disney World.
Specifically, it’s been heard at The Hall of Presidents, which had been closed for renovation since Election Day. The Magic Kingdom attraction officially reopened, fittingly enough, on July 4, with many changes, including the addition of an Audio-Animatronic figure of President Obama on stage with all his fellow chief exec-atronics.
The Hall of Presidents: A Celebration of Liberty’s Leaders, as the attraction has been formally re-christened, features an approximately 20-minute show. As in the past, it begins with a movie about the history of the nation and the presidency, and it concludes with a tableau of life-size presidential figures, each nodding in turn as his name is called.
Presented in high definition and projected on three large screens, the attraction’s new movie was overseen by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and is narrated by Oscar-winner Morgan Freeman who, as it happens, played an American president in Deep Impact. (He has also played God at least twice.) It tells the story of America by focusing on our presidents, celebrating the “common man” and stressing the theme of triumph over adversity.
The movie includes a combination of artwork, documentary footage and still photographs, one of which is a shot of a young Bill Clinton meeting President Kennedy. Midway through the film, a screen rises to reveal the Animatronic Lincoln, who stands to deliver the entire two-minute Gettysburg Address rather than, as previously at The Hall of Presidents, a shorter speech.
Lincoln is really just an opening act for Obama, though. After the film, the Washington figure—looking as if he were posing for the dollar bill—introduces Robobama (as some have called the Obama figure) by talking about the “35 simple words” of the presidential oath of office.
The standing Obama figure then recites that oath—essentially a do-over of the real swearing in, which, you may recall, did not go all that smoothly—and then stretches out an arm as he intones about “the horizon that lies ahead.” Obama, by the way, is the third president to personally record his speech specifically for this attraction.
Valerie Edwards, Disney’s dir-ector of sculpting, created the Obama clay sculpture on which the attraction’s figure is based, working from photos and video that she began collecting during the presidential campaign. (She collected McCain material too, just in case.) While Edwards is too gracious to single out any particular features of the president that may have given her trouble—such as his prominent ears and chin—she does allow that “everyone has their own challenges.”
As with any project at such a high level, rumors are inevitable. So to set the record straight, the Nixon figure is not shown secretly taping the other presidents, Clinton does not wink at attractive park guests and Ford does not fall down. It is true, however, that the real Ronald Reagan never looked more lifelike than does his mechanical doppelganger.
Actually, all of these figures look remarkably realistic and their movements are amazingly fluid. The technical advances are so impressive, in fact, that you might even say that this revamped Disney attraction represents not just change, but change you can almost believe in.