Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress
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||This article possibly contains original research. (June 2008)|
|Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress|
|Designer||Walt Disney Imagineering|
|Theme||Advancement of technology in the 20th century|
Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress is an attraction located at the Magic Kingdom park at the Walt Disney World Resort. Created by both Walt Disney and WED Enterprises as the prime feature of the General Electric (GE) Pavilion for the 1964 New York World's Fair, the attraction was moved to Tomorrowland at Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California as Carousel of Progress, remaining there from 1967 until 1973. It was replaced in Disneyland by America Sings in 1974, and reopened in its present home in Walt Disney World Resort's Magic Kingdom in 1975.
Steeped in both nostalgia and futurism, the attraction's premise is an exploration of the joys of living through the advent of electricity and other technological advances during the 20th century via a "typical" American family. To keep it up with the times, the attraction has been updated five times (in 1967, 1975, 1981, 1985, and 1993) and has had two different theme songs, both written by the Sherman Brothers (Disney's Academy Award-winning songwriting team).
Various sources say Walt Disney himself proclaimed that the Carousel of Progress was his favorite attraction and that it should never cease operation. This can be somewhat supported by family and friends, who knew of his constant work on the attraction. Of all the attractions he presented at the 1964–1965 New York World's Fair, Disney seemed especially devoted to the Carousel of Progress. It was estimated he rode it 14 times during his lifetime.
The Carousel of Progress holds the record as the longest-running stage show, with the most performances, in the history of American theater. It is one of the oldest attractions in the whole Walt Disney World Resort. It is also one of the only attractions at Walt Disney World to have been touched by Walt Disney himself.
The basic plot of the Carousel of Progress show has essentially remained unchanged since it debuted at the 1964 New York World's Fair. The circular center stage is divided into six equal scenes, surrounded by six 240-seat audience sections which revolve from one to the next.
The first and last scenes involve the loading and unloading of guests. The middle four scenes depict an Audio-Animatronic family appreciating the technological advances of succeeding eras of the 20th century. Each of the four scenes is set around a holiday associated with one of the four seasons of the year. The progress of the seasons serves as a metaphor for the progress of the development of the modern age of electricity.
The first act takes place during Valentine's Day around the beginning of the 20th century, and features the family using innovations for that era, including gas lamps, a kitchen pump, a hand-cranked washing machine, an ice box, and a gramophone. A mention of the St. Louis World's Fair dates the scene to 1904. The second act features devices such as electric lighting and cookware, radio, and a sewing machine during the 4th of July holiday in the 1920s (the Charles Lindbergh reference makes the most likely year 1927). The third act, set around Halloween in the 1940s, features an automatic dishwasher, television, and a homemade paint mixing system (made from the mother's kitchen mixer!)
The final scene is set around Christmas and depicts the family interacting with recent technology. As such, it has changed since the show debuted in 1964. While originally featuring the family's home in the 1960s, it currently features high-definition television, virtual reality games, voice activated appliances, and other recent innovations. A slight refurbishment was made in January 2011, upgrading the outdated Sony CRT television to a larger Samsung flat panel display.
Edison Square concept
In the late 1950s, after Disneyland Park's initial success, Walt Disney planned to expand the Main Street, U.S.A. area with two districts: "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 19th century to the present and beyond — showing how much electrical appliances, specifically GE appliances, have benefited American life. After each time period, or "act", was over, the audience would get up and walk to the next one.
However, the Main Street expansion idea fell by the wayside. One of the reasons for this was that the technology available to put on the show just was not up to par with what Walt Disney wanted. The idea, however, stayed in Disney's mind for the next few years. GE still wanted to work with Disney, but a better outlet was needed.
1964–1965 New York World's Fair
General Electric approached Walt Disney to develop a show for the company's pavilion at the 1964–1965 New York World's Fair. Disney leapt 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 the Edison Square concept, Walt Disney again pitched the idea of an electrical progress show to General Electric executives and this time they loved it.
During the planning phase, Disney's Imagineers perfected the Audio-Animatronics (AA) 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 another attraction designed by Disney at the 1964–1965 New York World's Fair, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, made the Carousel of Progress possible. Besides the AA performers, the Imagineers (led by Disney engineers Roger E. Broggie and Bob Gurr) also devised a "carousel theater", so that the audience could stay seated and ride around a stationary set of stages, instead of getting up and walking from stage to stage. This technology allowed the audience to remain comfortably in place during scene changes and avoided the time-consuming disruption of changing seats repeatedly during a show.
Singing cowboy Rex Allen was tapped to voice Father, the host and narrator of the show that replaced the original "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" in 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 itself.
The show opened at the Fair as Progressland. It was one of the most-visited pavilions at the Fair. One of the unique features that made the attraction so popular was that a circle of six theaters (all connected by divider walls) revolved clockwise around six fixed stages every four minutes. There were identical load and unload theaters with a dazzling wall of light, the "Kaleidophonic Screen", and the "performers" appeared in the 1890s, 1920s, 1940s, and 1960s — literally a "Carousel of Progress"! Though more than 200 people entered and exited the attraction every four minutes, 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 on an empty lot to protect visitors from New York's hot summer sun.
At the end of the Carousel show, fairgoers were invited to walk 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 was re-opened at Disneyland Park on July 2, 1967, as part of the New Tomorrowland. Due to the success of the attractions Disney created for the Fair, General Electric agreed to sponsor the Carousel of Progress at Disneyland. However, the Carousel of Progress was to be a permanent fixture at Disneyland, and it is unknown how many years General Electric would have sponsored the ride had it stayed there (presumably, 10–12 years, as many other sponsors throughout Disneyland Park have historically done).
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, with a few barks and growls from their dog, coincided with guests gazing at an enormous model of Progress City. Progress City was based on Walt Disney's original concept for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) and the Walt Disney World property.
As the 1970s rolled in, 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. The Progress City model was disassembled, but only portions of the center of it were re-assembled in Florida. These can be viewed from the People Mover as it travels through Stitch's Great Escape.
Disneyland soon incorporated The Carousel Theater into its plans to celebrate America's Bicentennial. The theater was filled with a new show in 1974 called America Sings, a salute to American music. That show closed in 1988, not to be replaced for ten years. The Disneyland version of Epcot's popular Innoventions exhibit opened with the New Tomorrowland in 1998, using a stylized rendition of "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" as its theme song.
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 is used by the Tomorrowland Transit Authority track, wrapping around the north side of the building. 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 load and unload theaters no longer featured the stunning "Kaleidophonic Screens" that had dazzled guests as they boarded and exited their respective theater. The old screens had stretched from one wall to the other, with the giant GE logo in the center. They lit up in various colors and patterns like a kaleidoscope as the orchestral version of "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" played. Various problems plagued the screens after 1973, so silver curtains with the GE logo in the center took their place in both the load and unload theaters with different colored lights shining on them.
The Florida version was planned with no post-show. 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. This display is located on the left hand side of the TTA track inside the north show building housing Stitch's Great Escape!.
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.
A new cast of voices and "performers" were showcased in the 1975 version, including actor Andrew Duggan as Father. The first three "acts" had some cosmetic and set design changes. The finale was changed to "Christmas in the Home of the 1970s," and the dog also changed breed.
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 it chose not to renew. The attraction closed shortly thereafter so that all General Electric references could be excluded from the attraction. The GE logo was replaced with a logo that showed a blueprint of the six carousel theaters surrounding the six fixed stages on the signs outside of the attraction and the silver GE curtain was kept but a round sign with the blueprint logo and the name Carousel of Progress hid the GE logo. The GE logo still exists on several household appliances throughout the attraction, like the refrigerator in Act 3, which features the GE logo and the words, "General Electric" on it. This is one of the remaining logos that can still be seen today.
On August 16, 1993  the attraction closed for refurbishment, to better reflect the theme of the New Tomorrowland: "The Future that Never Was." Gears and other mechanical symbols were being prominently featured in the other pavilions in the New Tomorrowland, so the Carousel of Progress was redesigned to feature them. The attraction and show were renamed Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress. A giant cog sign in the load and unload theaters that says "Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress" replaced the blueprint sign. The final scene 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 (Shepherd also does a pre-show narration about the history behind the attraction). Additionally, Rex Allen, the voice of the father at the original Disneyland attraction, plays the Grandfather in Act 4 of the show. 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 on November 23, 1993 and was the first updated attraction for the New Tomorrowland, which 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.
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".||”|
Cast (current 1993 version)
|Young son—James||Peter Nelson|
|Teenage son—James||Paul Osterhout|
|Grandmother (Act 4)||Janet Waldo|
|Cousin Orville||Mel Blanc|
|Radio Personalities||Noel Blanc|
The show draws much of its inspiration from industrial films that American appliance manufacturers funded to demonstrate how their products would change the pattern of domestic chores and improve life. The desire to sell during the Great Depression and the rural electrification projects of the New Deal were two of the motivating forces behind these films.
Also, there are the remnants of an exhibition from the 1933 Century of Progress exposition in the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry that feature four typical rooms of Chicago houses in various decades prior to the exhibition.
From October 1, 1983, until January 9, 1999, an attraction known as Horizons existed at Epcot in the Walt Disney World Resort. It was more or less a sequel to the Carousel of Progress, depicting the host family living and working in technologically-enhanced environments in the near future. During the first portion of its run, the show was also sponsored by General Electric (1983–1994). In the attraction, there was a scene where a robot was "working" in the kitchen, making quite a mess, among other things. In the background, the song "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" could be heard. In 2009, Space Mountain featured several tributes to Horizons in its post-show.
Also in 1983, Meet the World, at Tokyo Disneyland, was an attraction that was housed in a rotating theater. It featured both audio-animatronics and video, looking at thousands of years of Japanese history. It closed in 2002.
Innoventions (1998–present), the current occupant of the building formerly used for the Carousel of Progress at Disneyland, depicts a few images from the older attraction on its colorful exterior murals, and the Innoventions character Tom Morrow sings an updated version of "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow". Banners hung from the building depict the Carousel of Progress and other past attractions, along with their inception dates. Inside, the ASIMO show features a stage set reminiscent of the "contemporary" scene in the Carousel of Progress, including a view of the Community of Tomorrow through the set's picture window. The ASIMO exit music is the original Rex Allen recording from the Carousel of Progress at Disneyland.
In the film Iron Man 2, Tony Stark promotes the "Stark Expo", a fictional version of the World's Fair. The original Carousel of Progress building can be seen on the map of the Stark Expo 2010 website as the Kodak Pavilion. The Ford Magic Skyway pavilion can also be seen nearby, north of the Fountain of Planets, incorporated as the Royal Purple Synthetic Oil Pavilion. In addition, Richard Sherman wrote the Stark Expo's theme song, "Make Way for Tomorrow Today." Also, the game Epic Mickey features the ride as part of the land called Tomorrow City.
The entire soundtrack for the Disneyland version (1967–1973) can be heard on A Musical History of Disneyland (2005). The soundtrack was also released as part of the 5-disc CD set Walt Disney and the 1964 World's Fair released on March 24, 2009 which includes instrumental versions of "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" representing different eras of progress, and an early "Alternate Universe" version of the complete show. The complete 1975 "Now is the Time" version was found on Walt Disney World Forever. The current (1994) theme song of the show, "There's A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow", was previously available on the 2008 "Four Parks - One World: Walt Disney World" album and is currently available on the two-disc "Walt Disney World Resort Official Album" from 2013, along with other hard-to-find songs from the Walt Disney World parks. 
The theme song "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" was found on a few official theme park albums over the years, including:
- Walt Disney World Resort: The Official Album (1999 CD)|Walt Disney World Resort: The Official Album (1999) (Magic Kingdom 1994 version)
- Walt Disney World Resort: Official Album (2000 CD)|Walt Disney World Resort: Official Album (2000) (Magic Kingdom 1994 version)
- The Official Album of the Disneyland Resort (2005) (Happiest Homecoming on Earth for 50th anniversary)
In popular culture
- Sullivan, Bob. "50 years ago, the World's Fair promised a life of leisure. We're still waiting". http://boingboing.net/. Boing Boing. Retrieved 22 June 2014.
- "GE Carousel of Progress".
- "Carousel of Progress". WDWHistory.com. Retrieved August 13, 2006.
- Imagineers, The (September 1, 2005). The Imagineering Field Guide to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Disney Editions. p. 121. ISBN 0-7868-5553-3.
- "Carousel of Progress". WDW Magic.com. Retrieved July 18, 2007.
- Sherman, Robert B., Walt's Time: from before to beyond, 1998, p 168.
- "The Carousel of Progress". CarouselOfProgress.com. Archived from the original on March 11, 2007. Retrieved March 24, 2007.
- Raets, Stefan (1 November 2011). "Progress or Change? Cory Doctorow’s The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow". tor.com. Holtzbrinck Publishers, LLC. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
- Doctorow, Cory (20 October 2011). "The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow html version". craphound.com. Cory Doctorow. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
- INTERCOT.com Attraction Page
- Attraction Profile at the Official Page for Walt Disney World
- Video of Carousel of Progress (includes all acts)
- Fanpage dedicated to the complete history of the Show - CarouselofProgress.com
- Yesterland profile for Disneyland's Carousel of Progress
- AllEarsNet profile for Carousel of Progress
- WDWMagic profile for Carousel of Progress
- Carousel of Progress: The Best Time of Your Life
- MousePlanet profile for Carousel of Progress
- LaughingPlace profile for Carousel of Progress
- nywf64.com (1964/1965 New York World's Fair Website) Story of the General Electric Pavilion and the Carousel of Progress