What has ultimately
made the Carousel of Progress unique from all the attractions
at the New York World's Fair that offered a glimpse of a "Space
Age" future is that it was the only one to live into the
future it tried to anticipate. From the very beginning Walt Disney
was determined to have the attractions he built for the Fair
become permanent fixtures at Disneyland. Save for the Ford Magic
Skyway, which ultimately survived only in bits and pieces, they
did. The enormous popularity of the Carousel at the Fair insured
there'd be considerable anticipation in a West Coast audience
to see what more than 12 million people experienced in New York
once it arrived in California.
for the Carousel of Progress Pavilion at Disneyland
The Walt Disney Company
of the Carousel Of Progress at Disneyland in July 1967 coincided
with a massive overhaul of the Park's Tomorrowland section that
was designed to bring it more in-line with forward thinking "Space
Age" themes that had characterized the Fair. Gone were a
number of attractions that dated back to the Park's opening in
1955 such as the outdated Hall Of Chemistry and the rapidly deteriorating
walk-through exhibit of sets and props from the movie 20,000
Leagues Under The Sea. In their place were new attractions
such as "Adventures Thru Innerspace," which utilized
a ride system similar to those from the Fair and took visitors
through impressive set construction and optical illusions giving
them the impression of being miniaturized within a snowflake
down to the tiniest atom particles (the ride also spawned another
memorable song from the Sherman brothers, "Miracles From
of Progress at Disneyland c. 1968
Jacket © The Walt Disney Company
ride through Tomorrowland carried over the ride system technology
from Ford's World's Fair "Magic Skyway" while the old
"Rocket To The Moon" ride that dated back to 1955 was
given an overhaul that transformed it from its fancifully dated
1950s vision of spaceflight into the more scientifically plausible
"Flight To The Moon". As part of its overhaul, "Flight
To The Moon" added a pre-show with an audio-animatronic
Mission Control specialist named "Tom Morrow" further
showing how the audio-animatronic technology pioneered for the
Fair was impacting the Park in other places. Many visitors noticed
how "Tom Morrow" seemed a lot like the Father from
Carousel of Progress at Disneyland c. 1968. The scenes changed
slightly in the move from the Fair to Disneyland. Our 1940s father
moved out from behind the table to address the audience from the
kitchen stool. And our contemporary couple are now residents of
Progress City. The view from their terrace overlooks EPCOT!
The Walt Disney Company
In this context
of a revised Tomorrowland offering new, cutting edge attractions
that still forecast the magnificent possibility of things to
come, the Carousel Of Progress seemed right at home. Except for
a new voice in the role of the mother, the show itself was virtually
identical to what had played in New York. A new two-level building
was constructed to house the show which didn't duplicate any
of the architectural features of the GE pavilion in New York.
Guests viewed the show on the bottom level while the second level
featured the post-show view of "Progress City" representing
Walt Disney's vision of what he hoped technology would bring
for the future development of urban communities. At the time
of his death in December, 1966, Disney was deep into planning
for the opening of a new theme park in Florida and also using
the land to develop an "Experimental Prototype Community
Of Tomorrow" (EPCOT) that would represent the ultimate in
the Carousel's message of a "big beautiful tomorrow,"
thanks to technological innovation and careful research and development.
In the Disney vision, monorails and peoplemover transports cutting
down on urban traffic and pollution, automatic vacuum waste disposal
services, and an interrelated workplace and living environment
would be the next logical step in the progression of technology
and better living heralded in each act of the Carousel.
GREAT BIG BEAUTIFUL TOMORROW is at Disneyland today. The city
of the future comes alive today in the General Electric Carousel
of Progress at Disneyland. This revolutionary idea in civic planning
features coordinated electric transportation, a completely enclosed
downtown with climate controlled environment, ample recreation
and entertainment facilities and spacious grounds for private
progress city is a living tribute to the technology of today.
Jacket © The Walt Disney Company
proved to be quite popular once it opened in Disneyland. It seems
surprising to think that its stay in Anaheim would ultimately
be short-lived by Disney Park standards. In 1973, just six years
after its arrival, Carousel played for the last time in Disneyland
and was closed. A new carousel-style attraction would take its
place; "America Sings," which presented more than 200
elaborate audio-animatronic animals celebrating 200 years of
American music. The upper level, which originally housed the
Progress City post-show, became a "Super Speed Tunnel"
for passengers of the People Mover to ride through.
The show's closing
in Disneyland was not the end of the Carousel of Progress. The
decision had been made to transfer the expensive audio-anamatronic
figures and sets to Florida for installation in Walt Disney World's
Tomorrowland section. The reasons for the decision to move the
attraction have never been fully documented but two factors have
been suggested by Disney historians. One was that General Electric
felt that the attraction had received the most exposure it could
get in California and that attendance would inevitably decline
if it weren't shifted to a fresh locale. The second was that
Disney World's Tomorrowland needed something additional to coincide
with the planned 1975 opening of the Florida Park's signature
attraction, Space Mountain. Heavy lines were anticipated for
this roller-coaster-in-the-dark and having the Carousel situated
nearby would provide guests with an alternative new attraction
to experience if they didn't want to wait at Space Mountain.
reason, Carousel opened in its third venue in 1975. Those who
were familiar with it from New York and Anaheim were greeted
to a show that had undergone some significant changes. It was
now housed in a smaller, single-level theater which moved counter-clockwise
rather than clockwise. The closing "Progress City"
act had been eliminated entirely while the elaborate Progress
City model that had graced the upper level of Disneyland's Carousel
theater was placed in a window situated along the Wedway People
Mover ride in Disney World's Tomorrowland. Guests could only
get, at best, a five second view of the model as their vehicles
went past; not able to fully appreciate the thought and care
that had gone into its design.
A new recording
had been made for the show as well with new actors brought in
to handle the roles. (Only the small contributions of cartoon
legend Mel Blanc as the parrot in Act I and Cousin Orville in
Act II were retained from the original Fair and Disneyland tracks.)
Character actor Andrew Duggan replaced Rex Allen in the principal
role of narrator and Father. In addition, the character of the
unnamed son was finally given a speaking part and some scenes
in each of the four acts. For the most part though, Acts I, II
and III were generally the same as they'd been in New York and
Act IV represented
a significant departure from the previous versions with the action
now taking place on New Year's Eve instead of Christmas. This
time, the entire family was present instead of just Father and
Mother, and Grandpa and Grandma were living with them and not
residing in a Senior Citizens Community. And in a concession
to the changing roles of women in society since 1964, Mother
was at work on the computer while Father was preparing dinner.
New, cutting-edge technology of the 1970s such as giant sized
television sets, cable television and home computers were now
featured. But the focus on new technologies for the future was
considerably lower-key than had been the case in the original
Act IV finale. If anything it seemed evident that in this newest
incarnation, Carousel Of Progress felt the need to be less bold
about proclaiming how the future would bring us newer, wonderful
technologies to make our lives better.
drove this point home more than in the critical decision to make
the biggest change to the show: the dropping of the theme song,
"There's A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow," for a new
Sherman brothers composition titled "Now Is The Time."
In this song, the focus was not about anticipating the future
but celebrating how good our respective present happened to be
and, in light of how far we'd come since the turn of the century,
that we should feel good about those accomplishments. As for
looking to tomorrow, the new song's caution was best summed up
memories may sparkle and gleam.
is still but a dream.
- Right here
and now, you've got it made.
- The world's
forward marching and you're in the parade."
is the time. Now is the best time.
- Be it a time
of joy or strife.
- There's so
much to cheer for --
- be glad you're
- It's the
best time of your life."
It was a rather
careful attempt to maintain the attraction's theme of celebrating
progress and being innovative while saying that perhaps the time
had come to be more prudent in terms of looking ahead.
This change in
song may have been sacrilege to long-time fans of the show from
its days in New York and California. But, in the end, it actually
fit better with the changing mood of American society in the
1970s which had grown increasingly cynical about technology and
now viewed the "Space Age" thinking of the 1964 Fair
as an overly naive vision of a future that could never be. The
elimination of the Progressland post-show and moving the Progress
City model to an out-of-the-way location also demonstrated how,
in the 1970s, the public wasn't interested that much in grandiose
visions of the future. America's declining interest in the space
program after Apollo XI, the greater concern over the side-effects
of technology and the national traumas of the Vietnam War and
the Watergate scandal had left Americans so cynical about the
times they lived in that, in a sense, a song that reminded them
of how good their present was better fit the needs of the society
than the message of " A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow."
In its new incarnation,
the Carousel settled down to what has ever since been the longest
run of its post-Fair life. A new cast recording in 1981 was made
that updated Act IV to showcase 1980s style technology and, except
for Andrew Duggan who continued as narrator and Father (along
with the ever-present Mel Blanc cameos), featured new voices
that included James Gregory (Inspector Luger of TV's Barney
Miller) as Grandpa, and Dena Dietrich (who in the 1970s made
the phrase "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature!" famous
in commercials for Chiffon Margarine) as Grandma. In 1985
more retooling was done when General Electric dropped their twenty
year sponsorship of the Carousel Of Progress. Even though GE
was now no longer mentioned by name, all the implicit references
to "a new company" and the "research boys"
remained as well as the incorporation of GE's slogan about "bringing
good things to life" which created a somewhat awkward aura.
opened in 1982 but bore no resemblance to the City of Tomorrow
that Walt Disney had envisioned and, instead, had become the
Disney equivalent of a New York World's Fair. One of the attractions
that opened at EPCOT one year later was a spin-off of the Carousel
of Progress called "Horizons." Sponsored by General
Electric, it offered a view of how our perceptions of what the
future will bring have changed over the years and a glimpse at
what the future still has to offer us today. A slightly elderly
couple that bore a strong resemblance to the Father and Mother
from Carousel were the hosts. And during the journey through
past visions of what the future would bring, the connection to
Carousel of Progress was made even more blunt when viewers saw
a robot butler from a 1930s vision of the future singing "There's
A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow."
rendering of the GE HORIZONS Pavilion at EPCOT -- a follow on
to the Carousel of Progress
EPCOT Souvenir Book
Walt Disney Company
us our view of future visions from the past, Father and Mother
took us to a vision of their family living in highly advanced
urban, agricultural and underwater communities of the future.
Probably the most memorable effect of this ride-through came
during the view of the agricultural community where an orange
grove had been developed from previously barren desert. As the
vehicles made their way through, visitors were always greeted
by the powerful fragrance of oranges all around them. "Horizons"
ran for fifteen years at EPCOT, closing in January 1999. The
pavilion was demolished and a new attraction "Mission Space"
will open on the same site in 2003.
Of Progress had come close to meeting the same fate much sooner.
By the early 1990s the Carousel was beginning to seem like a
relic from the past, much as the rest of Disney World's Tomorrowland
section did at that point; its views of the future seemed stuck
in a 1970s time capsule. Carousel's audio-animatronic technology
that had "wowed" audiences in the 1960s no longer seemed
so innovative. And, because the performances would never differ
in a way that a live program with real actors can always seem
different, few people found repeat visits to the Carousel appealing.
(This problem was not just limited to Carousel but also affected
other long-standing audio-animatronic shows in the Disney Parks
like "The Enchanted Tiki Room.") According to Disney
expert Jim Hill, when plans were originally drawn up in the early
1990s for a massive overhaul of Tomorrowland, the Carousel Of
Progress was slated to be closed. The theater space was to be
gutted and transformed into a new edition of the "Flying
Saucers" ride that had been at Disneyland from 1961-66.
But when the Disney Corporation suffered enormous financial losses
following the opening of EuroDisneyland outside of Paris, plans
for the overhaul of Tomorrowland were scaled back with an emphasis
on doing the makeover for as little money as possible. It was
because of that cost-conscious approach to redoing Tomorrowland
that Carousel Of Progress suddenly got a new lease on life.
Disney's Carousel of Progress" pavilion in its latest incarnation
at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida
The new Tomorrowland's
thrust would not be on offering glimpses of a possible future
that ran the risk of always becoming outdated but, instead, would
focus on pop-culture visions of futures that never were and focus
more on fantastic thrills to be found in a futuristic setting
that was straight out of the fantasy realm. To fit into this
vision, the Carousel of Progress would be stressed for its nostalgia
value as a tribute to Walt Disney; a complete turnaround from
the forward-thinking vision that had created the attraction in
the first place. The attraction was renamed "Walt Disney's
Carousel Of Progress" and given its first major overhaul
since 1975. Humorist Jean Shepherd, renowned for his ability
to be a charming storyteller that had made him a legend of New
York radio for several decades, would lead a new cast of voices
that even featured the return of the original Father, Rex Allen,
in the part of Grandpa (the Mel Blanc vocals from the original
Fair soundtrack also survived this transition). For longtime
Carousel fans the biggest change would be the restoration of
"There's A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" as the theme
In the new opening
narration, Shepherd set the tone of nostalgia by giving a brief
history of how the Carousel all began as part of Walt Disney's
vision to celebrate progress and how, after all these years,
the Carousel had done more performances of any stage show in
American history. Acts I, II and III still featured the turn-of-the-century,
the 1920s and the late 1940s, but the tone was different from
the earlier versions. Now, rather than moving each act forward
according to the progression of seasons (spring-1890s, summer-1920s,
fall-1940s, winter-Act IV), a different holiday was the theme
for each act. Jean Shepherd's Father seemed a more bumbling type
making asides about how "Lindbergh will never make it"
and culminating in Act IV with Father managing to ruin Christmas
dinner because of his inability to handle his technologically
advanced oven! Mother had also come a long way from the earlier
versions. No longer passively sighing "Yes, dear" and
doing the laundry, she is seen more as the real "brains"
of the family in the end. Depending on one's perspective, this
represented either some welcome progress or too much intrusion
of political correctness.
the current version of Carousel of Progress, Grandma looks smart
in her virtual-reality goggles and dad manages to ruin the holiday
Turkey he's cooking in their voice-activated oven. Act IV now
represents a 60 year jump in time from Act III.
Thorner © 2002 Marc Thorner, All Rights Reserved.
But by this point
the biggest flaw that had become apparent in the Carousel was
that the show no longer gave an orderly presentation of progress
over the last century. With the jump from Act III to Act IV now
representing more than 50 years of change as opposed to the 20
year progressions of the previous acts, there seemed to be something
missing in going this far from Act III to Act IV. It was as though
what the show really needed at this point was a fifth act that
allowed for the progress of the 1960s and 70s before arriving
at the dawn of the 21st century. Unfortunately, given the technical
limitations of the existing Carousel theater, such an option
could never be possible.
By the end of
the 1990s, Carousel was once again becoming a more neglected
component of Disney World, with less maintenance being performed
and the attraction shut down most of the year. Only during "peak"
periods of attendance at the Park was the Carousel opened up
again with the most recent period of operation occurring for
several weeks in the summer of 2002. Rumors are once again circulating
that Carousel's long-term future is bleak with Disney Imagineers
again anxious to build a new "Flying Saucers" ride
in the existing theater space for a possible 2005 opening to
coincide with the 50th anniversary of Disneyland. Given how Disney
Park management in the last decade has shown little regard for
maintaining the traditions of the past by shutting down such
longtime favorites as the submarine rides in both Disney Parks,
and given how a valiant Internet effort to save a beloved Florida
attraction like "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" ended in failure,
it seems unlikely that current management would be receptive
to any appeals to save the Carousel Of Progress from final extinction.
If that were
to come to pass, then the last of the great industrial pavilion
exhibits of the New York World's Fair that dealt directly with
the Fair's theme of Space Age progress will have become extinct
offering us another reminder of how, ultimately, yesterday's
visions of the future can not endure forever in the cold light
of a present that has overtaken the vision completely. But for
those who have been able to enjoy the Carousel in its different
incarnations in New York, California and Florida, the memories
of what it symbolized at its best will always, to borrow a line
from "Now Is The Time," be memories that will continue
to sparkle and gleam.