Nuggets of Wisdom

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Top 11 Favorite Disney World Attractions (#9)

#9: Carousel of Progress

Probably not a choice that many Disney fans would add to their list of favorite attractions, but it's one that really resonates with me on a nostalgic level, so I'm adding it to mine.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Carousel of Progress is that it originally started as a Disneyland attraction—quite literally! It originally existed in Disneyland before being moved across the country to Disney World in Florida. Technically, it started out as one of the attractions featured in the 1964 World’s Fair before being moved to Disneyland in 1967 and later to Disney World in 1972.

But I digress.

The Carousel of Progress is an audio-animatronic show that showcases the technological progress made during the 20th Century. The entire show takes place within a revolving theater that transports guests to the show's different acts. Each of the four acts take place in four different time periods—the 1900s, 1930s, 1950s, and modern day—and focus on the life of an average American family, showcasing how their lives have been made more convenient by the many inventions and innovations created during that time.

Interestingly enough, while the different time periods change during the course of the show, the family members themselves remain relatively the same, with not a single one of them aging or changing. The father remains the proud patriarch of the family, the mother continues to stay at home and do all the household chores, the son remains a rambunctious adolescent, the daughter remains your typical boy-crazy teenage girl, and their uncle allegedly continues to freeload off of them. While this consistency may have originally started out as a mere plot convenience for the sake of the show’s narrative, it somehow subtly reveals that, no matter how much things change, the more things stay the same.

By far, the crowning highlight of the show is its theme, “It’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow":

There's a great big beautiful tomorrow,
Shining at the end of every day.
There's a great big beautiful tomorrow,
And tomorrow's just a dream away.
Man has a dream and that's the start,
He follows his dream with mind and heart.
And when it becomes a reality,
It's a dream come true for you and me.
So there's a great big beautiful tomorrow,
Shining at the end of every day.
There's a great big beautiful tomorrow,
Just a dream away.
The song was written by the famous Sherman Brothers, who also wrote the songs for Mary Poppins and the signature theme for “It’s a Small World”. They originally wrote the song as a gift for Walt Disney himself. Disney always had an optimistic view of the future, and believed that man’s innovative nature through science and technology would help create, well, a great big beautiful tomorrow—a belief that both the ride and the song perfectly reflect.

The ride was originally sponsored by General Electric. As such, its original script specifically highlighted the company’s many inventions and contributions. Such blatant corporate advertising has caused many cynical Disney critics to criticize the ride for focusing less on showcasing man’s progress and more on generating corporate profits. Personally, I don’t have a problem with this. Perhaps it’s the “free-market fundamentalist” in me, but if corporations are creating and selling products that are making people’s lives easier and better, then I say more power to them.

However, GE eventually did end up ruining the show through their corporate meddling. When the ride was initially moved to Disney World, the company demanded that the show’s theme be changed to a new song, “Now Is the Time of Your Life”:

Now is the time. 
Now is the best time. 
Now is the best time of your life.
Life is a prize, live every minute.
Open your eyes and watch how you win it!
Yesterday's memories may sparkle and gleam,
Tomorrow 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!
Now 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 here.
For it's the best time of your life.
The reason GE demanded this change was, and I swear I'm not making this up, “they did not want their customers to wait for a ‘great big beautiful tomorrow;’ [but] wanted them to buy appliances today.”

Yeah, the decision was as dumb as it sounded, and fortunately, the original song was brought back in 1993. I really think that change was for the better, as “It’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” perfectly reflects the overall theme of the show of how our lives have become better and can become better through new technology.

It’s that very theme of progress that captivated me as a child when I first watched it, and which continues to captivate me to this day. I really enjoy seeing how much our own technology has changed for the better, and all within a short span of a mere century. We went from pumping our own water, chopping our own wood, and storing our own food in iceboxes, to living in households completely dominated by technology that has made our lives all the more comfortable, from telephones and television, and especially to personal computers and the internet. It shows us how much we have progressed, and the potential we have to progress even further.

If there’s one gripe I have with this show, it’s with the final act. The show’s final act always takes place in modern day. As such, it’s been previously refurbished several times to better reflect current times and technology.

However, that act was last refurbished in 1993—and it really shows! Most of the technology looks and sounds like what you would expect from the 1990s. The laptop computer the mother uses looks like a grey brick, especially now that we have tablet computers. Speaking of which, they mention a “car phone”, which is especially dated when we now have smart phones that people use for everything except making phone calls!

I know this is a huge nitpick, but would it behoove Disney to at least give its final act a much needed upgrade? Why can’t we see the family watching a movie streaming through a smart TV? Why can’t we see the brother playing a video game with motion controls? Why can’t we see the grandmother trying to figure out how to use her “new-fangled” smart phone? C’mon, Disney. A lot of progress has been made within these past two decades. Why can’t we see that in a show dedicated to progress?

Well, that nitpick aside, the show is a great testament to the technological progress our society has made, and the potential it has to furthering this progress in the future. Because this ride mirrored Walt's very own optimism for the future, it was one of his favorite rides, and one that he rode a total of 19 times before his death.

If that wasn’t enough, there’s an entire scale model of the city of the future as imagined by Disney himself situated atop the theater. When the ride was in Disneyland, guests could view this city by taking a ramp up to the second floor. Now that the show is in Disney World, guests are able to view it by riding the People Mover.

Known as “Progress City”, this very city had initially been planned by Walt Disney himself to be built on the property that is now Walt Disney World:

However, his death inevitably snuffed out that dream city, and Disney World became yet another theme park. However, his vision of the future would live on in a project named after the city's original name: “The Experimental Protocol for the Community of the Future”—otherwise known as “Epcot.”

However, more on that in the next item on this list.