Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Carousel of Progress: Should It Move Forward or Stand Still?

One of the main criticisms leveled at Walt Disney World management by people like me is that they’re too quick to discard much-loved older attractions in favor of things that are more “thrilling”, cheaper to operate, or that tie in better to whatever licensed characters the Company is currently trying to market. In light of this climate, it’s truly amazing that the Carousel of Progress is still operating.

The Carousel premiered at the 1964 World’s Fair, and by all accounts it was one of Walt Disney’s favorite shows. Its four scenes showed the impact of electricity and electrical devices on the American family in twenty-year increments, starting in the 1900s and ending in an idealized version of the 1960s, with the family enjoying technologies that were supposed to be right around the corner. In 1975, the show made its home on the southeast corner of Walt Disney World’s Tomorrowland in Florida, featuring a new theme song “Now is the Time” and a slightly updated closing scene depicting an idealized home of the 1970s. The Carousel was updated a few more times over the years (most notably in 1985 to remove all references to GE after that company ended its sponsorship) but it received its biggest overhaul in 1993, as part of the “New Tomorrowland” rehab. The original theme song, “Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” was restored, the show was renamed “Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress”, and an introductory video was added to the queue area to emphasize the show’s connection to Walt and the 1964 World’s Fair. Also, the final scene was tweaked yet again to show the family enjoying virtual reality video games and accidentally burning their Christmas turkey in a voice-controlled oven. None of the featured technology looked to hit the mainstream for another decade at least. The scene could easily remain in place for six to eight years without looking dated. Or so it seemed.

CoPfinalExperience 1999 in 2010 the way we imagined it in 1993 

Unfortunately, as early as 1995 the “present-day” Carousel family was beginning their slide toward obsolescence. Why? Because the creators of the ‘93 show failed to account for the Internet revolution. To be fair, in 1993 the Internet was not much of a blip on anyone’s radar. According to technology pundits at the time, virtual reality and CD-ROM were the Next Big Things. And since the show had received at least one update during each decade of its operation, it was reasonable to assume that by 2003 or so, the Carousel would be tweaked again to keep up with the times.

Seventeen years later, we’re still waiting. And each time the “modern-day” daughter character remarks to the grandfather that people of his day “didn’t even have car phones”, you can be sure that at least one kid will tug on his mom’s sleeve and whisper “Mommy, what’s a car phone?”

Also, how crazy is it that the son and the grandmother are playing their video game with Power Gloves?

Sorry, but I just had to work the Power Glove joke in there.

Seriously, though, something needs to happen with the Carousel. And I don’t mean simply updating the final scene again to reflect the world of 2010. Consider: the original show showed us the innovations of the 20th century in twenty-year intervals, starting at the turn of the century and ending in the ‘60s. If you reset the final scene to the modern day, then you’ll have a show that takes three twenty-year jumps forward followed by one huge fifty-year jump. And that’s just silly.

The original Carousel was a look back at a period of time that was still fairly fresh in everyone’s memory. In order for the show to resonate with modern audiences in the same way, you’d have to overhaul the entire thing. The first scene would be set in 1950s, the second in the 1970s, the third in the 1990s before we arrived at the 2010s. However, keeping it fresh and relevant would necessitate a big upgrade every ten years in which the “oldest” scene would be discarded and a new final scene set in the current decade would have to be designed and built. Given that Team Disney Orlando is extremely reluctant to spend any kind of money at all on the Florida theme parks unless it comes from a corporate sponsor (TDO did not want to embark upon the costly Fantasyland expansion project; they had to be ordered to do it by Corporate headquarters in Burbank) I can’t imagine they’d actually do this. Which leaves us with only one other option:

Since it’s already called “Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress”, why not just restore the final scene of the show to what it was in 1964? I mean, the first three scenes are almost exactly as they were in ‘64 (minus the General Electric references) so you might as well be consistent. Sure, it means turning the show into a museum piece, but really that’s all it is anyway. Currently, it’s caught in the awkward position of trying to pretend it’s still up-to-date even though everyone knows it’s not. If they restore it to its 1964 incarnation, it’ll become the kind of attraction Team Disney Orlando likes best: the kind that requires only periodic maintenance. Disney could promote it with some kind of a “you won’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been” theme.

Sure, it might seem incongruous to have an attraction devoted to the past in a place called “Tomorrowland”, but since the rest of the land is devoted to cartoon characters, gasoline-powered go-carts, and a roller coaster that hasn’t changed much since the ‘70s, the 1964 Carousel really wouldn’t be so out-of-place.

What do you think?


  1. I have to agree!

    Look at The Enchanted Tiki Room Under New Management vs the Disneyland Version. The DL is still packed most of the time. You can't throw 50 pennies in the New Management one and expect to hit a person.

    How funny, though, to present a museum piece in Tomorrowland.

    But I do agree with you.

  2. Stop the Presses!

    Wouldn't that be like bringing back Captain E/O to Tomorrowland at Disneyland?

    Just sayin'

  3. I completely agree with the idea of making it a museum piece and not worrying about that last scene being "current." I would love to see COP restored to it's original World's Fair or Disneyland version!

    They have talked on and off over the years about bringing it back to Disneyland. DL's old Carousel Theater building still has the full upstairs space where Progress City was orginally on display. Why couldn't they bring COP back to DL and restore the theater show to it's original version and then have guests exit upstairs (like they did back in 1967-1973) and present exhibits and products that show what the future might be like for us. It would be Carousel of Progress downstairs and sort of an "Innoventions" upstairs (which I personally hate, but management seems to like it so much....maybe that would please them to be able to keep part of it.)

  4. One tiny complication. Since Walt's perfected version (which can be heard on the Disneyland 50th Birthday Audio Collection)there have been too many hands on the script. Bad jokes, holiday references, awkward performances. I'm afraid that if these same people tried to return the show to what it was, they'd only wind up 'improving' it again and make it worse.

  5. Why not keep it? If it's not broke don't fix it.

  6. Yeah, it's sort of corny, but there is something still entertaining about this attraction. I've never seen the old versions; we've only seen the current version, but we do it pretty much every visit, and we pretty much have fun in it every time. I guess my point is that, to me, this IS the original version.

    I would have no problem with restoring it back to the original version, but my family will still go on it as is, until, that is, the kids decide they want only the bigger thrills.

  7. I'm so sick of Disney not forking out money to support it's own attractions. Disney has plenty of money now. They don't need sponsors. Is it really that much to ask to throw a couple million at a ride every 5 to 10 years? Disney should realize that updates will bring in more people. I'd like to see the entire thing updated.

    But, Disney isn't like that anymore. So perhaps they can just restore it to it's 1964 version.

    I agree, currently it's last scene is too misplaced and laughed at.

  8. I agree with Toykomagic! Return it to DL. Bring back the peoplemover too!

  9. Honestly, I'd like to see Carousel of Progress become relevant again. It had a huge impact on me when it was at Disneyland not because it had an up-to-date ending but because of what the entire attraction embodied: the message that the future was an incredible place full of promise.

    And it wasn't doing to be a cool place because of all the nifty appliances that GE made but because of the momentum of innovation that was building throughout the show. With all that ingenuity developing, how could the future be anything but sparkling?

    My favorite part was in the sixth theater when everyone got to walk up on the stage and take a Speedramp to the second level to see the model of Progress City. It was like being let into to see a special secret, (which was true since Walt Disney had been planning to build it in Florida.) Then to walk out on the upper balcony and see the Peoplemover trains moving about a futuristic land was all one needed to see to know that it was indeed possible.

    Unfortunately, these key elements are missing from the current show. Everyone just gets up and exits out the way they came in -- no progress there. Perhaps instead of taking a ramp up to Progress City, (or, god forbid, Innoventions), a ramp could take guests up to the second level to board a ride-thru show in the spirit of Horizons.

  10. Omnispace, I couldn't agree with you more. Disney seems to have lost the vision that the future is truly full of promise. When I was at WDW this past October, that was the overwhelming feeling I experienced...especially at EPCOT. I remember when I was younger, I used to come away inspired and full of hope. Now, not so much.

  11. Step 1: Fix
    Step 2: It
    Step 3: FIX IT!

  12. Having seen and truly loved the original during the 1964/1965 World's fair, the attraction has a special place in my heart. I would like to see it kept with an additional scene in between the third turn and the final scene. I would rather add a stage rather than revamp the entire ride every ten years.

    Although being online in 1993 wasn't mainstream, my own children were during their homework by looking information up online. I have been shopping online since 1986. Some of us were a bit a head of our time (it was quite costly to be online during those years). If a scene could be added, it could feature home-based computers, games, and other "during those times" items that would fit the 1985 to 1995 era. The final scene could then just be a current scene that is updated every couple of years without a major overhaul.

    My vote is to move forward by adding an extra stage.

  13. I have noticed recently that the general public LOVES to see classic Disney attractions at the parks. Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room is a great example of this. While Under New Management is a "nap" ride for most guests, DL's Tiki Room is PACKED with enthusiastic guests who sing a long to the songs and participate in anyway possible. Another example is the new Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. Although, not exactly the same show as it was, it is a classic brought back from the dead and audiences LOVE it!

    Carousel of Progress is one of those classic gems in the parks. Although I and the general public would love to see the original come back from the dead. I strongly think that Walt would want the true meaning for the attraction to continue. Because, afterall, it is the Carousel of PROGRESS.

    (just don't ruin it, Disney)

  14. Very good points, but it would really be missing something if it started in the 50's and all of a sudden the family already HAD most of the things we take for granted - even in their 50's form. And I would disagree, having heard all versions - the current one is much more vibrant and jovial than the previous versions (if sometimes a little too 'in yer face'). I just think, silly though it is, they should just update the end one.

  15. I believe if they would just put the ending of it in the 2000's somwhere it would be alot better over all I like the attraction


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