|As for why the Carousel of Progress ended up in Florida, the most succinct answer I could find is in Bruce Gordon’s and Dave Mumford’s Disneyland: The Nickel Tour: In 1973, General Electric wanted to establish a presence at the then-new Walt Disney World by relocating their classic-in-the-making show. GE executives felt that six years in California had given them all the exposure they needed to what was by then proving to be a smaller annual audience than that to be found in Florida. Eric’s essay below, in Part II, elaborates on this topic. In the end, GE got ten years of exposure in the Magic Kingdom before opting not to renew their Carousel of Progress sponsorship in 1985. By that time they were also sponsoring the new Horizons attraction at EPCOT Center.
Horizons, which opened in 1983, was sometimes described as either an extension of the Carousel of Progress in spirit or a sequel, with the same family seen in the moderately distant future. There were obvious links such as GE’s underwriting and the appearance of the Carousel’s original theme song, “There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” in several early Horizons show scenes. There was also the underlying aspect of looking into slices of animatronic families’ lives through invisible walls as they went about their technology-enhanced daily business. Equally important was the pervasive sentiment that “life is good but always getting better,” layered into both attractions.
The Progress City model was pared down to a fraction of its former self after the Disneyland version of COP closed and the part that remained was shipped to Florida for installation along WDW’s WEDway Peoplemover track above the Tomorrowland Terrace as a point of curiosity rather than any form of direct attraction tie-in. The fact that it is still on proud display now is miraculous. Not only that, but on the heels of a summer-long 2009 rehab for the WEDway (which the park has insisted on calling the Tomorrowland Transit Authority since 1994), the model was – for the first time since leaving Disneyland – actually referred to as Progress City in the ride’s narration.*** In October 2001 the conventional wisdom on the internet was that the attraction was officially closing and would only operate seasonally as needed. That kicked off many more years of similar predictions.
** Not “City of Tomorrow” or “model city” or “Walt Disney’s 20th-century vision for the future.”
The Carousel Of Progress has long ranked as one of the most memorable attractions ever created by Walt Disney and his Imagineers, since it first debuted at the New York World’s Fair in 1964. The imaginative Audio-Animatronic tale of tracing the history of American progress from the dawn of the 20th century to the present had a simple charm that audiences found appealing just as they would also enjoy later Disney AA shows like the Country Bear Jamboree and the Hall Of Presidents. The successful World’s Fair run was followed by a triumphant six years in Disneyland (1967-73) before the attraction was shipped to Florida, where it has resided ever since. And yet, it’s the version that most people saw more than any other version of the show, during its first 18 years in Florida, that has too often been dismissed as the least memorable in the long history of this attraction.
It’s unfortunate that this period of the Carousel’s history, which coincides with the Golden Age of WDW history, has received so much neglect and abuse over the years. Most of the animosity one finds toward this period stems less from the technical merits of the show, and more to do with the same kind of resentment fans of If You Had Wings would later have towards If You Could Fly. The attraction was substantially the same, but a signature theme song had been lost. The replacement of “There’s A Great, Big, Beautiful Tomorrow”, the Carousel’s theme from New York and Anaheim, with a new song, “The Best Time of Your Life.”
In fairness, there was something of a cold insensitivity behind the story of how the Carousel had been uprooted from Disneyland to begin with. The show had been one of the most popular elements of the New Tomorrowland section that debuted in 1967, playing to enthusiastic crowds just as it had done for its two years in New York. The program had only been slightly modified from its World’s Fair version, with Act IV changed to showcase the glories of “Progress City” (Walt’s early idea for EPCOT), which guests then ascended on a ramp following the program to see in a post-show area.
General Electric, which had sponsored the program from the beginning at the Fair, and received a good-deal of promotion and advertising from the carefully placed mentions of their company throughout the Carousel storyline, had decided by the early 1970s that the Carousel had fulfilled its maximum potential in California. To GE, it didn’t matter if the Carousel was a popular attraction that always managed to attract repeat visits. If anything, repeat visitors was the last thing GE wanted since those people would (heaven forbid!) be coming because of the show, and not for the commercial plugs celebrating the wonderful virtues of GE! What GE wanted now, was a chance to use the Carousel to find new customers for their products, and that meant taking advantage of the East Coast market that had largely been cut off from Disneyland, but which now had a park of their own to go to in Florida.
It soon became apparent though, that the Carousel Of Progress in Florida would not be given the same amount of space it had enjoyed in New York and Anaheim. While there was certainly enough space in Tomorrowland to make the Carousel theater a two-story structure like it had always been, the cost-conscious Disney management of the 1970s probably felt that the Progress City post-show was expendable, since it stood to reason that creating two exit levels, one for those just leaving the main show to go back to Tomorrowland, and another for those leaving a second-story post-show, was apt to create too much pedestrian traffic so close to Space Mountain. Far easier to save money by just building a single-story theater and have just one exit area flowing back into Tomorrowland. Thus, it could be argued that even before it had opened, the Carousel Of Progress was going to invite some unfavorable comparisons with its past incarnations since it would be housed in a smaller building, and feature a shorter program. Ultimately, the giant Progress City model that had been the centerpiece of the Disneyland post-show, would be placed in a set of left-side windows along the route of the WEDway Peoplemover, in the show building space separating Mission To Mars and the Tomorrowland Terrace. This actually duplicated the Disneyland Peoplemover ride experience, which had provided a preview of this same model as it passed through the second story of the Disneyland Carousel theater, but the opportunity to see the model in much greater detail, and fully appreciate its technical brilliance, was lost forever.
Longtime fans of the Carousel, who followed the attraction to Florida, would also have to get used to a completely new set of voices telling the story of America’s journey through progress. The soft, soothing voice of former cowboy actor Rex Allen, would now give way to a more resonant voice-of-authority in character actor Andrew Duggan, who had long been noted for playing authority-type figures (including the President of the United States in the 1967 James Bond spoof In Like Flint, and Dwight D. Eisenhower in several TV-movies). Ultimately, the only voice from the original World’s Fair and Disneyland soundtrack that would survive the journey to Florida would be the two tiny contributions of cartoon impresario Mel Blanc, as the parrot in Act I, and Cousin Orville in Act II.
But the biggest change in Disney World’s Carousel Of Progress would be its new theme song. “There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow,” which composers Richard and Robert Sherman had taken considerable pride in, when they wrote the song for Walt for the original World’s Fair Carousel, would be replaced by a new song that stressed first and foremost what was most on General Electric’s mind in 1975. Just as GE wanted the Carousel moved from Disneyland to reach new customers on the East Coast now, they also wanted those new customers to buy their products right now. GE was less concerned with visions of the future, and more interested in stressing how now was the time for people to show their support for GE’s commitment to the future by buying their products. And since now was the time for people to do this, what a great new lyric for the new song the Sherman brothers would be told to compose.
The Sherman brothers deeply resented making the change, and would later state that from their standpoint, the song that they composed for the WDW Carousel Of Progress, would be their definition of a bad song in contrast to a good song. But their feelings on the subject notwithstanding, for a generation of people who had never seen the Carousel in its World’s Fair or Disneyland version, the song “The Best Time of Your Life” would define the meaning of the Carousel to them.
And truth be told, the Carousel Of Progress program that greeted WDW guests on the same day that Space Mountain opened, was a program that was far more relevant to the spirit of the 1970s then the old Disneyland program had been. The very fact that it had changed its focus from stressing too much on tomorrow and more on the joys of the present, ironically helped allow this version of the Carousel to last longer than any other version of the show.
Viewers ushered into the Carousel theater sat before a subdued set of blue and silver curtains that matched perfectly the giant GE symbol at the center. This was a smart move since the dazzling kaleidophonic screen that greeted viewers in New York and Anaheim would have seemed laughably dated by this point. After the cast spiel, an overture instrumental of the new theme song “Now Is The Time” kicked in, before giving way to a merry-go-round style version of the theme (appropriate in-joke for a Carousel production!) over which Andrew Duggan as the Father/Narrator gave his introduction.
Duggan’s narration opened with the same lines Rex Allen had delivered for the previous ten years. “Welcome to the General Electric Carousel Of Progress. Now most carousels just go ’round and around without getting anywhere. But on this one, at every turn, we’ll be making progress. And progress is not just moving ahead. It’s dreaming and working and building a better way of life.”
But then came the first change in the script, designed to set up the new theme song as Duggan stressed how the idea of progress was making “today and tomorrow, the best time of your life.” And despite the urgings of others at various junctures in history to “turn back, turn back”, there would be no turning back on this Carousel Of Progress because “the challenge always lies ahead.” But as long as there were people working and dreaming, then the results would help make these times, “the best time of your life.”
And with that, the Carousel began to rotate counter-clockwise (a change from New York and Disneyland, where the theater rotated clockwise) to the strains of the theme song, sung passably by Duggan, but with much needed choral backup since Duggan was hardly in the class of Rex Allen in that department. Without question, the most critical line in the new song that signified the change in philosophy from the old show to the new was that this time, “tomorrow is still but a dream,” and that we should instead celebrate our present by noting that “right here and now, you’ve got it made! The world’s forward marching and you’re in the parade!” And then, as the song reached its final chorus, we found our Carousel theater coming to a stop, and we were ready to take in the show.
Act I began as it always had, “just about the turn of the century,” with the sound of the robins chirping away as a sure sign of spring. Father, decked out in his dressing gown, and holding a newspaper and pipe, talked about how things couldn’t be better than they were now, thanks to the invention of gas lamps, the telephone and “the latest in cast iron stoves.” After celebrating the virtues of his new reservoir that “holds five gallons of water on just three buckets of coal” and his icebox, Father then turned stage left to talk to his wife, Sarah, and mention how he’d read about a fellow named Tom Edison, who’d come up with an idea for snap-on electric rights. The lights went up to reveal from behind one of the “scrim curtains” (a technique that could allow for rotating stages at each side of the stage to show off different set-pieces), the loyal and dutiful Mother, slaving away at the ironing and harrumphing, “I’ll believe that when I see it!” But why should Sarah complain, since after all, in this new age of progress it only took her five hours to do the laundry, freeing her up to do more activities like “canning and polishing the stove.” After a gentle reminder from Father to keep the wrinkles out of his shirts, Sarah plaintively let out an obedient sigh of “Yes, dear,” and disappeared from our view.
After Father’s comment about how nothing could beat nature for drying clothes was interrupted by a thunderclap, he then turned his attention stage right where his young son was enjoying his new stereoscope. Since Son was using it to take-in the sight of an exotic dancer from the St. Louis World’s Fair, this naturally brought a gruff command from Father to get back to his homework immediately! This aside with the son was the first major change in the Act I script from the previous version, and was an improvement in that it finally gave the son a speaking part. Previously, he’d been a mute fixture in all the scenes of the Carousel, testing out “one-boy power” of early vacuum cleaners. Then, back to stage left where we saw Grandma listening to a warbling tenor’s rendition of “The Best Time Of Your Life” on a phonograph, prompting an agonized comment from the parrot. Finally, Father chatted with daughter Jane at stage right, who was busy getting ready for a new “trolley party” since in this new age of progress, hayrides had become old-fashioned. After getting her to promise that she would be home by 9pm, Father then noted how a new company called General Electric was “working on bringing the same power that runs the trolley into people’s homes.” And that was a sure sign that “Now Is The Time,” as he began to sing and the theater rotated to take us to Act II.
We now arrived in the 1920s, where Father was in shirtsleeves fanning himself (with a special fan marked “Niagara Falls”), as this was the “hottest summer we’ve had in years.” But since this was now the age of electricity, that meant all kinds of new conveniences to make life easier for farmers, factories and whole towns. Father pointed with pride to his new electric sewing machine, coffee percolator, toaster, waffle iron and refrigerator, and how they could all be turned on at the flick of a switch. And then suddenly, to the accompaniment of music (which was the only thing other than Mel Blanc’s vocals that had been retained from the World’s Fair and Disneyland soundtrack), all of those wonderful gadgets went on at once, prompting a command from Father to “Take it easy! You’ll blow a fuse!”
Life for Mother in the Roaring Twenties was certainly more convenient. Now, thanks to an electric iron and electric lights, she had time to do her embroidery in the cool of evening. But her resigned, “Yes, dear,” response showed how even in an age of progress, some things were not meant to change! And this got reinforced later in the act, when during the conversation with daughter, Jane, Father sternly disapproved of the notion of her seeking work, since after all “it’s a man’s world out there.” But Jane was more assertive than Mother, as she got off a response of, “It won’t always be!” Meantime, Grandma, Grandpa and Son were fascinated by their new radio crystal set that allowed them to hear news of Charles Lindbergh’s landing in Paris.
Probably the most amusing part of Act II came when Father mentioned how they now had a houseguest in Cousin Orville, who had taken over the coolest spot in the house. The lights shined through the scrim curtain at stage right to reveal the mooching relative with feet propped in the bathtub, cheerfully reading a magazine and humming a snatch of the song, “The World Owes Me A Living” (which Goofy was known to sing in many a Disney cartoon), and taking advantage of an early form of air conditioning by blowing a fan in front of a block of ice. As the light faded out, Cousin Orville uttered his only line in quintessential Mel Blanc fashion, “No privacy at all around this place!” As Father gave his apology to Orville, he brought Act II to a close by again plugging the wonders of what the research people at General Electric were doing, which only proved indeed that “Now Is The Time,” and we were sent on our way rotating to Act III.
Now we found ourselves in the “Frantic Forties”, more precisely the post-war late 1940s. A bit of World’s Fair staging was restored, as Father was back behind the table of his kitchen (at Disneyland, he sat on a chair in front of the table, actually holding a sandwich through the entire act). The latest wonders in kitchen appliances fascinated Father, especially the electric dishwater, which freed him from drying the dishes (though how could we ever be sure that Father had performed such a task in light of the previous acts?). But despite this additional free time progress had given him, Father still spent most of his time in the kitchen because Grandma and Grandpa had taken over the den, now that television had arrived. The scene of Grandma and Grandpa at stage left was a funnier sequence than the old version, which centered more on a weak joke about Grandma needing a hearing aid. This time, we saw Grandma making sure that Grandpa was asleep, and then excitedly switching channels from the cultural program that had been on to a boxing match, which she didn’t hesitate to express enthusiasm for! Son, in the meantime, was creating a noisy din with his model airplane set, while Jane chattered away on the telephone about her latest boyfriend and all the new dances, as she tried to quickly lose weight on an electric reducing machine.
Then came what for me at least, was the wittiest moment of the entire revised script. As Mother tried her new experiment of stirring paint with a food mixer to create a new “rumpus room” (one has to wonder over the years just how many Carousel visitors drew a total blank on the meaning of that term), she delicately asked Father if he’d pay a man for the same kind of work she was doing now. After Father unwittingly replied, “Of course,” Mother then asked if she should be getting equal pay. Father awkwardly chuckled and said they could discuss that at some future time. “When?” Mother asked skeptically. Suddenly, on cue, a cuckoo clock chimed and the bird popped out to sing, “Now is the time!” In the early years of the attraction’s days in Florida, this usually managed to get a laugh. Not amused, Father ordered the intrusive bird to keep out of this, and then quickly brought Act III to a conclusion by asking the audience to join in the song. One seriously doubts that anyone ever took him up on the offer, as the theater rotated to Act IV and the big finale.
|Now came the most significant departure in this revised Carousel Of Progress from its previous incarnations. First, a change in Holiday setting, as the action took place now on New Year’s Eve rather than Christmas Day (though a tree remained part of the scenery). The whole family was present, in contrast to just Father and Mother alone in the past. That meant thankfully, we wouldn’t be hearing Mother gush over how Grandma and Grandpa were living in a special retirement home for senior citizens, which was always the most painfully wincing moment of the old COP script. Father was preparing his New Year’s Eve specialty, chili, and noting how he had to do it all alone because in this decade that gave us Women’s Lib, Mother had no time for cooking because she’d spent so much time working on the local Clean Water Committee, and also getting praise from the town mayor for getting the local bond issue passed. To paraphrase a popular slogan, Mother had come a long way, baby, from the old COP show where in that Act IV she’d gushed with enthusiasm about her involvement in the Garden Club, Literary Society and Ladies Bowling League! And as Grandma chimed in, it was a contrast from the days when she’d only had time for canning and polishing the stove.
Grandpa then managed to get in a word about how he and Father would be happy to enjoy watching New Years Day football games from the warm and cozy perspective of being in front of the TV. Jane, holding a guitar and alternately strumming it, noted with surprise, “Grandpa, you really do care about people!” and then strummed and sung part of the song, “The world’s forward marching, and you’re in the parade.” Grandpa insisted that his generation had always been in the parade, and concerned about people. Father agreed, “Progress for people has always been the real challenge. In every generation.” Son, who had miraculously grown to teenaged years by now while his sister remained a teen, and who looked the most hideous fashion wise in his oh-so-70s plaid pants, concurred. “When we’ve had the most problems, that’s when we seem to make the most progress.”
At this point, Mother asked Father to turn on the TV set so they could watch the early New Years celebrations. A newscaster was just finishing a report from crowded Times Square and now threw it to his colleague reporting from atop the Contemporary Resort Hotel in Walt Disney World. (How’s that for fine plugging?) The reporter from the Top Of The World restaurant noted how he could look down on all the celebrations, and that across the way in the Magic Kingdom, everyone seemed to be greeting the New Year with hope and optimism.
The remark about optimism prompted Jane to ask Father how the chili was coming. After telling her he’d never missed a New Years yet, Jane then strummed out the opening line of the song, “Now is the best time of your life.” (Hard to imagine a 70s teen expressing a preference for any kind of Sherman brothers composition, but I digress). This was a nice, natural set-up for the whole family to sum up the meaning of it all. Grandpa began, by saying that the time we live in, really is the best time. And what made it the best time more than anything else? Why good old electricity, as Father noted! To which Mother concurred, by working in the sales line from the current General Electric advertisement campaign (this is, after all, where corporate sponsorship must pay off!), “If we use it wisely and well, each new year and each new day can bring a better way of life.” And then from Father, “Well said, said, Mother! If we have hope and confidence, every day of the year can be … the best time of your life.” A final “Happy New Day, everybody!” from Jane was the last word, as they all sang the song together and we rotated our way back to the loading area, with the family’s voices giving way to a Supremes-like rendition. As we prepared to rise from our seats and leave, Andrew Duggan gave us a friendly word of departure on behalf of General Electric, thanking us for being there. “Now, will you step outside and celebrate the best time of your life. Happy New Day, everybody!”And thus ended the new version of the Carousel Of Progress. The show was as technically brilliant as it had been in New York and Anaheim. The script and settings had been given reasonable overhauls from before. The voices, if not quite as warm and friendly, were well done by a team of professionals. Had the show really suffered so much because there was no longer a post-show visit to Progress City, and because there was a new theme song (which one could always find copies of in sheet music form outside the Theater, during its early years in WDW)? Certainly the show wasn’t quite as forward looking as it had been. The original Act IV had celebrated the vision of looking ahead to totally futuristic concepts of what electricity could do for improving the quality of living, and how the vision of what lay ahead tomorrow was the thing for us to get excited about. That was the whole point of then going up to the next level of the theater at Disneyland to see the Progress City model up-close. Now though, in Act IV, no one talked about the exciting new possibilities that lay around the corner. The point of it, and pretty much the point of the previous acts in this this new format, was to celebrate the virtues of the present age any of us are living in, because we can always find a way of looking back and realizing how much we’ve gone ahead in the ensuing years when we acquire that kind of perspective. For that kind of message, “Now Is The Time” was a far more appropriate song than “There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.”
The song was also more appropriate for the time, when one considers how much America had changed as a nation in the decade since the Carousel Of Progress gave its first performance at the New York World’s Fair. In 1964, the COP debuted during a time when America was still optimistic about the future in terms of what industry and business could do to improve the quality of life. Not only did GE put that kind of optimistic spin in the COP, but so did General Motors in their “Futurama” attraction, that saw only progress when its ride described the cutting down of a South American rain forest to create a city. It was also a time when Americans looked ahead to the space program, and the race to get to the Moon, and we wondered and dreamed about the prospect of living on the Moon even without prodding from Mr. Tom Morrow in the Flight To The Moon attraction. But by the dawn of the 1970s, especially after the moon landing, America had become a more cynical society, torn apart from the Vietnam War, and less inclined to be impressed by the goodness of big business and industry. Now, the trend was to focus on the negative consequences of progress and industry. Combined with a loss in confidence in national leadership with the Watergate scandal, the Americans visiting Disney World in 1975 were probably going to be more apt to let out a cynical guffaw had the Carousel Of Progress arrived unchanged from its Disneyland version. In this version though, things could be played safe just by reminding people that in a time when they might have been more apt to be critical and less optimistic, here was a way of reminding ourselves that all things considered, we’d made quite a few strides since the turn of the century, and that we certainly wouldn’t want to be living in any other era but our own in this age of modern conveniences and new potentials. A cautious message perhaps, but at a time when Walt Disney’s successors in the corporation no longer had the funds or imagination to make Progress City a reality in EPCOT, one that ultimately worked, and also had the advantage of not potentially becoming too dated, too fast.
As the 70s gave way to the age of Reagan, it did become clear that Act IV needed to be updated since the bell bottoms and plaid pants on Jane and her brother now looked hideously dated, as did the general decor of the brick-walled, country style kitchen and living room. So the Carousel received a completely new Act IV, while leaving the first three Acts unchanged. Andrew Duggan was only needed to re-record Act IV, while a new supporting cast was brought in for the other voices. These included more familiar names from the TV world like James Gregory (Inspector Luger from Barney Miller) and as Grandma, Dena Dietrich, whose commercials for Chiffon Margarine had made “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!” a catch-phrase in the 1970s. The casting of Dietrich was actually a nice bit of vocal symmetry, because at the same time she took over the role of Grandma in the Carousel Of Progress, she had also recorded the part of the Mother and co-narrator for the soon-to-be open EPCOT pavilion, Horizons. Sponsored by GE as well, Horizons was the pavilion that basically restored the forward thinking message eliminated in this version of the COP with its look into the world of the 21st century. Horizons even paid homage to the original attraction by having “There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” pop up in one scene!
|The new Act IV now took place in a more tropical setting home with a patio and multi-level kitchen. The son (who strangely, never got a name in any version of the COP until the 1993 version) now wore a red 80s-style track suit, while daughter Jane had hooked her guitar to a stereo boom box for recording purposes. With the ERA dead, it was less fashionable for Mother to boast of being a community activist, but she was still shown as more independent than in the previous acts as she organized things for the family on her new computer (when the Carousel rotated back to the loading area, front row guests could look at Mother’s computer screen and see only the lyrics to the song printed on it. Imagine an AA figure that needed its own personal set of cue cards!)
As for Father, he had moved on from chili as his New Year’s specialty, and now stood ready to prepare his culinary masterpiece, the “Omelet Superb Avec Jambon!” Known in other circles, as Son noted dryly, as ham and eggs. This time, Grandma was more assertive than she’d been previously, describing how wonderful the 80s were (which allowed Grandpa to resurrect a joke from the original Disneyland Act IV about his golf score being in the 80s now). Jane no longer strummed and sang occasionally (the Imagineers who rewrote this section probably figured by this point that they song didn’t need to be hit that much over the heads of the audience), and when it came time to turn on the TV to see the sights of New Years celebrations elsewhere in the world, they were greeted to a longer montage of scenes first from London and Paris, before a report direct from the Magic Kingdom that showed scenes from a Main Street Parade, and fireworks going off. As it drew time to serve the Omelet Superb Avec Jambon, Father and Mother again repeated the themes of how good the present was, and Son was allowed to inject the first faint bit of cynicism ever into a COP show by noting, “It’s great you two feel that way. The world is getting complex.” But not to worry, because as Grandpa noted, “Today is always more complex than yesterday. Always has been.” The important thing, Father added, is that there were more choices available now, and then it was his turn to work in the General Electric company slogan about how, “Today, they’re bringing good things to life that weren’t even dreamed about a generation ago.” And then, after an enthusiastic yelp from dog, Sport (We’ve been quiet about his role in the show, but the dog’s role, it is safe to say, always remained a constant in each version of the COP from New York on, with the only change being his original Act II name from Buster to Queenie, while it was always Rover in Act I and Sport in Act III and IV), Father noted how indeed, now is the time, which prompted a request from Mother that they all sing it. And with that, we headed out again to the happy strains of the song, this time with the Supremes-style female vocals for the unloading area replaced by a more trendy 80s style chorus.
This second WDW version of the Carousel Of Progress would last longer than the first, with only some minor tweaks made in the dialogue over the next twelve years. When General Electric dropped their sponsorship of the attraction in 1985, all direct mention of the company was edited out, though Father kept referring to “a new company” in Act I, the “research people” in Act II, and saying the “good things to life” slogan in Act IV, which seemed a little strange (but then again, the Country Bear Jamboree still has Henry saying Pepsi’s 1971 catch phrase “We’ve got a lot to give!” to this day, so maybe it isn’t the worst example of this!). With the dawn of the 1990s, Grandma’s opening lines about the 80s were edited out, along with Grandpa’s golf score joke, and instead the Son was given some additional lines about how Grandma and Grandpa had just spent the last year traveling around the world (this decision of having Gary Morgan as the Son do the lines, necessitated by Andrew Duggan’s untimely death from cancer in 1988). As a show, Carousel was not terribly dated by this point because it had kept its focus on the future couched more in cautious terms, but from an audience standpoint its chief problem had become one of over-repetition. Many attractions that last for decades can still seem fresh with each new viewing, but very rarely is that so with a theater-style Audio-Animatronic show. Repetitiveness over the years hurt the popularity of the Enchanted Tiki Room, and even the popular Country Bear Jamboree had to reinvent itself as the Vacation Hoedown for a time. But unless one wanted to wander more over the set piece detail, there truthfully wasn’t too much of a reason to keep going back over and over to the Carousel Of Progress to get something new out of it. And so, the Carousel became to a lot of people, as dated a component of Tomorrowland as Mission To Mars had become by this point. If Tomorrowland was to be overhauled, it was certainly clear that this version of COP would need its first major overhaul since coming to Florida.
And that indeed is what finally came to pass in 1993, when as part of the Tomorrowland overhaul, the attraction now became Walt Disney’s Carousel Of Progress, and received a new vocal cast headed by humorist Jean Shepherd (and also featured original Father, Rex Allen returning as Grandpa in Act IV, though his voice was by this point almost gone. Mel Blanc’s vocals also survived this transition as they had before). And the biggest change of all that pleased many fans was the restoration of “There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” as the theme song.
This new version received a good deal of praise, but truthfully, it was an overhaul that managed to turn the entire focus of the Carousel Of Progress on its head. The attraction had originally been conceived around the idea of progress and looking ahead, and that spirit had remained true even in the more cautious years of the “Now Is The Time” version. Now though, it had become an exercise in self-indulgent nostalgia, as we had to hear Jean Shepherd in each act not simply talk about improvements in electrical products, but to go on about other cultural aspects of the time. On the one hand, it could be interesting to hear him talk about how they were calling sarsaparilla root beer now, but his pedantic discourse on the “Rat Race” at the beginning of Act III seemed like the kind of pretentious social history lesson one could also hear in the revised script to the Hall Of Presidents. And it also didn’t help that unlike Rex Allen and Andrew Duggan, who played Fathers who were clear, intelligent voices of authority, Shepherd’s Father was something of a bumbling doofus, making asides about how the Wright Brothers would never make it, nor would Lindbergh (not exactly the kind of thing a character in a show celebrating progress should be saying!). And this was a Father to whom no wife would be passively sighing, “Yes, dear.” Instead, the Mother was a smart-talking feminist in every act of the show, and to carry political correctness further, that meant the silly Act III idea of using the food mixer to stir paint now had to be Father’s instead of Mother’s, and then to cap things off in Act IV, we’d be greeted to the sight of Shepherd’s father ruining Christmas dinner because of his inability to grasp the finer points of his robot oven. Other changes, like tying each act of the show to a holiday rather than the natural progression of seasons, and renaming daughter Jane as Patricia, seemed merely pointless. Ultimately, while fans of the Carousel who hadn’t seen the show since its Disneyland days would find more to like about this version just from the song alone, those who had grown up with the Carousel Of Progress at WDW and first learned of the show through the song, “The Best Time Of Your Life,” were the ones who now had reason to feel a bit left out amidst the general nostalgia celebration that surrounded the new version. And in a decade where the Michael Eisner-led management of the Disney corporation seemed determined to stamp out all traces of the things that had made Walt Disney World’s first two decades so special to begin with, perhaps that ultimately wasn’t too much of a great big beautiful surprise.
Part III – Carousel of Progress Images, Audio & Video
IMAGES – click on any of the thumbnails below for larger images
|AUDIO – click on the LP icons or track names below to hear or download audio files
|VIDEO – the selections below can also be found on WYW’s YouTube Channel (click here to visit)
|Links to other Carousel of Progress Sites & Resources
The Carousel of Progress at Yesterland
Davelandweb.com’s WDW Carousel of Progress Photos