PART I - Introduction
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."
Part II - The Carousel of Progress (Now Is The Time) by Eric Paddon
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 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.
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.
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.
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|