It’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow
Well, you’re in for a real treat…or at least that is what you’d hear when first sitting down in the Carousel of Progress theater, and that’s more than true. The Carousel of Progress isn’t just another show at the Magic Kingdom, but an attraction with a deep history and it is the culmination and peak of several arts and technologies coming together.
Back before the famous outing at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, Walt Disney had a show in mind for Disneyland. After seeing the popularity of Disneyland, Walt wanted to expand Main Street U.S.A. with two side streets, International Street and Edison Square. Edison Square, or course, is a reference to Thomas Edison, and the area would feature the use of electricity in homes. This area would particularly feature a theater show about the use of technology in U.S. homes over the course of several decades all the way up to present day. (The possibilities for upgrades were there.) However, not unlike other plans dropped at the time, technology had not caught up with the imagination of Walt Disney and the two side streets were passed on for the addition of New Orleans Square at Disneyland.
The show idea was yet again brought up when General Electric met with Walt Disney about creating a pavilion for the New York World’s Fair. With audio-animatronics already in use at the Tiki Room and another project in Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln underway, Disney and GE felt that the show was quite possible. GE funded the show and the creation of the new animatronic figures, but the biggest problem was how to present the show to the public.
Imagineers Bob Gurr and Roger Broggie created the carousel theater idea. Using the carousel idea, the show could change sets every few minutes when each act ended, as well as keeping guests in their seats without having to move from stage to stage and waiting for everyone to be seated. This also allowed two hundred guests to enter and exit the show every few minutes while other were seeing the middle of the show.
Accompanying the new attraction for the World’s Fair was a new song written by the Sherman Brothers who had major success teaming with Walt Disney over their careers. They came up with the song “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” which can still be seen on several park albums and is one of their greatest accomplishments as writers. (The famous clip of Walt, Robert, and Richard playing and singing the song can currently be seen in the loading area before entering the attraction.) After hiring some great voice talent to round out the show, including legendary country singer Rex Allen, the show was off and running at the World’s Fair by 1964.
Despite being able to move so many people in and out of the show every four minutes, the show had a long wait time at the World’s Fair. The attraction was so popular that they eventually had to build a canopy around the show to accomodate visitors by blocking out some of the sun.
Accompanying the show, then titled Progressland, was an upstairs preview area of some of GE’s uses or technology in the world. Using technology similar to a planetarium, guests were treated to a short screening of some of the good things GE was doing for Earth, giving them a good will image.
General Electric was so pleased with Walt Disney and the Carousel of Progress show, they decided to sponsor the show after in moved out of New York back to Disneyland in 1966, covering the costs of the move, as well as the recreation of the show and the addition of new scenes and voice actors. The show reopened on July 2nd, 1967 as part of the New Tomorrowland. (One of several upgrades Tomorrowland has gotten over the years). The Carousel also had a new post show on the second level. Instead of showcased General Electric, the post show was a large model of Progress City or the future Experiment Prototype Community of Tomorrow (Epcot) as well as a small spiel about the city that could be. The attraction continued to be a hit for Disneyland until the early 1970s. GE was concerned that anybody visiting Disneyland had already seen the show and that it could have a new wave of viewers if the Disney company decided to move the attraction to the new Magic Kingdom park in Florida, so that is exactly what happened.
The Carousel of Progress opened in the Magic Kingdom on January 15th, 1975 along with another guest favorite, Space Mountain. The Carousel opened with GE as the sponsor yet again, but the show had changed drastically. GE had decided they didn’t want people to wait until the “great, big, beautiful tomorrow” to buy their products, so they asked the Sherman Brothers to come up with a new theme for the ride. They delivered with the song “Now is the Time” and attraction opened at the Magic Kingdom in Florida with this new theme. The attraction also got some new voices and scenes, including Lancer star, Andrew Duggan, as the main character and narrator of the show and the final scene representing the Christmas home in the 1970s.
The attraction was once again a success leading into the 1980s, which brought other changes to the attraction. The final scene was once again changed and upgraded to the Christmas home of the 1980s. An unfortunate change was the loss of GE as a sponsor to the attraction. After 21 years, GE had decided the attraction, which had a great run, was starting to wind down. Disney still had interest in GE as a sponsor so they struck a deal for them to sponsor an attraction at the new EPCOT Center park at Walt Disney World. GE decided to help build and sponsor Horizons, a similar attraction to the Carousel of Progress, showing off technologies in the home of the near future. As GE latched onto the Horizons attraction, they didn’t renew their sponsorship with the Carousel attraction which had Disney close down the attraction to take out most of the General Electric references. Another change that came to the attraction, post GE sponsorship, was the return of “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” to the attraction. The Disney Company as well as the Sherman Brothers thought the previous song fit better with the attraction, so they changed it back to the way they had wanted it.
In 1994, as Tomorrowland changed, so did the Carousel of Progress. The final scene was updated to the Christmas home of the 2000s and the new “mechanical future that never was theme” was added to the Carousel of Progress as well as the rest of Tomorrowland. The attraction was renamed “Walt Disney’s Carousel of Tomorrow” and a new “cog” shaped sign was put out front of the attraction, as well as the first and last stage areas were fitted with a new cog logo on stage. Voice talent also changed at this time as Disney felt as if the former voices were not known any longer. Radio personality and narrator of the movie Christmas Story, Jean Shepherd took over as the voice of the father/main character/narrator role in the show, Rex Allen was brought back to voice the grandfather, and notorious cartoon voice actor Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny and many of the other Looney Tunes characters as well as Barney Rubble of the Flintstones) was hired to play Cousin Orville while his son, Noel Blanc was hired to be the voice of the radio show announcer.
The show hasn’t changed much since 1994, but has continued to attract smaller crowds and become a park classic and a guest favorite. It’s my personal favorite attraction at the Magic Kingdom as well as my mother’s favorite. It’s a show that appeals to multiple generations, and shows a sense of history, charm, and futurism. The theme written by the Sherman Brothers continues to be featured on park albums and can be heard from time to time at the front gates when entering the Magic Kingdom. The attraction has also been connected to several other Disney attractions, including Horizons, Tokyo Disney’s Meet the World, Space Mountain, and several others.
What are your thoughts on the Carousel of Progress? Do you think this is a wonderful show that stands the test of time or is it past it’s prim and should be axed? Let me know your thoughts and until next time, have a great, big, beautiful tomorrow!
Posted on April 19, 2012, in Articles and tagged Carousel of Progress, General Electric, Horizons, New York World's Fair, Progress City, Sherman Brothers, space mountain, Walt Disney. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.