As a kid when the original attraction was around, I didn’t pay it too much attention on my family’s all too infrequent (for me!) visits to the Magic Kingdom. “Great Moments” was updated in 1984, a year or so after I joined the Disneyland Cast. Advanced animatronics broadened the Lincoln figure’s range of movement, and a longer opening that included the “Two Brothers” civil war montage from EPCOT’s American Adventure made the original presentation richer without changing its essence. Once I could sign into the Park anytime, I came to really enjoy Mr. Lincoln, and I often spent some time in the Opera House on my days off.
As I sat there as a young adult who hadn’t yet gone to college, I think that some of the seeds that grew into my decision to become a lawyer were planted. Maybe it’s corny to say so, but I’m sure that those recorded words, coupled from several addresses Lincoln gave during his life, created a connection.
If they did, I think it’s because Lincoln represents something that has become much tougher to find in America. It’s not hard to think that we’re having trouble finding our way home. This, of course, is a blog about Disneyland, not politics, so that’s as far as I’ll go on such matters here. As Walt once said, “why be a governor or senator when you can be king of Disneyland?”
It just seems to me that while an attraction about Abraham Lincoln may have consumed valuable real estate on Main Street without returning any marketing value for the latest Pixar production, it presented a unique and invaluable experience that conveyed perfectly “the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America.” You can’t find that experience in Disneyland any more, and I think we need it desperately. After all, as the voice of Paul Frees once intoned, Lincoln’s “prophetic words are as valid for our time as they were for his.”
Lincoln talked about changing course back to the American ideal. Here are some of the words that guests once heard when they stepped into the theater on Main Street:
if you have been taught doctrines conflicting with those great landmarks of the Declaration of Independence,
if you have listened to suggestions which would take away its grandeur,
if you are inclined to believe that all men are not created equal,
let me entreat you to come back.
Come back to the truths that are in the Declaration of Independence.
Do not destroy that immortal emblem of humanity.
If that Declaration is not the truth, let us get the statute books in which we find it, and tear it out.
Let us stick to it then. And let us stand firmly by it.
As we prepare this week to watch debates as important for our time as those between Lincoln and Douglas were for theirs, it’s a time for all of us, whatever our political leanings, to think seriously about “these immortal words,” and about which candidate will best guide America forward. I’d like to do my thinking about that while wandering around the Walt Disney Story, listening to Walt explain why he gave his tribute to our 16th president a permanent home at Disneyland.
Fortunately, if the skills of the sculptor and the talents of the artist can no longer let us re-live Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, the video cameras of the folks who post on youtube can.