Great American Moments Come Alive
Wednesday - April 20, 2011
aIn Navy lingo, to “ship over” means to re-enlist or sign on for another tour.
It was with that same sense of commitment that Susan and I entered Walt Disney’s Epcot World Center in Orlando a couple of weeks ago, and as I passed beneath the huge silver geodesic dome marking the gateway to the park I paused, reached upward, my Mickey Mouse watch gleaming on my left wrist, and exclaimed, “Now this is the America I shipped over for.”
If you have been to Epcot (Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow), you know it’s named for the international pavilions sponsored by a dozen or so different countries. Arranged around a large lake are architectural duplicates (if not to scale) of several countries’ famous historical and contemporary landmarks.
The American pavilion features a half-hour show, “The American Adventure,” truly a “must see” if a part of your personal “American Adventure” takes you to Disney World and Epcot.
The visitor enters a near-replica of Constitution Hall in Philadelphia, complete with a domed rotunda in English-Georgian architecture. The program plays several times a day, but the wait between each one just flies by because you are entertained by the “Voices of Liberty,” an eight person a cappella choir singing traditional American songs from virtually every period in America’s history. The music is richer and fuller because of the impeccable acoustics of the center dome.
Moving to the huge showroom, we pass through the “Hall of Flags” featuring replicas of America’s various flags throughout history.
Through the near miracle of Disney’s “Imagineering” and the art of “audio-animatronic” figures, the American Adventure reconstructs America’s history through the eyes and words of 35 lifelike robots starting with Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), who actually lived a hundred years apart but converse contemporaneously to represent the broad sweep of American history
All events happening before the invention of photography (such as the landing of the Pilgrims in North America and their struggle to survive that first harsh winter) are depicted in paintings. The program reenacts the Boston tea party. George Washington sits astride his horse at Valley Forge as two of his soldiers - their breath hanging in the frigid air - discuss the toughness of their leader. We see Thomas Jefferson laboring over our first Constitution, his floor littered with discarded drafts. Nez Perce Indian Chief Joseph speaks his famous words of “principled resistance.” Like most of the program, the great Civil War is presented from the common man’s perspective; the tintype photo of a Civil War family, one son fighting for the Union, the other for the Confederacy. The photo morphs into one with a space where one of the brothers was, and the musical theme “One came home, one stayed behind. A cannonball don’t pay no mind, if you’re gentle or if you’re kind.”
Alexander Graham Bell and Andrew Carnegie narrate America’s Industrial Revolution. Susan B. Anthony speaks of the “Social Revolution” by women for their rights. With the backdrop of Yosemite’s Half Dome, naturalist John Muir convinces Teddy Roosevelt to establish America’s National Park system. Will Rogers philosophizes as he spins his rope.
The WWII era is represented by Rosie the Riveter, symbolic of the total industrial mobilization of all Americans - especially women - to provide weapons and supplies to the GIs fighting for freedom worldwide. JFK’s “Ask not” speech stirs a sense of national service. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks of his dream for all Americans.
The program is brought up to date with a comprehensive, fast-paced film montage. The concluding scene features Franklin and Clemens (his omnipresent cigar smoking lazily between puffs) atop the glowing torch of the Statue of Liberty discussing the many challenges America has overcome, and where it might be going in the future.
It’s sometimes difficult to explain American Exceptionalism, or even why America is “different,” the term used by President Obama recently in justifying our involvement in Libya. With The American Adventure, my hero Walt Disney does it in spades. And better yet, it is seen by thousands of foreign visitors each year.
Don’t miss it if you can help it.
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