For my fellow Americans, imagine you are given the task of creating a ride at Walt Disney World to showcase the entire history of America. What would you do? Would you create a ride that moved guests through a show space, who would you feature in your ride, what parts of our country’s past would you focus on, what parts would you want to omit, how long would it be, and what would your overall message be? These are just a few questions the Disney imagineers were faced with when it came time to create The American Adventure. Needless to say, it was a very daunting task. Thankfully for us, the imagineers landed on an idea that would utilize all the best storytelling tools in their magic Disney toolbox. The American Adventure came to be a stage show featuring 35 audio-animatronics who tell the story of America through moving vignettes, video montages, and powerful music.
The show is set in the American Pavilion in the World Showcase. The pavilion itself is deserving of an entire podcast. Today, we will hit the highlights of the pavilion as they relate to the show inside. The grand exterior of the building stands as the centerpiece to the World Showcase and can be seen across the World Showcase Lagoon. The red Georgian bricks, white molding, and gold highlights give the pavilion a truly historic American ambiance. Once inside, the architecture, paintings, textiles and finishings give the visitor the feeling they have stepped into something regal, something historic.
As you wait in the lobby for The American Adventure to begin, you are treated to a gallery of paintings done by Disney Imagineers representing grand moments in our country’s history. There is also a guest exhibit which is just off the main gallery. This show changes periodically, making each visit a little unique. When the time comes to get started, everyone gathers at the far right of the first floor. From there, you will turn the corner and proceed through the hallway of flags as you walk upstairs to the second floor auditorium.
This rich staircase is bathed in color; mostly red, white, and blue, as flags from throughout the history of the United States hang from the ceiling above. Some flags are recognizable while others are long forgotten or perhaps unfamiliar altogether. These flags begin to paint the picture that will soon be fleshed out in wonderful detail in The American Adventure.
As you take your seat in the 1,000 seat auditorium, look around and enjoy the 12 different statues that surround the ample seating area. Each life-size statue represents the 12 different spirits of America. I’ll leave the identities of each a mystery for you to discover on your own. If you have guests in a wheelchair or ECV in your party, they do not have to transfer to a seat in the theater.
The show you are about to see is sure to take you on a ride through the history of America, with all its triumphs and tribulations. For those listening that claim America as their native land, let me assure you that this show will fill you with a new sense of pride. It is fitting to me that the show begins with Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain discussing the role of pride in the development of our nation.
These two audio-animatronic characters quickly draw you in and will soon be joined by a host of others. If ever there was a showcase for Walt’s dream of using audio-animatronics, this is it. Walt was a passionate American, by all accounts as patriotic as they come. Here his love for America’s history meets Disney innovation and story telling, and we benefit as a result.
The show begins with a nod to the Pilgrims; their optimism, determination, sacrifice, and perseverance. From the first days of survival to the first days of rebellion against the British monarchy we are shown the progression of America’s earliest inhabitants. Benjamin Franklin visits Thomas Jefferson as he drafts the Constitution of the United States by lamplight in a small room in Philadelphia. The scene makes clear why Jefferson was chosen as well as how difficult a task he was given. The document that has held America in check for over 200 years was not created lightly, nor was it completed in one night.
With the signing of the Declaration of Independence, America the country began its fight for freedom. In the show’s next scene, a stunning silhouette of George Washington sits atop his steed in the background as two other soldiers discuss whether they will make it through the winter in Valley Forge. Of course a number of men do not, but those that do press on and America the nation is born. The land of the free and home of the brave is underway.
The American Showcase does not forget that “We the People” did not originally mean all the people. While the country was free, many of its inhabitants were not. Frederick Douglas makes an appearance and the abolition of slavery grabs the spotlight. We are reminded of how this fight for all men to be free was at the heart of our country’s next great hurdle, the Civil War. The story of two brothers is told in song, as real historic photos and audio-animatronics combine to drive the cost of war home.
What the show does well is acknowledge America’s mistakes, while celebrating its successes. With the Civil War behind, the country pushes West to explore new territory. Before allowing the new frontier to be celebrated though, Chief Joseph is given a fitting moment to express the tragedy of what has come to the Native American people. It is clear that our country’s pursuit of freedom has a long way to go before being realized for all.
Fortunately, our country is full of dreamers and explorers. The show continues on and The Amercian Adventure continues to unfold. World War, a stock market crash, and the Great Depression look like they might derail our adventure. However, President Franklin D. Roosevelt can be heard giving his moving speech over the radio as he tells the country, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Of course, America does push forward and the show moves into a video montage that captures the nation’s struggles and triumphs since World War II. The song playing during this sequence is titled “Golden Dreams.” During the video some of our nation’s greatest dreamers are pictured including Neil Armstrong, Albert Einstein, Judy Garland, Jim Henson, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Elvis Presley, Jackie Robinson, and Walt Disney.
At the end of The American Adventure Franklin and Twain stand atop the Statue of Liberty. They conclude the show by looking to what challenges face America today. It is now up to us to continue moving The American Adventure forward!
If you have never been to EPCOT or visited the World Showcase, I urge you to make The American Adventure part of your next trip. If you are an American, I think you will find the show challenging, encouraging, and inspirational. Take your kids. Yes, you may have to drag them, and yes, they may find it boring now. However, this show may just plant a seed of appreciation for the country in which they live. Hopefully someday, they will see how blessed they are to live in a nation with a story as rich as America.
If you are like me, this show may provide the same reminder of how much we have to celebrate every 4th of July. Based on the attendance of The American Adventure, I think many visitors to Walt Disney World, myself included, have let this gem of a show go under appreciated. The last time I was in EPCOT, I watched the show with my wife and I left with a new love for The American Adventure and for my country. As I walked out of that auditorium I felt like my patriotic heart had grown 2 sizes bigger. The American Adventure had given me a sense of hope and optimism in the face of all the lies ahead.
Will it do the same for you? That I don’t know! I do know that it is worth checking out next time you are there to find out for yourself!
If you are from outside the U.S.A. I also highly encourage you to see this show. I think it will give you a great look into the American mind, both past, present, and future.
Well, that will wrap up our special 4th of July episode. I want to thank you for joining me today. I have attempted to paint a fuller picture of this ride than normal. If today is the 4th of July, I hope our look at The American Adventure has added to a wonderful celebration for you. If it is another time of year I hope today has been fun and informative as you plan your Disney vacation. Whatever time of year it may be, go make each day a ride worth taking!