Looks like Walt Disney World has another to decision to make about an attraction refurbishment.
With major news organizations now calling the 2020 U.S. Presidential election for former Vice President and now President-elect Joe Biden, it's clear that there will be a change of administration in Washington, DC. And that means a change in the Magic Kingdom's Hall of Presidents.
But what will that change be?
Will Disney simply continue its tradition and install a Joe Biden Audio Animatronic in the Hall of Presidents, or will Disney take this opportunity to make some other change for what, frankly, is one of Disney World's least popular attractions?
We raised this question last Fourth of July, when we asked Is It Time for a Change at Disney's Hall of Presidents? That's when Disney+ was debuting its recording of Broadway's "Hamilton," and we suggested that might provide a less partisan and more popular alternative to the HOP.
Ever since Hall of Presidents opened with the Magic Kingdom in 1971, its roll call of presidents has elicited varying reactions from the audience. While many visitors simply use the show as an opportunity to catch a quick snooze in a dark, comfy, air-conditioned theater, a few will cheer or boo specific presidents. The reaction typically grows as the roll call progresses and we get to presidents that most people actually have heard of, but for the first 20 or so years of the show's operation, it rarely amounted to much.
Starting with the Clinton administration, Disney has been recording a speech by the current president and having his animatronic deliver that speech during the Hall of Presidents show. Before then, only the animatronic President Lincoln spoke at length during the show. The change has put more of a focus on the current president, which inherently gives the show more of a partisan edge than it had originally, even if the current president's speech is vetted to be as non-partisan as possible.
But with the election of President Trump, what had become an uncomfortable experience for some became divisive to many. Given that, and the fact that Disney loves theme park attractions that support its own IP, many have wondered when Disney would decide to pull the plug on this attraction and replace it with something promoting a Disney franchise.
Disney+'s acquisition of "Hamilton" provides one such opportunity that would fit well the theme of the surrounding Liberty Square land. But how to fit a two-hour-plus live Broadway musical into a theme park attraction? Walt Disney World just laid off most of its musical theater performers. It's not about to write a bunch of checks to stage a multiple-times-daily abridged production of "Hamilton" in the Magic Kingdom.
In fact, given the current lull in attendance due to the pandemic, I suspect Disney's most likely action with the Hall of Presidents will be to close the show for "refurbishment" just after the holiday season, then leave it closed until attendance recovers at the resort. Disney can save a few bucks on its operation and punt on making a decision about the show's future until it has a better idea on what theme park resort income is going to look like over the next few years.
But, at some point, it will need to make a decision. It could send a crew to record Biden and continue as usual. Or it could add a Biden animatronic and dump the president's speech, returning to the roll call's original script. Or it could change the attraction entirely.
The easiest way to slot "Hamilton" in the space would be to cut a 20-30 minute version of the Disney+ show and project it in the theater. That wouldn't be the best look, though, given the ultra-wide dimensions of the theater, plus the fact that most "Hamilton" fans would have watched the whole thing on Disney+ already.
Maybe Disney could throw a few extra bucks at Lin-Manuel Miranda to record an introduction to the show where he gave some extra historical context to Alexander Hamilton's story. That at least would give Liberty Square something fans hadn't seen before. Or Disney could use live actors in a restaged production, but create something like what Universal did with its Jason Bourne stunt show, filling the space with media and just a few actors up front.
Or Disney could opt for a different franchise entirely. Remember, Disney already has a Liberty Square show featuring one of its franchises ready to go. It just plays outside the HOP theater.
Maybe the Muppets would draw more if fans could watch the show sitting inside a nice comfy theater, rather than standing out in the hot Florida sun? It would mean recalling the cast and re-staging the production for the HOP theater, but that would likely be much, much cheaper than licensing "Hamilton" for the same.
The election might be over, but on this question, it's time for us to vote again.
Let's see if we can keep the comments here focused on attraction development opportunities.
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