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The American Adventure - Part 2

Yesterday I gave you a brief history of how the American Adventure came into being. Today I’ll be discussing the actual presentation. But before I begin, I want to let you know that current rules prohibit flash photography and videotaping during the presentation. However, non-flash photography is acceptable.

Since I was writing an article about the American Adventure, I knew that I would be taking several hundred photographs during the show. I’m fully aware that this would be extremely annoying to anyone sitting nearby. So I made sure I attended the first showing of the day (11:15am) which I knew would be sparsely attended (maybe 30 guests). I purposely sat off to the side of the theater with no one around me so as not to disturb the others and the dignity of this wonderful show.

The American Adventure chronicles the history of the United States from its humble beginnings to the present. From the commencement of the project, the Imagineers decided not to sugarcoat history by only presenting positive moments in our country’s past. Instead, they decided to include such subjects as the American Civil War and the Great Depression, because it’s often challenging times like these that bring about great change and a better future.

Another challenge facing the Imagineers was how to condense 300 years into a show lasting less than 29 minutes. One basic test that each scene needed to pass before it was included was this: Does the event lead to some improvement – a new burst of creativity, a better understanding of ourselves as partners in the American experience?

Here are some basic facts about the technical aspects of the show?

• Six different show concepts were considered before the final method of presentation and demands of the story came together.

• The stage is almost half the size of a football field (130 feet long by 80 feet deep).

• The rear-projection screen is 28 feet high and 155 feet long.

• The rear-projection movie required the longest single loop of film ever employed for a Disney show. The film, some 3,330 feet long, snakes up and down through rollers in seven specially designed storage cabinets.

• Over 2 dozen computers are needed to coordinate the presentation.

• The show uses 35 Audio-Animatronics characters. A number of these are situated on the “war wagon,” a 175-ton steel framework measuring 65-by-35-by-14 feet. During the show, ten different sets slide into place horizontally on the war wagon and are raised to stage level by hydraulic telescoping supports.

• The show includes seven other lifts which bring sets from either side and above into view.

• A special lighting system was devised to shine on the sets that would not obscure the rear-screen projection behind the AA figures.

• For the first time, Audio-Animatronics characters were equipped with individual voices and speakers. Prior to the American Adventure, narrations were played over a theater speaker system.

• The show requires 319 speakers and 79 audio tracks.

The Imagineers wanted the American Adventure to have three hosts, one for each century. The first two selections were somewhat easy to agree upon. Benjamin Franklin was chosen as a spokesperson for the 18th century and Mark Twain was selected for the 19th century. But when it came to the 20th century, the task became more formidable. A number of names were thrown into the hat, but for a variety of reasons, there was always something controversial about each selection. It was finally decided that Will Rogers would fit the bill as he didn’t carry any problematic “baggage.” However, when the Imagineers conducted focus groups with potential audiences, the vast majority of the public did not know who Will Rogers was. It was finally decided to stick with just Franklin and Twain, and Rogers was relegated to a minor role.


Concept Drawings of Franklin, Rogers, and Twain


The American Adventure opens with Franklin and Twain sitting on stage. Twain is dozing and Franklin is reading aloud from “America and Americans” by John Steinbeck. He quotes:

"America did not exist. Four centuries of work, bloodshed, loneliness, and fear created this land. We built America and the process made us Americans . . . a new breed, rooted in all races, stained and tinted with all colors, a seeming ethnic anarchy. Then, in a little time we became more alike than we were different—a new society, not great; but fitted by our very faults for greatness."

Franklin is voiced by Dallas McKennan and Twain is voiced by John Anderson.


Franklin and Twain on Stage


As Franklin and Twain leave the stage, a series of paintings are projected depicting the Mayflower’s Atlantic crossing, the hardships the Pilgrim’s endured, and the tyranny of King George III. The song "New World Bound," which plays in the background, was written by Buddy Baker (music) and X. Atencio and Randy Bright (lyrics).


Mayflower

Pilgrim’s on Deck

Rebelling Colonist

Boston Tea Party

King George Proclamation


Next we see Franklin encouraging Thomas Jefferson’s endeavor to write the Declaration of Independence. This scene represents a milestone in Audio-Animatronics advancements. This was the first time an AA figure actually walked. During the scene, Franklin climbs the stairs and moves closer to Jefferson during their conversation. Jefferson is voiced by Alan Oppenheimer.


Jefferson and Franklin

Declaration of Independence


The war for independence is highlighted by two soldiers grousing about their deplorable conditions. The Imagineers felt this would better tell the story of Valley Forge than have Washington deliver an inspirational speech. Instead, Washington’s solitude paints a more vivid picture of the tremendous responsibility that he has undertaken. The two soldiers are voiced by Dallas McKennan and Frank Welker.


Two Soldiers at Valley Forge

Washington on Horseback

Sea Battle Between Britton and the U.S.

Vicotory


Meticulous attention to detail was executed during the planning of this attraction. Every one of the projected paintings accurately displays the style used in that era. Even cannon balls from the Revolutionary War were measured so they could be reproduced authentically.

As the country begins to move westward, Mark Twain takes over the narration. The next AA scene we see is that of Frederick Douglas. This individual escaped slavery in 1838 and was an outspoken abolitionist. Notice as his raft floats across the stage that the background painting moves accordingly. Douglas is voiced by Al Fan.


Expansion Westward

Expansion Westward

Frederick Douglas


At the beginning of the American Civil War we’re introduced to a Missouri family with opposing views on slavery. Famed photographer Mathew Brady is on hand to capture their likeness.


Civil War Family

Mathew Brady


It’s at this moment that another American Adventure detail comes to life. Up until this point in the story, all of the rear-screen projected pictures have been paintings and illustrations. This was done intentionally because the camera had not yet been invented. With Mathew Brady we start to see actual photographs of the Civil War.

The voices for this scene are as follows: Mother - Claudette Nivens; Father - Charles Aidman; Brothers - Billy Boles and Mark Taylor; Brady - Steve Cook

In most cases, the Civil War photographs are Brady’s, but when pictures were needed to capture current-day actors, the shots were taken on the Disney Studios back lot.


Disney Back Lot


The scene that depicts the family’s son returning home in a coffin was shot at the New Orleans Square Train Station at Disneyland in California.


Muller's Landing

New Orleans Square Train Station


The haunting song, “Two Brothers” was written by Irving Gordon and sung by Ali Olmo.

After the Civil War, the United States resumes its western expansion. Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe reminds us (in his own words) that this land once belonged to his people. The two feathers he wears on his head-gear symbolize peace. Chief Joseph was voiced by Dehl Berti.


Chief Joseph


At the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition Mark Twain is joined by Susan B. Anthony, Alexander Graham Bell, and Andrew Carnegie. The Imagineers did painstaking research to recreate voices accurately. They contacted a number of historians for information and when actual recordings were not available, educated guesses were made. For example, Bell’s mother and wife were both deaf. He taught elocution and contemporary comments about his voice make reference to its clarity.

Bell was voiced by Joe Rohde, Carnegie by Walker Edmisten, and Anthony by Tricia Buttril.


Philadelphia Centennial Exposition

Mark Twain

Alexander Graham Bell

Andrew Carnegie

Susan B. Anthony


New inventions began to invade the American lifestyle and things were changing so fast that it became necessary to start a preservation effort for the land itself. The next scene in the American Adventure is based on an actual event. In 1903, Teddy Roosevelt wrote John Muir and asked if they could meet at Yosemite. He said in his letter, “I do not want anyone with me but you. I want to drop politics absolutely and just be out in the open with you.”

Of course, the event was overrun with dignitaries and onlookers. On the first day hundreds of people joined TR and Muir and spent hours touring the mighty sequoias and taking pictures. That night, a grand dinner was planned for TR – a dinner that he had no intention of attending. As the entourage headed back to town, TR, Muir, and a handful of park employees stayed behind and set up camp for the night. This was a secret plan hatched by TR so he could spend time alone with Muir. That night they spent hours talking of nature and wildlife. Muir even asked TR, “When will you get over your infantile need to kill animals.” The next morning they set out on horseback for Yosemite Valley. They camped the next night at Glacier Point, the scene depicted in the American Adventure and continued to talk about setting land aside for preservation. The next day, when they returned to the valley floor, TR said, “This has been the grandest day of my life.”

TR was voiced by Robert Boyd and Muir by Bob Holt.


TR and Muir at Glacier Point

TR and Muir - American Adventure


The Great War is depicted with a recreation of a dogfight between Eddie Rickenbacker in his Spad 3 and a German ace in a Fokker D-7. This is also the first time we see moving pictures as the movie camera had now been invented.

This scene transitions nicely to a newsreel montage of Charles Lindbergh crossing the Atlantic in 1927.


Newspaper and Lindbergh


The depression era scene of a rundown gas station/general store was based on a Life Magazine photograph. Architectural magazines of the 1930’s were consulted to make sure everything in the setting was portrayed accurately.


Life Magazine Photograph

Depression Era America


If you pay attention, you’ll notice that it’s raining at the beginning of the scene, symbolizing the dire straits of the country. However, as time progresses, the storm begins to subside, indicating hope.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt appears on the left side of the stage and tries to quell our fears by telling us “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” An actual recording of his voice was used.


FDR


To create Will Rogers’ narration, pages of his quotes were collected, reviewed, edited, and finally narrowed down to a forty second clip. Will Rogers Jr. provided the voice for his father’s AA figure.


Will Rogers


FDR can be heard a second time over the radio found on the front porch. He is addressing the nation about the attack on Pearl Harbor. However, the radio broadcasts static just before he mentions the Empire of Japan. This was done intentionally as to not offend any Japanese tourist visiting Walt Disney World.

For WWI the Imagineers depicted an aerial encounter, but they chose a different approach for WWII. Instead of showing a battle of some sort, they opted to show a shipyard where Rosie the Riveter played an important part in the war effort. The sailor is voiced by Harvey Vernon and Wanda and Jane by B.J. Ward and Patricia Harris.


Shipyard and Rosie the Riveter


I can usually hold back the tears for most of the American Adventure, but when we reach this next portion of the show, I lose it. In a dreamlike sequence, the heroes of the last 65 years float across the screen while the stirring “Golden Dream” is sung. This is an emotional moment and many in the audience can be seen wiping away the tears.


Walt Disney and Tinkerbell


This montage was most recently updated in mid-2007. The most notable change includes a brief footage of rescue crews after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. In addition, the World Trade Center, once visible behind the Statue of Liberty, was obscured by fireworks.

“Golden Dream” was written by Robert Moline (music) and Randy Bright (lyrics). Additional lyrics by Lynn Hart. The song is sung by Richard Page and Siedah Garrett.

The show ends with Franklin and Twain returning to the stage on the platform beneath the Statue of Liberty’s torch. Twain sounds a concerned warning, but Franklin predicts a glowing future. Franklin quotes Thomas Wolfe by saying, “To all people, regardless of their birth, the right to live, to work, to be themselves, and to become whatever their visions can combine to make them. This is the promise of America.”

Franklin and Twain Shake Hands at Statue of Liberty


The American Adventure is a quintessential Disney attraction. It combines everything the Imagineers do best into one outstanding experience. I believe that all too often, guests bypass this gem because they don’t want to invest the necessary time to experience it. Yet they’ll gladly wait in line for an hour to ride the four minute Test Track. If you’ve never seen the American Adventure, then by all means, you must put this on your “to do” list for your next visit. And if you haven’t experienced it in the last five years, then you’re long overdue for a refresher. For those of you who love this show like I do, you don’t need any encouragement. You know a trip to Epcot without seeing the American Adventure is unthinkable.

A number of years ago, video recording was not prohibited at the American Adventure. Below is an eleven minute video featuring the Audio Animatronics portion of the show. Enjoy.




The previous post in this blog was The American Adventure - Part 1.

The next post in this blog is Epcot's Mexico Pavilion in World Showcase.

Comments (31)

Wendy Crober:

Hi Jack,

Thanks for all the background and history on this attraction. It's still unbelievable to me the amount of time you invest in a blog entry to provide the level of detail that we all find so fascinating.

Thanks,
Wendy

Di Berry:

Wonderful Jack - thank you so much. That was fascinating.

Dale Knight:

Thanks so much for taking the time to write this blog! I loved reading about some of the details that I did not know. The American Adventure is one of my favorite attractions too. I can never watch without shedding a tear.

Susan Albert:

Thanks for all the detail. The American Adventure is my favorite attraction at WDW. I always see it at least twice each trip. I was there soon after JFK jr. died. When I saw him at his father's funeral I completely lost it. I've seen it so much I start to cry as soon as the song starts. Anyone who hasn't seen it needs to GO!

Shirley Garcowski:

Jack: I always get the chills when I see the show, and I got them again today when finishing up this article (and it's not because it's so cold out today in Cleveland!). Thanks so much. I feel as if I just saw the show again. Happy Holidays. - Shirley

Josh:

hey jack
the pictures are absolutly amazing. the American Adventure is a must see for me and i always tear up a little during the two brothers portion. can't wait for your next blog and as always keep up the great work.

Sara Elliott:

Jack, thank you for the in-depth information about The American Adventure. Whenever my family travels to Epcot, I always make the time to see this show, and I always cry during the Golden Dream song.

I was shocked to learn about the photographs taken for the "Two Brothers" portion of the show. I figured the contemporary actors were shot somewhere on lot, but I always thought the picture of the casket at the train depot was a real Civil War era picture. Being a passholder at DL, I NEVER recognized the New Orleans train station as the same background.

Bryan:

Fantastic work again Jack. I can agree with you on tearing up at the ending montage. My eyes always become a bit watery even thinking about it and seeing the pictures you post. We're visiting WDW for New Years in a few weeks and I hope to view the show as my last attraction before the fireworks.

This is my very favorite thing in Epcot and is reminds me so much as an adult how attractions such as Hall of Presidents and Carousel of Progress hooked me in as a kid with the AA figures. Thanks so much for what you do with your blogs. I send them to my 80 year old father who last went to WDW with me back in '95 when he retired and has the same love for WDW that I have. He loved your blog on the Country Bears, as did I. Keep them coming!

Marie:

Thank you so much for this!! Especially for mentioning the tears! I always cry at the montage....and my husband never does! And I leave thinking "What is wrong with him?" haha....its a great show and an absolute must see everytime we go to the World.

Kelley:

Great job, Jack! I appreciate all of your work so much! I love American Adventure and I really enjoyed your article and movie.

Heather Young:

Thank you again Jack, for another fascinating blog.

Bob:

Hello Jack - Great post as always!
When's your book coming out! Please think about it!

Take care,
Bob

Suzanne:

Thank you for another wonderful blog! I can't wait to return to the American Adventure and look for all the details you've now brought to my attention. I had no idea that Richard Page did the vocals on "Golden Dream" - I loved the band Mr. Mister growing up, especially the lead singer, Richard Page! I now have to go listen to the song more carefully to see if I recognize his voice!

Greg Highfill:

Thanks Jack!

The American Adventure is also one of my favorite attractions, and when ever I have out of town guests, I’m sure in include it for the “wow-factor” beside the story itself.

The first two or three times I experienced the presentation, I couldn’t speak for about 5 minutes after leaving the theatre. I was always afraid of that “ugly cry” that Oprah speaks of.

It seems that once I was able to keep the emotions in check, the “Golden Dreams” montage was changed and expanded back in the 90s. Seeing images like Ryan White, put me around the corner again.

Ironically, age does have it’s privileges since it seems you’re allowed to sob a bit in public when you’re older. In reading your blog and the comments, it’s reassuring that I’m not the only one with this acute emotional experience to the presentation.

One of the few things that I knew about this attraction was that it boasts the largest rear-screen projection system in the world, and I had also seen a program where you see the scene changes with the “war wagon” mechanism.

It was very interesting learning about the plethora of very interesting facts of this spectacular presentation.

The last time I visited The American Adventure, I had my father with me in a wheelchair. This was the first time I was able to enjoy The Voices of Liberty from the 2nd floor of the rotunda.

Allison:

Wonderful...I love reading your blog. I agree with Bob, when are you going to write a book? I was at WDW at the weekend before Thanksgiving and I kept wondering if I would see you there researching! That would have been a vacation highlight!

Tim:

Great post, as always.

The American Adventure is a true classic. Much like yourself, I find that Spaceship Earth and The American Adventure are the two Epcot attractions that I come back to again and again. Setting aside the undeniable patriotic impact of the attraction, it truly is one of the best produced experiences found at any Disney park (and that's saying something).

One of my favorite details of the attraction comes with how well integrated the projected images and "live" sets are, particularly in the Frederick Douglas sequence like you mentioned, or when our view "pans" in and out on the soldiers at Valley Forge along with several other scenes. It's quietly masterful stuff the Imagineers are doing there.

I've also always been impressed that the attraction uses so much original music (and to great effect, I must say). For example, it would seem that an obvious choice for a finale to a show about American history would use "God Bless America" or "Battle Hymn of the Republic" (much like Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln). Instead the Imagineers had the confidence to end with an original piece of music ("Golden Dream"), and it works perfectly. While the song has a soaring, inspirational quality that makes it feel immediately familiar, it was rather bold of them to assume that audiences would connect with and respond to it as an appropriately patriotic finale. Along with the technical achievements of The American Adventure, I am continually impressed with the quality and depth of its storytelling, an absolute tribute to what has made Disney great.

Oh, and I don't believe I have ever heard the surprising bit of trivia that Joe Rohde, Imagineering superstar, was a voice for the attraction. That's great!

Thank you again for the great post. Wonderful stuff.

Fred Thomas:

Thanks for this, Jack... Great job as always.
I share your sentiments and affection for this attraction as well-- tears and all.

M:

Jack,
Thank you for such an informative article. As a law student who pretty much lives in the library, I look forward to your blog entries as a way to relieve happier times! I am looking forward to a trip back to the World in January, and will certainly have acquired enough information regarding the various WDW attractions over the last few years to keep my travel-mates entertained and informed. Thanks again!!

Dan Peschong:

Jack -

Wonderful detail and so much history related to this great attraction. It is one of our favorites at EPCOT. If we get too caught up back in Future World we often have to hurry up to reach the American Adventure before it closes.
The chilling "Two Brothers" song is the one that turns on my tears. Having four sons and thinking about them having to fight and possibly die on the opposite sides of a cause is too much for me.
Thanks for all the hard work and entertaining prose!

Debbie Horvath:

Thanks Jack! I am one of those Disney fans that hasn't wanted to take time to experienc this attraction. I actually didn't realize what it was. On our last couple of trips we have made it a point to spend more time in the World Showcase to enjoy all that there is to offer but still had not made it to see this show. On our next visit in February we will being staying close to Epcot just for the reason that we wanted to spend the most time at this park and enjoy all that we have missed. Thanks for giving us such great detail of this attraction. We will surely put this at the top of our agenda during our next visit.

Debbie

dusty cheatham:

wow !! your attention to detail & your painstaking reseach is fantastic.an early christmas gift from JACK THE GREAT ONE. thanks for getting me even more excited for my 12/10-12/17 xmas bueaty trip

Laurie :

Thanks for a great report on the American Adventure. We have been to WDW five times, and we have NEVER seen this attraction. In our defense, we always have our three kids with us and we just didn't think this would be something the youngest would sit "quietly" through...so out of respect for our fellow WDW guests we just haven't tried it. We are looking forward to all the "new" things in the works at WDW...Fantasyland expansion, new family suite resort, new dining experience in Mexico, etc. We are planning on our next visit to be when we can book a family suite at the new resort so our youngest should be at least six years old...and the American Adventure is definitely going to be on our "must do" list. Thanks for giving me such a detailed "sneak peak."

Rob Dickinson:

Jack,
Once again another awesome Blog. I second when are you going to write a book!!! Particularly with all this Disney History stuff. It will save me a ton of time and money replacing ink jet cartridges :)

My second wish is that the Imagineers would give Tesla his due! Perhaps in the next refurb. We can always wish!

I also agree with you that Everyone should see the American Adventure. How sad it is that many will stand in line for hours to ride Test Track and pass classics like this by:( Oh well, what can you do, other peoples children:)

Keep up the good work and looking forward to your next great blog!!

Rob

P.S. UHM...BTW I think that "Spirit of Compassion" statue might be a Nurse. Then again I "might" be a bit partial :p

Heather Macdonald:

Great Job again Jack. I get choked up just walking into this attraction and spend most of it dabbing at my eyes. I was a history major in college and I love the effort Disney made to be true to the past. The new material added in the most recent revamp is particularly touching. I didn't know who had done most of the voice work for this. Interesting to discover that Rogers Jr portrays his father and yet another notch in the belt of Rhode. Thanks so much for taking the time to respond personally to posts! Can't wait to see this again next trip! (2 weeks!)

Hermes Chiong:

Hi Jack,

As always great job! To me this is the culmination of everithing WDI had done before and the quintessential Disney AA show and of course it touches the heart.

To bad this is not the type of attraction that makes those turnstiles go "cashin', cashin'" anymore, I would like to see more attractions that are not just about the "thrill".

The American Adventure always will be one of my personal favorites!

Connie:

I know what you mean about tears welling up when the song Golden Dreams begins and we see all the people (famous and courageous) appear. I lose it when I see Ryan White.

Chris Thom:

I love this show. Always brings me to tears.

This is one show that I would love to be backstage or underneath to see all the hydraulics and such in action.

Ron Stalsberg Jr:

Thanks so much Jack for another great blog. The American Adventure has been one of our favorite things at Epcot for years now. We always have to see this show and ride Spaceship Earth on every trip. There are many trips where we do these two attractions and never even hit the other rides in the park. I am so glad that they updated the film a few years ago. We also have to see the Voices of Liberty many times over the course of our trip. These wonderful singers put on a fantastic show. We have several of there cds and listen to them also. When we were there in Oct. we alternated between the Voices of Liberty and Off Kilter in Canada for the entire day.

Marlene Patrick:

Jack -- you have perfectly captured my favorite attraction at Epcot. I loved the detail in both blogs. I always make sure I have kleenex when I go in -- between the Voices of Liberty, Two Brothers, and the montage -- I am gone. I warned my grandchildren ahead of time the first time they went lest they think I am upset. I am so moved by every part of the show. I have a Disney music CD -- and all I have to hear is 'America, spread your golden wings' and the tears well up. The attention to detail is exquisite. I did a behind the scenes tour and got the see the war wagon and a piece of furniture - that can barely be seen from the front row -- accurately reflects the time and is immaculately clean and polished. Thank you for all the work you do to so eloquently report on my favorite place on earth.

Erica:

American Adventure is also my favorite attraction at epcot. I also cry everytime. Sometimes it is sometimes during the two brothers part other times i can hold out until the montage. Its always either the picture of Walt Disney or JFK jr saluting that gets me going.
I went last week and cried during the part where the people are on the ship and cant be home for christmas. I think this is because this is my first christmas away from home. But it is also my first christmas in florida and first being able to see Disney at the holidays

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 2, 2010 5:00 AM.

The previous post in this blog was The American Adventure - Part 1.

The next post in this blog is Epcot's Mexico Pavilion in World Showcase.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.


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