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The NEW Carousel of Progress

Recently, while listening to one of Lou Mongello’s latest podcasts, #136 on The WDW Radio show he and his guest, Craig Wheeler, were doing a DSI (Disney Scene Investigation) on the Carousel of Progress, when I got an idea on how to re-imagine or put a new spin on the attraction to give it more appeal to a younger generation, while also preserving most of the original story and cast that Walt and his team created for the 1964 World’s fair.

Before I begin, I want to acknowledge that this is a great attraction and I understand the historical and sentimental value that many Disney fans have attached to it. However, I also think we should all accept the fact that this attraction was built almost 45 years ago, and has now become somewhat of an antique. And, while it may have wowed audiences back in 1964, it puts some of the few who do see it to sleep these days, myself included. In truth, it’s a museum, or at least belongs in one.  Personally, I can’t say that it’s one of my favorite attractions, but I will ride it on occasion when everything else has long lines or I’m trying to dodge one of those afternoon Florida thunder storms. My kids, however, groan at me when I suggest we go on it, even though there are long lines for everything else.  My re-imagining this classic attraction is therefore an attempt at saving it and giving it new life. I fear that without some kind of re-do, the attraction could someday soon slip into history’s past and only be seen at such places as Werner Weiss’ great site,  Yesterland or Widen Your World.

I would also like to recognize, and encourage you to visit the website, http://www.carouselofprogress.com/main.htm

In my re-design or freshening, I asked myself what it might look like if the original design and story were applied using today’s technologies and capabilities. So, without further adieu, I present, my re-imagined Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress as Walt Disney’s Amazing Time Machine of Progress.

The attraction and story line will now be presented as a time machine capable of going back in time (only) and looking at some of the major technology achievements from the past century. The family will now interact and communicate with the guests on a deeper level by utilizing the various communications devices available during that specific time period. Some humor can be added to the script using the rest of the family’s disbelief in the one family member who’s communicating with the time travelers.

Ideally, many of the existing animatronics and sets could be used with little modification or arrangement. New technologies that have been developed of late would be utilized to tell the family member(s) the current date and time which the time travelers are travelling from. Optionally, the time in the scene could correspond with the current time in the present and shown with a clock on the set. This would require lighting changes and a different voice track for the different times of day. Perhaps, during different times of day, the time travelers could interrupt the family about to have lunch or dinner, or take a nap. Just something to change up the script so it’s not the same every time.

Further enhancements to the story and scenes could be made by reflecting seasonal and date changes. Christmas, New Years, St Patrick’s Day, Easter, Independence Day, etc, would all be recognized by the characters and the scenery. This would add to the interaction, and help change it up enough to keep people coming back. Basically, what I think should happen is make it a “living” show that is fully interactive with the guests. As time travellers, we are visiting this family going about their daily activities exactly 20, 60, 80, 100+ years ago.

It would be nice if both of the songs written for the attraction, “Now is the Time”, and “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” could be used. Perhaps use one of them for the opening, and the other for the closing song. Then a new song could be written to reflect a more current style and used at various parts in the ride. However, since both songs are about time, they could still be used, which would mean they wouldn’t necessarily need a new song for the scene changes though, since there will be time travel “noise”. I’m not real sure what it would sound like traveling thru time, but I would envision something that utilized the sounds from the period you were traveling to. The first two scenes would have different radio sounds in a mix, then the TV era would have sounds from different shows of that time, and the last scene would have computer sounds such as the modem and other beeps.

No major changes would be needed for the building’s exterior, with the exception of maybe a new paint scheme. However, Disney could give the building a style kind of like some of the attractions at Disneyland Paris. They could also add on some antenna arrays, satellite dishes and “pointy things” similar to what’s on top of Astro Orbiter to give it a futuristic, time machine look. On the inside, there would be fresh carpet, seating, and an extensive audio and lighting upgrade. Further additions could be made to make the seating more responsive to things going on, much like what happens in some of the 3D theatres, but this would be optional. The audio and lighting will help add to the show’s presence with effects and a surround sound system to make you feel like you’re really in the family’s living room. To really make the show immersive, they could add smells and temperature changes to the room, much like the 3D shows do.

Guests will enter the show as before and be seated in the theatre. A show host/operator will introduce the show as follows or something similar:

Host: Welcome everyone to Walt Disney’s Amazing Time Machine of Progress. Thanks to a generous grant from ___________ (insert sponsor name), and the  magic of the Walt Disney Imagineering team, we are now able to travel back in time to witness events from the greatest century in history. Today we will be traveling back in time and visiting with a family thru various times in the 20th century. We will discover the technologies that made their lives easier, and gave birth to newer and better things for all mankind…  (insert sponsor spiel)

We start off with a trip back to the early 1900s and a visit with Henry and his family. They’ve just gotten their first radio, which we will be communicating to him thru. Hold on everybody while we make the jump.

[que lighting and sound effects for time travel back to the 1900s]

Scene 1 – Early 1900s – Radio
The lights stabilize, but are quite dim due to the poor lighting during the time. Dad is fumbling with his new radio trying to find the news, but he’s not getting anything but static, which is also heard in the theatre. His wife calls out to him asking for his help on some task. Using surround sound, her voice could be directed from behind or to one side of the audience to make it sound as if you’re actually in the room with him. He responds with saying he’ll be there in a minute, but he wants to listen to the news real quick to find out what the weather report is.

The static suddenly clears, and the host speaks something like this:

Host: Good morning (afternoon, evening) Henry. We’ll get to the weather in just a minute, but first we would like to speak to you about your life and the great technologies that are becoming available to make your life easier in 1905 (? or whatever year is).

Henry, of course, is a little surprised, and responds:
Henry: Hey, did the radio just say my name?
Host: Yes, Henry, this is (insert host name), I’m speaking to you directly.

The dialog would go back and forth a couple times, and he would call to his wife and say that somebody on the radio is talking to him. Eventually, after convincing him that we were time travelers and could see him, but he couldn’t see us, (yet), the host would explain something like this:

Host: Henry, we are exploring the 20th century and how life changed thanks to the great inventions and products from (insert sponsor names). Could you tell us a little bit about how things have changed for you in the last few years and some of the new products that are making your life easier and more enjoyable?

Henry then goes into his spiel much like he always has, talking about electricity and the appliances and conveniences of his time.

The scene draws to a quick close as his wife or someone in the family can be heard walking into the room. Henry tries to get you to stick around and talk to them, but the host explains that time travel is still in its early stages and we are only able to stay for a brief period of time, and you begin the jump to the next scene/time period. As you’re leaving, you can hear the family member who was entering the room ask what he was listening to.

[que lighting and sound effects]

Scene 2 – 1920s

Since the radio was still the primary communications device, we will once again talk to Henry using his newer model. Sound quality this time should improve, as should lighting. The scene will open with Henry relaxing and listening to the news or music and then there will be the usual, all too familiar sounds of frequency changing, eventually clearing and the Host speaking something like:

Host: Hello Henry, this is (insert host name), coming to you again via Walt Disney’s Amazing Time Machine of Progress, how are you?
Henry: What’s going on with the radio?
Host:Henry, this is the time travelers, speaking to you thru your radio, just like we did 15 years ago today. It was one of the hottest summers on record and you told us all about the wonderful new electric products you were just starting to get, and…

Dialog would continue, and Henry would try to get his family to come and talk to us, but they would all think he was going crazy, again. He would reminisce about it, and how his family still thinks he’s crazy, almost as crazy as Cousin Orville.

Again he will ask about being able to see you, but the host will say something to the effect of not just yet, someday soon maybe, perhaps even on our next visit. This would prompt him to ask when that will be, but the scene quickly comes to a close very similar to the first with someone coming into the room and him getting excited about hearing you, but the time jump begins and their voices trail off.

[que lighting and sound effects]

Scene 3 -1940s – Television

This time things will be a lot different. The family has a black and white TV, and you, the audience, can be seen by him. The TV would be positioned such that the audience would be able to see themselves. Again, the family doesn’t believe Dad is talking to time travelers, now he’s just been watching too much of that new television. There could be some interaction with Henry and the host where he talks about the host’s clothes, or something to that effect.

There could be some drama added here with the picture tube going out due to the vacuum tube failing, or a power outage due to someone plugging in too many devices and causing a blown fuse. Everything could go (mostly) dark, and the sound quality would deteriorate and the host could add some “emotional fear” by talking to Henry and encouraging him to hurry and find a new fuse or we will be stuck there. Of course, he would get everything restored just in time and we would be able to leave.

[que lighting and sound effects]

Scene 4 – 1980s/90s – Internet

This scene will probably change the most. The aspect of trying to present the future, would be removed. Since we’re now traveling thru history, the family room and surroundings would be reflective of the 80s or early 90s. The communication method will be the new computer with a dial up modem (add dial up sound, and maybe even “You’ve got mail”) in the family room. There could be a Nintendo game system hooked up to the big screen TV and being played by the sister or others.

After all these years, the time travelers return, and the family finally gets to see them and admit that Dad (or Grandpa now) wasn’t crazy after all. But, he does still spend a lot of time on that new computer “surfing” the Internet. Alternatively, the story could be written so the initial interaction is with his son (or Grand Son). He would yell out to the family there are time travelers in their living room on the computer and everyone can say that Junior is spending too much time “surfing” that new Internet thing, but in the end the whole family would see for themselves. For some added humor they can talk about how they can’t wait for 2009 so they can go to WDW and ride the attraction and travel back in time as well.

By changing this scene to the past, Disney no longer has to worry about keeping it looking like “the future”. Because as we’ve learned, our vision of the future will inevitably be different than what we imagined, and it will always pass us by quicker than we would think. In essence, the story line here is reversed or switched from the stage to the audience. No longer is this scene looked at as the future, (that’s already passed) but the family looks upon us, the audience, as being the future that awaits them, and it excites them. We are in the future, going back in time to see just how we got here, and by encouraging the family and maybe even the guests, that the future is bright and offers a lot to look forward to.

[que lighting and sound effects back to the future]

All in all, the attraction wouldn’t change drastically, but the story would be improved upon by adding new effects and the time travel aspect.

I know some dedicated Disney fans may read this and call it blasphemy. However, I sincerely believe that if Walt were still alive, this attraction would’ve long been gone, or at the least drastically changed. Regardless, I don’t believe he would’ve let it stay almost the same for 45 years. The changes I’ve presented here, give homage to the original story, scenes, characters, and the hard work that went in to it by preserving pretty much all of what’s there now. The new story, while still a bit cheesy, will be freshen the attraction by using some of the new technologies Imagineering has dreamed up lately to interact with the host and guests.

Hopefully, those who read this will recognize and appreciate the delicate balance I’ve tried to maintain between mixing the old with the new. I believe by making the enhancements presented here and by using some of the newest technologies that WDI has come up with, they could really give this show a boost, and pay respect to Walt and all the many people who developed the original attraction. I also believe that by doing this, it holds true with the ideas that Walt had to keep growing and improving the parks and attractions.

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