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Magic Kingdom’s Hall of Presidents: More controversial than it’s worth? – DePaoli on DeParks

by Jeff DePaoli

The Hall of Presidents. All you need to do is utter those words to a Walt Disney World fan and they’ll probably have strong opinions about it. Some love this opening-day attraction and never want it to go away, while others find it to be too controversial and would love to see its demise. Regardless of where you land on that spectrum, one thing is for certain: political opinions in the U.S. are at an all-time high, causing this attraction to be problematic in current times.

hall of presidents

This situation highlights a sort of strange dichotomy; on one hand, people visit the Disney Parks to escape reality. We want to visit a place that will make our daily struggles feel like a distant memory. On the other hand, political figures have been featured in the Disney Parks for a long time. It even began with Walt himself when he created the Abraham Lincoln Audio-Animatronic for the 1964-1965 World’s Fair, later bringing it to Disneyland. Then it happened again in 1971 with The Hall of Presidents and in 1982 when The American Adventure opened with Epcot. For better or worse, politics and Disney have been intertwined for quite some time.

Presidential visits to Walt Disney World through the years

In addition to these attractions, many presidents have visited the Disney Parks, including Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama. These visits have been well-documented and displayed to the public.

President Barack Obama speech at the Magic Kingdom about tourism - Walt Disney World

It’s pretty remarkable how important the Disney Parks are to this country, substantiating a visit from multiple U.S. presidents.

The problem with The Hall of Presidents is the fact that it features current politicians. Regardless of your political beliefs, most people won’t be offended by a politician who died many years ago – but bring in a current politician, and it can affect a lot of folks’ desire to visit the attraction. In current times, it’s even gotten to the point of needing extra security in the attraction to prevent any problems from arising. I’m sure this is something that Disney doesn’t really want to deal with anymore. The feeling that Disney wants us to have in a Disney Park is joy, not anger and potential fear over what could happen while inside an attraction. On top of controversy, there’s the added cost of adding a new Audio-Animatronic figure every four to eight years.

So, what if The Walt Disney Company did decide that they’ve had enough with the controversial attraction and that they want to put something else in its place? What could they do? After all, The Hall of Presidents really is the anchor attraction of Liberty Square. Yes, The Haunted Mansion is in this land as well, but I would argue that it could be worked into another land and theme fairly easily.

The Hall of Presidents truly is the heart of Liberty Square. Without it, would we really need the land? There is the argument that this area could be themed into something completely different if The Hall of Presidents were to be removed. I personally hope that doesn’t happen, considering its uniqueness to Magic Kingdom, and I doubt that Disney would want to make such an investment at this time.

That leaves completely changing The Hall of Presidents into a different attraction. Rumors have been swirling that Disney is looking to make a change. One such rumor is that Lin-Manuel Miranda is involved in the possible changes. Since Miranda is the creator of the smash-hit Broadway musical “Hamilton,” some have felt that perhaps something “Hamilton”-related will take its place. “Hamilton” is available to watch on Disney+, but it has no relationship with Disney Theatrical Group as far as the stage show is concerned. That doesn’t mean that Disney couldn’t license it, but I’m not sure it’s the best fit despite its popularity.

The Muppets Present Great Moments in American History - Full Declaration Show at Magic Kingdom

With the acclaim for The Muppets Present…Great Moments in American History above the streets of Liberty Square, some have even suggested putting a Muppet-centric historical presentation inside the theatre. I’m sure this would make Sam Eagle very happy, but even I (who typically is for anything Muppets-related) am not so keen on this idea.

One of the things I love so much about historic Disney attractions is the fact that no other theme park could get away with the seriousness and majesty of these presentations. It is next-level and, frankly, impressive how they’ve worked them into the parks for so many years. These presentations are taken so seriously that it literally took an act of Congress in order to gain permissions to display the Great Seal of the United States in The Hall of Presidents lobby carpet. I would love to see this level of respect taken with anything that were to replace it – the Muppets don’t quite fit that bill.

The Hall of Presidents - Full Show starring Obama at Disney's Magic Kingdom

If you’ve ever witnessed The Hall of Presidents, you’re aware just how powerful the finale scene is when the curtain rises to reveal an Audio-Animatronic figure of every president of the United States of America. I think anything that replaces the attraction should have an equally awe-inspiring moment.

If the folks at Disney were to come to me and ask what I think they should do, my first thought would be to keep a similar type of show in place but avoid current politics. This would tremendously decrease the controversy and also allow the show not to need to be updated as often. A moment in American history that would fit the theme of Liberty Square, keep the dignity of the presentation, and offer a grandiose finale is the signing of The Declaration of Independence in 1776. If you’re familiar with the final scene in the stage musical (and movie) “1776,” you know how impactful it can be to see our Founding Fathers on display during this historic moment in American history.

More so than the controversial decision to change the attraction and what to change it into, is the difficult choice of when to make the change.

Removing The Hall of Presidents is a big deal and no matter when it is done, there will probably be some sort of uproar. Whoever the sitting or soon-to-be-sworn-in president is at the time of its removal, I’m sure their attributed parties would not be happy with the decision and would try to point the finger of blame or favoritism at Disney. This is unfortunately a no-win situation for Disney, and I leave it up to them to figure out the “perfect time” to make said change if such a change is to come. The best-case scenario would be if Walt Disney World could get the sitting president to come down to Florida midway through their term to visit the attraction and bid it a fond farewell with their blessing.

What do you think? Do you want to see The Hall of Presidents replaced? If so, what would you like to see it changed into?

If you have any theme park topics you would like to hear my opinion on, let me know in the comments. You might just see it pop up in a future DePaoli on DeParks.


jeff depaoli

Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles. He can be heard as the voice of Disney Trivia on Alexa as well as the host of “Dizney Coast to Coast,” the ultimate, unofficial Disney fan podcast. Get your FREE gifts of “America’s Hidden Mickeys,” “On the Rohde Again,” “Theme Park Comfort Kit” and more at DizneyCoastToCoast.com.

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19 comments

Chris Glass January 15, 2021 - 6:12 pm

That’s a brilliant idea! I love the idea of a Biden visit to wish it away. There’s always going to be someone upset that they ended it with so and so in place, but imagine getting together as many living Presidents as possible to end it all.

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Barbara Ball January 15, 2021 - 9:08 pm

I think it is a great idea to change the Hall of Presidents to something that honors our forefathers and their hopes and dreams for this country. The signing of the Declaration of Independence is a great idea. Take away everything political from the attraction and make it something Americans can all be proud of. I do not agree with a sitting President or all surviving Presidents coming to bid farewell. Just make the change. I think people would be happier doing it that way. This way there is no controversy over who came and who did not.

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Linda J January 20, 2021 - 6:30 pm

There are only 6 living presidents. Four of them are at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington, one was too infirm to travel from his home in Georgia, And one is at his golf resort in Florida. How many do you think they could gather up ?

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Robyn Murov January 15, 2021 - 7:40 pm

I’ve always felt that the Hall of Presidents is redundant because of The American Adventure. I respect the American Adventure and all that is featured and presented in that pavillion. The Hall of Presidents, personally to me, has become the place where mothers can breastfeed, little kids can nap and even older people can take a breather from the Florida heat.
I think, if Disney believes The Hall of Presidents needs to still be around in Florida, they should remove every living president Audio Animatronic and just have the deceased ones. Yes, the Bush boys, Clinton and Obama will probably get upset, but I think that keeps it fair and less politically charged than it is now.
I agree that Liberty Square is a beautiful land of Disney World, and I would be sad if it went away, but the land could be re-themed around the Haunted Mansion if Disney absolutely needed to (or just make the land like Victorian era and re-theme it to Victorian England or something like that). It is a nice touch though that Disney World opened with a land respecting the history of our nation and one of its most respected cities (Philadelphia). The Disney Imagineers are smart, they can come up with some new fresh re-theming for colonial Philadelphia if they put their heads together and think about it.
Of course, Disney just announced they weren’t going to give funding to any politician who supported President Trump, so when did they say away from politics and controversy?

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Tony Martin January 15, 2021 - 8:14 pm

The biggest issue for me is to not have the current sitting president speaking. Maybe just Lincoln should speak. I don’t think anyone is served by pretending like there haven’t been some real scoundrels in the White House over the years. Like any other attraction at WDW, no one is forced to experience it. I guess some folks are offended by the fact that it even exists. I remember the first time I visited the American Experience at Epcot and was struck that the US attraction was the only one of the countries that was self-critical. History by its nature can be political. Why pretend like something doesn’t exist?

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Patricia Webb January 15, 2021 - 8:55 pm

Wow! The Hall of Presidents’ show has changed since we were there 10 years ago. I do not remember sitting through a narrative movie that long and cannot fathom young children becoming bored and anxious. I remember more of the Presidents talking. Sadly, the more recent Presidents do not resemble themselves. This attraction needs a careful redo on capturing more of the resemblances of our Presidents plus the addition of President Trump. Such a shame to let it end.

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Nelda lewis January 15, 2021 - 9:52 pm

I love the presidents. This is what is wrong in our country if you don’t like are agree with something or someone let’s take it down and shut them up. I say keep the Presidents and post a warning that there may some presidents in there that you do not like so you can choose if you want your family to see the Presidents.

God bless all of our Presidents and
God Bless the USA 🇺🇸 ❤️

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Marie January 29, 2021 - 9:48 am

Absolutely if you don’t like it don’t visit the hall of president’s this is what is wrong with this country changing our history, taking down statues, quotes etc

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Sue January 16, 2021 - 1:06 pm

You can’t erase History just because of an occasional Controversial Figure. It’s the only way most kids can see our past…because they no longer learn about all the Presidents of our country like I did. Seeing them all on Stage is very impactful. I agree to only have Lincoln and maybe one other speak ….but I really loved it with it was “Moments with Mr. Lincoln…that was a great experience.

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Lauren January 17, 2021 - 12:35 am

I don’t believe it should be changed because of people’s opinions on current politics. There will always be controversial and disliked leaders. But you can’t erase history. Just because some people can’t act like adults and control themselves doesn’t mean the rest of us should pay for that. It boggles my mind why these types are even in a Disney park.

The American experience is a different show in a different park, so no comparison (other than the repeated Civil War film segment).

Parents should know what the attraction is and its run time before taking in little kids (which goes for anything seen or experienced by kids).

The idea that we have to change things because some people don’t like them is ridiculous. If you don’t like the show, don’t watch it. It’s there in the name – The Hall of Presidents. It’s a show about presidents and some of their impacts on our country and history.

If it came to only highlighting one president, I do like Disneyland’s Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, but even that is presented as a great veneration of him due to Walt’s admiration.

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Scott Bodlovick January 17, 2021 - 12:01 pm

I have to agree with most of the comments. This is our American History, good or bad. Americans have always and will always have strong beliefs and feelings throughout our history. You can’t just pick and choose what’s appropriate, it’s all appropriate because it is the fabric of our country. What if, in the near future we have our first women president? That would be a significant time in our country’s history. Wouldn’t you want to showcase this? I know the country is in a time of much needed unity but we need not to forget all the events, good or bad, that have made this great nation was it is today. In visiting the attraction for the first time last year, I was in awe of its spectacle. Please continue this American Heritage for generations to come.

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Rick January 30, 2021 - 2:13 pm

I agree, keep this presentation, those who might be offended don’t have to view it. We need to know and learn our history. Everyone of our Presidents has a “past”, but it is part of our history. I agree with some comments to have only Washington and Lincoln speak.

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Diana January 17, 2021 - 1:59 pm

The Hall of Presidents is one of my favorite attractions! But…I agree that there needs to be a change. Perhaps we don’t have the Presidents speak. We have a neutral figure speak. The Presidents would just be on stage. Like them or not, they are the people we elected to office.

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Linda Frenette January 18, 2021 - 10:06 am

I always thought this was one of the most moving tributes to our country and I applauded WDW for presenting it. Mr Disney was about informing as well as entertaining people. Our children should be exposed to the history of our country beyond what they read in books . If parents think is too much for little ones, they have the choice not to attend. I agree that having President Washington give the final speech might make it less political for those who may not like the current administration. Please do not water down our history with the Muppets!

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Robert O'Brien Jr. January 18, 2021 - 2:36 pm

Disney should continue with the Hall of Presidents. They are what they are…good or bad. We should not erase history but learn from it

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Lori King January 21, 2021 - 9:58 am

It’s part of our history! Don’t destroy it like all our monuments being taken down/destroyed…..soon our children will know nothing about our past. It’s in the past deal with it and move on. Leave the hall of presidents alone!

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Donna January 21, 2021 - 11:57 pm

Replace the hall of Presidents with a tribute to Stan Lee & George Lucas since Disney bought out both franchises. That’s really the only way to keep everyone happy.
If they keep it then they have to keep Trump in, its a portrayl of our nations history & we can’t just omit someone because we don’t like them. From a business perspective removing him would be picking a side & as a large corporation they must stay neutral on political issues to appease the masses. But if it’s a growing controversy then replace it with something less controversial.

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Lea Ann January 27, 2021 - 8:18 pm

I haven’t been to HOP since Bush 43. I heard several years ago that they were going to change so the current president was there, but did not have a speech. That may help. But I have always preferred American Experience! Some people don’t even know it’s there! Living in Florida we go fairly often (at least precovid. I’m not going to wear a mask all day) and my sister said she never knew it was there. I love that show!

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Ed February 7, 2021 - 4:06 pm

I think that the sitting President should speak first, briefly reading a standard greeting welcoming visitors to the Hall of Presidents. Then Washington and Lincoln should speak and that’s it.
The technology is old and the Audio-Animatrons should be replaced with holograms (really Pepper’s Ghost). For those presidents who lived so long ago that there is no film, actors should be used.

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