Monday, February 1, 2010

Carousel of Progress 35th Anniversary

To commemorate the Carousel of Progress' 35th anniversary at the Magic Kingdom, Brian Feldman decided to experience the ride, his favorite, for as long as the park was open that day - 11 hours straight. In order for me to sketch Brian's performance, I had to arrange some way to get into the park without paying a fortune. I put out a request via Facebook, and Lon Smart, a former Disney Feature Animation colleague, offered to get me in. As I was driving down World Drive toward the Magic Kingdom, Brian Feldman gave me a call and explained that he had arranged for a travel agency to supply him with a ticket. When he got to the Disney World will call ticket booth, he was asked for his ID or drivers license. It was only then that he realized he had forgotten his license, at home: it was sitting on the kitchen table. Brian's performance had been on the news that morning, yet the Cast Member stood fast and refused to give him the ticket.

I called Lon who was converging on the Magic Kingdom on his motorcycle, trying to explain the situation, but our connection was cut off. When I met Brian at the Monorail, I told him Lon might be able to save the day and get both of us in. As we waited at the entrance to the Magic Kingdom, Brian and I both noticed a man holding a black box with a yellow cord hanging from it that looked suspiciously like a fuse. I was standing near a trash can and the man approached me and dropped something inside the can. Needless to say,I backed away from the trash can quickly. The man later handed the black box to someone else who walked away with it. We never did find out what was in the black box.

Lon arrived and was happy to get both Brian and myself into the park. As we walked down Main Street, U.S.A., Lon explained to us that the Carousel of Progress is slated to be disassembled and moved to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. He knows what will replace the attraction, but is sworn to secrecy.

There was no line to get on the Carousel of Progress. Brian and I entered the theater the first time with six or seven other people. A Cast Member announced, "Please no eating, drinking, video or photography." They did not say anthing about sketching, so I immediately set up my portable stool so I could look down the front row of the theater with Brian in the foreground, and started to sketch. The Carousel tells the story of the evolution of technology in 20th century America. According to the show introduction, "The Carousel of Progress has had more performances than any other stage show in the history of American theater". With robots.

After the first performance of the Carousel was over, Brian and I remained seated and waited for the next audience. A few people trickled in and the show began again. A Carousel Cast Member approached me and asked, "Is that Fred?" I responded, "No." He then said, "I heard that someone named Fred was going to ride the attraction all day". I then introduced him to Brian. Brian was not pleased that I had blown his cover. I had placed the entire mission in jeopardy. As I sketched, I noticed video cameras positioned in the corners of the attraction to watch the audience. After the next performance of the Carousel was over, two more gentlemen approached us and said they were there to help us. My sketch was not finished yet, and I was suspicious. "May I help you?" usually means quite the opposite. They said we could get on the ride all day, but we would have to exit each time and then re-enter. They told us we could stand at a roped off area so we didn't have to get to the back of the line each time. But really, come on... "what line?" This was the Carousel of Progress, not Space Mountain!

With the next performance, the ride broke down, and the audience was treated to the same performance by the same animatronics a second time. Over the PA system, a woman who sounded like a flight attendant, asked everyone to quietly and calmly exit the theater. We found ourselves on the backlot and had to walk around to get back in the park.

We didn't know how long the ride would be down, so I started a sketch of Brian as he checked his iPhone and talked to the friendly Cast Member informing gusts of the ride's temporary closure. Before I finished the sketch the ride began again, so it took a little less than two hours for it to be fixed. All during that time, people had to be turned away. Buttons were being handed out in the park announcing the ride's 35th anniversary, so some people were curious.

It took me a while to find Brian again since there are five different theaters, each letting the audience exit in different spots. I experienced the ride a few more times to finish the sketch. It broke down once again, this time in the living room of tomorrow. In this scene, the oven is programed to work via voice activation, and as the family of tomorrow jokes about a high score on a video game, the oven raises the temperature to match the game score, burning the dinner. Smoke billows out of the oven. We had to sit through the same scenario several times, each time having more smoke fill the theater. One woman rushed past me saying, "I'm getting out of here!" When I got out of the theater, I decided my sketch was finished. Brian continued to ride the attraction for the rest of the day. This might be the most daring and dangerous performance he has ever done.

"There's a great, big, beautiful tomorrow, shining at the end of every day. There's a great, big, beautiful tomorrow, just a dream away!"

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at


Kellie Woodward said...

I miss the original song on the Carousel of Progress. My sister and I just sang it for the family at Thanksgiving as we used to ride it so often we know it by heart. Kind of sad to hear it will be gone, guess that "Porgress".

Thor said...

What are the lyrics to the original song?

Jessica Mariko said...

I freakin' LOVE that ride!

Unknown said...

I LIVE for that ride too! I wanted to come along, but it was on a weekday, and couldn't escape work.

As to the lyrics for the ride, the lyrics you hear today ARE the original ones. However, when they made the WDW version, it had been bought up by GE, and the lyrics were changed to a more urgent sounding marketing theme: "Now Is The Time". (Having lyrics about "tomorrow" isn't that effective when convincing an audience they need a dishwasher "now".) Most people rode this new version when it opened here with those lyrics and think to this day that they are the "original" ones, but they're mistaken.

Wikipedia has a GREAT article about the Carousel of Progress on it.

Geeze, I'm a dork.

Kellie Woodward said...

Now is the time,
Now is the best time,
Now is the best time of your life!
Life is a prize,
Live every minute
Open your eyes and watch how you win it

Yesterday's mem'ries may sparkle and gleam,
Tomorrow is still but a dream
Right here and now,
You've got it made,
The world's forward marching and you're in the parade!

Now is the time,
Now is the best time,
Be it a time of joy or strife,
There's so much to cheer for,
Be glad you're here for it's the best time of your life!

Sunshine said...

We love to go on the Carousel of Progress! We'll miss it when it's gone!