On the 4th of July across the USA we will celebrate our nation’s birthday. Many will attend concerts and fireworks programs featuring the music of America. Among Walt Disney’s quote on patriotism, he described a choral presentation of American songs. He said, “Recently I was invited to see a show on America, and as I sat there watching and listening I felt both proud and thrilled; thrilled with the voices, thrilled with the sounds; proud of the group of 100 talented young Americans singing about our country. The songs that made me proud of being an American.” Throughout the world of Disney there are numerous creations — attractions, films, TV programs that showcase what I love about America and make me proud to be an American.
I suspect the most obvious is Epcot’s American Adventure. Despite being over 25 years old, this multimedia and audio-animatronic presentation still amazes me. Not only because of the technological achievement that it is –but—also the story it shares. The ballad of the two brothers in the Civil War reminds me of the ugliness and division that President Lincoln had to navigate. I reflect on the strength of my grandparents who recall the Great Depression and subsequent World Wars as I watch the gentlemen gathered at the gas station in the midst of the Depression and see Rosie working long nights waiting for the boys to come home. And the attraction’s concluding montage still moves me to tears each time I see it.
At Disneyland, any trip begins on Main Street USA, a loving salute to turn of the century America. Various horseless and horse-drawn carriages travel past numerous storefronts – the Emporium, Penny Arcade, watch shop and others. Sweet smells float from the Candy Shoppe and the peppy tunes of the ragtime piano player fill the air. It’s relaxing to simply find a spot on the porch and sit for awhile soaking in the sights and sounds of America’s past. If adventure’s the order of the day, I’ll head over to the Rivers of America and paddle a canoe as our nation’s explorers. But if I don’t wish to work too hard a trip aboard the Mark Twain Riverboat, a steam powered stern-wheeler offers a taste of life along the author’s great Mississippi or step aboard the Columbia sailing ship a reproduction of a 1787 three-masted merchant vessel. I recently learned Oregon’s Columbia River is named after the original sailing ship the Disneyland attraction is based on and it was the first American ship to circumnavigate the globe and inspired the name of a NASA space shuttle.
A trip to the Magic Kingdom also offers a visit to turn of the century America on Main Street USA –or- take a journey through the days when Americans were first introduced to such conveniences as hand-cranked washing machine, and a gramophone during a trip on the Carousel of Progress. This attraction that initially premiered at the World’s Fair is a four act presentation showcasing various home innovations through the years with the final act looking to the future. I can’t forget to mention the Electrical Water Pageant’s “You’re a Grand Old Flag” finale with sparkling red, white and blue stars and American flags floating over the Seven Seas Lagoon.
Also within the Magic Kingdom’s berm is the newly re-opened Hall of Presidents’ a celebration of Liberty’s Leaders. During the 17 minute presentation guests will be reminded of the highlights of our various Presidents’ administration including those that helped guide us through periods of national grief or difficulty. The show’s climax is an introduction of each president, a brief speech by the first American president George Washington about the purpose of the presidency and then our current president Barack Obama presents the Oath of Office and a speech about America’s purpose. Having recently viewed the new show I appreciated the reminder of the sacrifices and values on which the USA was founded. The show makes a point of showcasing words and acts that illustrate the President as one of us.
But a visit to the theme parks isn’t always an option so here’re some ways to bring Disney into 4th of July celebrations at home. Disney animation offers numerous American tall tales, stories about larger than life individuals. Among these are Casey at the Bat, an American poem from the late 1800s that animators brought to life accompanied by the amazing narrative talents of comedian Jerry Colonna; John Henry, the steel driving man who took on the mechanized steam powered hammer; Paul Bunyan, the gigantic lumberjack and Pecos Bill the greatest cowboy of all time. Disney animators have also brought to life the legends surrounding Engineer Casey Jones, whose dramatic efforts in stopping the train to save passengers in an accident that ultimately led to his own death and pioneer Johnny Appleseed who brought the apple trees to large parts of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. These tales showcase America’s working man, spirit of adventure and fun. In fanciful and entertaining way showcase the variety of life experiences and adventures that have created our nation.
But outside the parks my favorite Disney look at Americana is an adorable short subject that was Disney’s first two reel short and was nominated for an Academy Award. It’s the story of Amos, a poor church mouse who in 1745 set out to make his own in Philadelphia and befriends Ben Franklin. Following their adventures we learn its Amos who is the brain behind Franklin’s bifocals, stove, etc. The whimsical tale was originally published by Robert Lawson in 1939 and carries the story through the creation of the Declaration of Independence. I must admit that as a youngster I impressed some of my history teachers with my knowledge of Ben Franklin due to the factual tidbits within the short.
Bob Thomas’ biography of Walt Disney labels him an “American original”, Neal Gabler subtitled his Disney biography “The Triumph of the American Imagination”, and Steven Watts in his book calls Walt Disney “arguably, the most influential American of the twentieth century,” so as the Fourth of July approaches I hope you find a little Disney in your celebration.