Like the past several years before it, for many of us 2022 was a bit of a bummer.
The realities of a world still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic mean that many of our favorite things – like the Disney Parks – are struggling to return to normalcy. Certain rides and attractions remain closed, new ones are delayed, and the entire Walt Disney Company is facing a period of (hopefully positive) shakeup with the return of Bob Iger to replace Bob Chapek.
That’s why escaping to the past through the lens of nostalgia is very big right now. From the popularity of Stranger Things on Netflix all the way to the throwback 50th anniversary merchandise at Walt Disney World, our culture is looking to the past in order to seek comfort.
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And who are we to buck a trend? Because while 2023 may feel like a downer, you know what year wasn’t (thanks to the rose-tinted glasses that nostalgia makes us wear)? 1993!
Take a stroll with us 30 years into the past to explore the highlights of what was happening at Walt Disney World right at the height of Michael Eisner’s “Disney Decade!”
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The Hall of Presidents Changes Forever
Believe it not, at one point the Hall of Presidents wasn’t considered very political. In fact, prior to 1993, it was a generic celebration of American history and the executive branch, with Abraham Lincoln the only presidential animatronic given a speaking part. A member of the Republican party who held beliefs akin to modern-day Democrats, Lincoln appealed across the aisle, and the attraction evinced as much controversy as it did excitement – which is to say, not very much.
In 1993, that changed. When the Hall of Presidents closed to add a new animatronic of recently elected President Clinton (as had previously been done with Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush) historian Eric Foner helped to rewrite the script for the introductory film to focus on slavery, civil rights and other ethical dilemmas faced by America’s past presidents. It concluded with a speech not just from Lincoln, but also from Clinton, which the president himself recorded especially for the attraction.
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Although this didn’t lead to a huge outcry at the time – the current period of American divisiveness in many ways dates to events that would happen during the Clinton administration – it did establish a tradition of each new president recording a special speech for Walt Disney Imagineering, which became particularly controversial with Donald Trump’s election in 2016.
However, in 2020 President Biden – a far less media-obsessed president than the previous four – declined to record a speech for the attraction, so perhaps the Hall of Presidents can once again become less divisive.
The Future Ends . . . And Begins Anew
While 1993 saw the way that we view the past change at the Hall of Presidents, it also witnessed the beginning of a new way of viewing the future.
It was in this year that Walt Disney Imagineering began its massive overhaul of Tomorrowland to make it into the “Future That Never Was,” evincing a science fiction theme akin to that of Discoveryland at the recently opened EuroDisneyland (now Disneyland Paris). Mission to Mars and the Carousel of Progress would both close, the former forever and the latter for a refurbishment that saw a slight exterior redesign, new voice actors, and a new final scene set in the near future with cutting-edge technology like voice-controlled appliances and virtual reality. In fact, that 1993 scene is still the “future” that we see at the Carousel of Progress today!
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Meanwhile, at EPCOT, the initial plan to make Future World constantly updateable thanks to corporate sponsorship of each pavilion hit a snag – several of those corporations opted to end their association with Walt Disney World rather than renew the costly sponsorships. Kraft withdrew from The Land (to be replaced by Nestle) while General Electric withdrew from Horizons (leading to the attraction’s ultimate demise). In addition, the central Communicore area began its transition into the tech playground Innoventions, which itself is now gone along with the concept of Future World itself.
Terror and Adventure Take Shape
Over at Disney-MGM Studios – which wouldn’t become Disney’s Hollywood Studios until 15 years later – the biggest news was just a preview of what was to come. The Sunset Boulevard area was under construction, along with its big anchor attraction at the end of the street: the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror!
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As for Animal Kingdom . . . well, it didn’t exist yet. It was still in the planning stages, with construction not beginning until three years later, in 1996.
Elsewhere in Disney Parks
Perhaps the biggest story in the world of the Disney Parks in 1993, though, wasn’t found at Walt Disney World, nor even in the United States. Rather, the headline for the year was the initial struggles of Euro Disneyland, which had opened the prior April (troubles that would, in fact, lead to its rebranding as Disneyland Paris at the end of 1994). A less-than-stellar opening combined with a European recession, a lack of attractions and too many hotel rooms all spelled disaster for the Park’s first few years, a financial tailspin it didn’t pull out of until 1995.
At California’s Disneyland, 1993 was a happier year, with the opening of Mickey’s Toontown serving not just to add a new land and new attractions to the Park but also expanding its physical size, as it took up land that had previously been backstage. In addition, the now-iconic Partners Statue was added at the end of Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A. in 1993, portraying Walt Disney and Mickey hand-in-hand in celebration of the latter’s 65th birthday.
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30 years later, the statue remains a treasured Disney Parks icon, with recreations of it standing in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland, the Walt Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Paris, and even the Walt Disney Company’s corporate headquarters at The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California!