Monday, February 27, 2006
Lincoln's Second Assassination
Imagineers are certainly allowed to revisit earlier attractions at the parks to reassess their relevance with current audiences but with every additional touch-up of Disneyland's 'Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln' it seems the very heart and soul of this stirring stage presentation gets another bullet to the head.
A more sophisticated Audio Animatronic figure arriving in the 80's was initially a cause for celebration, but when the animators got hold of Lincoln they were more fixated on the technology than the performance, making Abe flap around like Richard Simmons on speed.
And then its latest incarnation, opening several years ago, appeared to be the final death rattle. For some reason the show wasn't about Lincoln's timeless and inspiring words anymore but a showcase for a 3-D sound system that was getting all the Imagineering Audiophiles panties in a bunch, a system by which guests could hear realistic dimensional sound all around them via lightweight headsets.
So now, just before the curtains come up on Abe, you can hear in excruciating detail the imaginary grandfather clock in the far right corner of the room, scissors clip at your hair and, in what might be the most cringe inducing experience in theme park history, the breathy effete voice of Abe Lincoln whispering softly in your ear, each syllable sending a soft burst of air into your skull. In one fleeting instant our great moment with Lincoln has turned into something that feels like a prelude to bad touch; something unwelcome and dirty.
Once the curtains open it's apparent that all hallmarks of quality and class have been stripped from the stage. No more the regal red carpet, the high sheen oak furniture, the ghostly image of the Capital in the background. Now it's all grey, funereal and bone cold. And instead of Lincoln sharing his timeless thoughts on liberty, equality and freedom as he once did (in a speech cleverly cobbled together from several of his writings) this go-round he speaks to gathered dignitaries at the consecration of a cemetary. Yes, it's the Gettysburg Address.
And while the Gettysburg Address is perhaps the finest speech a President ever made, it is utterly and completely inappropriate for this show's grand vision. An audience unaware of the context of the Gettysburg Address will hear nothing but high-minded jabber. The earlier monologue, on the other hand, played as a proud stand-alone discourse on American values and, in our post 9-11 world, is more eerily relevant and potent than it's ever been before.
The Gettysburg Address and its relevance to world events today? Not so much.
Oh, to imagine Lincoln back at Disneyland doing what he did best; inspiring guests to once again feel proud to be part of the American Experience.